Returning to the workforce after being laid off or fired can be intimidating. Few job seekers think about the best way to cope with the change a new job brings after spending months or years unemployed. Once hired, after endless searches of online job postings and reading countless rejection letters, self-confidence in knowledge, skills, and abilities may have dwindled. Like the five-year old child who is afraid of the Boogie Man and thereby refuses to search under the bed or in the closet, some adults deal with job performance anxiety through avoidance instead of confronting the fear head on.
The mere idea of entering into a new environment—whether it’s the first day of school or the first day back in the office—can cause periods of uncertainty that can give way to restlessness, sleepless nights, and worry. When this happens, there is a tendency to retreat within or rely on others for comfort. Yet, for optimal mental health, the child and the adult must both face their fears and find effective ways to handle their anxiety with a sense of confidence and control.
So, here are five practical tips for maintaining good mental health in the workplace. After all, the workplace is the setting where change is constant and where difficult, unwelcome stressors are likely to occur.
Start the day by writing down your primary responsibilities and focus on the top three to four key tasks that need to be completed. Once this list is developed, assessing priorities will seem less daunting. Some find it easier to number the tasks from the most to least important. If everything seems to be important, however, start including time as a variable in your decision-making about what should come first. Determine what needs to be done today, next week, or can wait until next month. Initially, there may be obstacles to developing this habit. Do not worry and do not give up until the task is completed. Obstacles and distractions should be viewed as motivators for developing a laser sharp focus and resolve to complete the task at hand.
Now it is time to move beyond the plan to performance. Commiserating with friends and co-workers about your workload is counterproductive. Instead, use your time and energy wisely.
When the mind starts to worry or wander, setting a timer for five to 10 minute intervals to self-monitor productivity can get the day back on track. Also, do not forget to refer to the daily task list mentioned earlier. When the mind starts to worry, take a break to complete one of the smaller (nagging) tasks that keeps getting put off for later. For example, reply to emails, return phone calls, clean/organize your workspace. Overcoming procrastination to start smaller tasks will reveal that some things are not as overwhelming as they appear. In fact, your mind becomes clearer when it has been freed to give the mental energy and space for a larger task.
Take a break
A short, five-minute indulgence at the water cooler or on the phone with a loved one is okay, only if there is a commitment to end the conversation on a positive note.
Words of affirmation are encouraging and lead to an improvement in office morale. Not sure what to say? Begin reading positive words in daily devotions from your favorite spiritual leaders and motivational books. Try keeping a thankfulness journal as reminder of all that should be appreciated in life. Listening to music that is encouraging can provide a burst of energy. Words are very powerful, so use them to uplift and encourage others too.
Relax after work
After a hard day of work it is paramount that you reward yourself by relaxing. If you do not have a hobby, develop one or two. If you have not participated in a hobby for a while, pick it back up. Cope with change by learning a new skill, entertaining or being entertained by friends, meeting new people or going to new places in your community to give your mind a rest and unplug from work. Most importantly, have fun.
Finally, exercise control of your body by making it stronger and healthier through good nutrition and moderate exercise. When feeling out of control, be mindful that no person is replaceable as a living being. Know that you are valued and precious. A body is as young and vibrant as the mind it sustains. Take a brisk walk each day for 20 minutes. Grab a piece of fruit instead of a bag of junk food. Doing so sends a constant message that a healthy body and mind are important. Moreover, your physical health is not just about your quantitative age, it is about your quality of life and that starts with the mind.
Yolanda K. H. Bogan, Ph.D.,C.A.P. is an associate professor in the College of Education and Director of the Office of Counseling Services. She has been a licensed psychologist for 20 years. Join Bogan on Twitter for a live chat on Nov. 15 at 6 p.m. to answer your questions on how to cope with change upon returning to the workplace. Follow @FAMU_Living Well.