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Ranking the top mental health first aid tactics for when you’re feeling burnt out at work

Regardless of where you come from, it’s possible to get burnt out at work. Even the most resilient people can end up with burnout symptoms, characterized by feeling unable to rest properly, irritable, and lethargic – that’s when you know you need mental health first aid to tackle the problem. This can be especially prevalent for workers in creative industries, where your brain is the primary source of work output.

If you’re feeling burnt out and wondering how to get back on track, keep reading. We’ve ranked the top mental health first aid tips to help you feel better and keep moving.

12 – Get active

physical activity reduces anxiety

One of the best forms of mental health first aid is physical activity. Not only does physical activity release endorphins (good bodily chemicals that make you feel great), it can also help boost self esteem as your body becomes more fit. 

Stefan Kollenberg, co-founder of tech company Crescendo, said going in the morning before work is a great way to start the day. He added that he started working out as a way to overcome feeling sluggish and rushed in the mornings, which was hitting his confidence levels – and it worked for him. 

11 – Unplug

mental health first aid tip: unplug

When it comes to mental health first aid, one of the easiest things you can do is to unplug. MSc candidate Dia Rahman, whose research focuses on wearable technologies and the related impact on health, said simple things like muting notifications from work apps and deleting work related apps on long weekends, vacations, or when she’s had a stressful week really helped her. 

Rahman said that doing academic research and working at a tech startup (at the same time) nearly burnt her out, but these tips kept her going. 

10 – Take a vacation

vacations help you recharge

Knowing how to rest well is about more than Netflix bingeing. It’s acting with purpose and treating rest time as a necessary part of your day (not just the thing you do when you can’t do anything else). 

Roy Periera, founder of AI startup Zoom.ai, combats this by encouraging his team to take vacation. The company even uses Vacation Fund as an employee perk to show they are serious about their employees resting well. Vacationing doesn’t necessarily mean going somewhere exotic and spending money – it could be as simple as a long weekend with no work apps and going to the local museum. 

9 – Try online therapy

mental health first aid tip: web therapy

In many cities, going to a therapist has a stigma attached to it. People feel uncomfortable waiting in long lines and sitting in waiting rooms. Web therapy can fix all that. It’s the same concept as therapy, but you do it in the comfort of your own home via a webcam. 

Anastasia Valentine, the CEO of Startup Canada, found that asking for help is a big challenge facing creative people. Web therapy reduced the pressure to “ask for help” since it was more convenient, required less time, and could be done at home. Bonus: web therapy can often be cheaper than traditional therapy.  

8 – Write it down

Writing out what’s going on is a great way to process it

When things are going all wrong, it can feel like you’re stuck in your own head. You can’t think. Or maybe you’re spinning and thinking too much. Either way, it’s not a fun feeling. To break this cycle, write it down. “It” can be anything you want – your feelings, what’s happening, a play-by-play of the facts… anything. It’s about giving you the chance to get the situation out of your head and onto paper. 

Research shows that writing things down gives you more clarity than only running through things in your head. This additional clarity could be all that you need to get through the situation. Seeing the words on paper (or on a screen) could be exactly what you need to think through a solution. You may also realize the issue is not that bad and you can get through it. 

Writing doesn’t have to be in the form of a journal. It also doesn’t have to be a daily or weekly thing you commit to. It could simply be grabbing a piece of paper and pen when you feel overwhelmed. You can write anything you want to that helps you get the feelings off your chest. When you’re done, you can throw it away if you don’t want anyone else to read it. You could also start a journaling habit if the process of writing things down helped you. 

7 – Get it off your chest

Sharing a problem could help you solve it

Problems can be isolating. Sometimes it feels like we’re the only ones in the world facing that problem. Or, if we know it’s a fairly common problem, we feel like no one cares because it’s so common. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Talking through a problem – whether to someone else or even to yourself – is a great way to handle stressful situations. 

If you want to talk to someone else about your challenges, make sure it’s someone you trust. The last thing you want is someone gossiping. But you also want to make sure that the person is able to provide you what you want. For example, if you want someone who will just listen, then you should probably ask that person ahead of time if they are ok with listening to you vent.

If you need specific help, make sure the person you’re reaching out to is capable of helping. As well, be sure to ask the person if they’re in a good place to hear you out. Sometimes people are having a nasty day themselves and don’t have the emotional energy to talk to anyone else. It’s not about you, but just ask to be sure. 

On the other hand, you can also try talking to yourself. This may feel weird, but it can be helpful if the subject matter is sensitive or if you are alone at the time and can’t reach out to anyone. Talking to yourself usually takes one of two methods: you pretend you are someone else talking to you, meaning you talk to yourself using your name. Or you can talk about yourself in the third person, like you’re describing yourself or reading a biography that someone wrote about you. Either way will help you talk “to” yourself in a way that forces your brain to think a little differently. And that different thinking could be what you need to get through the hard times.

6 – Go for a walk

Walking has two benefits: physical activity and mind clearing

If you’ve ever been really angry and been told to go for a walk, that person had the right idea. Multiple studies show the benefits of walking, both indoors and outdoors. A good walk can help you calm down, process thoughts, and think more deeply than if you focused hard on something (it sounds backwards, but it happens). 

Going for a walk helps in multiple ways. You get your body moving, which means the brain is working differently than if you were sitting. You remove yourself from the environment where you were upset (like your desk). And you get new things to pay attention to – the weather or cars on the road, for example – that help you gain new perspective on whatever problem you’re dealing with. 

Whether going for two minutes up the hallway or 45 minutes around a park, a walk is a great way to handle some of life’s more difficult moments. If you need to return to the environment that upset you, a walk can give you just enough distance (literally and figuratively) to handle it with strength. 

5 – Treat yourself

mental health first aid tip: paint, dance, sing, or more

Usually, difficult times hit harder when we’re not feeling our best. Sometimes it’s due to tiredness, other times due to environmental things. But sometimes we can feel off when we’re working to improve ourselves. After all, self-improvement by definition means you’re doing things you’re not currently good at, hoping to get better at it in the future. 

So if you’re having a rough day and everything seems to be going wrong, try treating yourself. This is especially useful if you’ve been holding back on something, for example holding back on sugar or caffeine to be healthier. In the long run, that could be a great decision. But that doesn’t help in the short term when you feel awful and the day just keeps getting worse. A quick treat – a small amount of something you love that makes you feel good – can really help to turn this around.

If you are trying to change your life in some way, for example quitting smoking or eating healthier, then it may be a good idea to find a “treat” that is something other than the thing you’re changing. If you’re trying to quit smoking, an extra cigarette as a “treat” might derail your goals, leading to longer-term problems. Instead, try something else.

4 – Drink some water

It could just be dehydration

When you’re feeling off, it could be for a variety of reasons. However, one thing to try immediately is to drink some water. 

There are a variety of reasons why water is helpful. For one, humans need water to survive. Studies show that most people feel they aren’t drinking enough water, and it’s possible you may be one of those people. When you don’t have enough water, you may get headaches, feel tired, feel more angry than usual, and other things that may lead to a horrible day. 

Drinking water also, by definition, is a different action than what you were doing. If the day was crappy because of meetings and annoying emails, drinking water is a different task. It changes things, even if only for a minute. Just the process of going to get water, such as getting a cup and walking to the sink, can give you a moment of peace in the middle of a terrible day. 

While drinking water may not solve all your problems, it will help your body feel better and be more able to tackle things. It’s also possible that dehydration caused a lot of the things that are making your day horrible, so water can help address that.

3 – Play a game on your phone

Playing a game on your phone can be a great way to disconnect from the world for a bit

A bad day can really make the whole world seem like crap. You know that’s not the case, but it still feels that way. It can appear like nothing is going your way and everyone’s out to get you. Or maybe you’re surrounded by idiots making the world a crappier place that day. It happens.

One way to handle the stress or anxiety that comes from that kind of day is to escape it – just for a bit – by playing a game on your phone. Whether your favorite game is Candy Crush, Tetris, Angry Birds, or something else entirely, try playing for a few minutes.

Gaming can help you with mental health first aid for a few reasons. First off, it’s a different world. In the digital world of the game, you don’t have to deal with annoying coworkers or worrying that you don’t love your job. Those issues don’t exist in the world of the game. Second, it’s a challenge. It gets you focused on achievement and winning, which is a great mindset to be in when you have a big issue to deal with at work. Third, it’s just fun. It’s a game you like to play (hopefully, anyway!) and it gives you the chance to have a bit of fun when the world seems decidedly not-fun.

When you play games, studies show that playing games can actually relax you, getting you into a better mindset just by playing. With that shift, you can take on more crap at work and get through it… all because you played some games. 

2 – Taking a deep breath

Meditation can help you re-center if something is throwing you off

It sounds weird, but when people are anxious they sometimes forget to breathe properly. Breathing is such a natural instinct that we do it all the same, whether we think about it or not. In most cases, you don’t have to think at all to breathe – after all, it’s how you stay alive. But when you’re stressed out and dealing with a bad situation, breathing patterns change. Suddenly you’re breathing very quickly and it’s making you feel even more anxious.

Meditation can help you bring your breath back to normal pace and rhythm. It’s not necessarily about any religions that use mediation as part of their practice. Meditation is simply conscious breathing, meaning you think about your breath. That’s it.

There are also stories that mediation takes a long time – people brag about how long they meditate for. But it’s not about the amount of time you spend, it’s about what happens when you focus on your breath. By thinking about your breathing, you tell your mind to not focus on other things. That allows you to think more clearly and feel more relaxed.

You also don’t have to do it for a half hour to get benefit. Even ten breaths, in and out, can help you get through a stressful moment. Even one deep breath can help you. So next time you’re dealing with a stressful situation, try taking a deep breath (or five). It may really help. 

1 – Have a snack

When you’re hungry, you may feel more anxious

There’s a famous Snickers candy bar commercial where someone is really angry at a party, yelling and screaming at people. His friend offers him a Snickers bar, saying “you’re not you when you’re hungry.” While the ad was meant to sell more Snickers, the message is true: when you’re hungry, your body can’t perform at it’s best. It can have the bad side effect of making you more angry at things that don’t really matter much.

So if you find that you’re angry at something or nothing seems to be going your way, ask yourself: when was the last time you ate? And what did you eat? If all you had was candy or a small meal a long time ago, eating a snack might help you get through the difficult situation.

Eating, particularly if it’s been a long time since your last meal, helps by putting nutrients into your body. This turns off your hunger signals in your brain, meaning you can focus more on the task at hand. When that happens, you may realize that the issues were not that big a deal – or that there’s an easy solution.

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