Mental Health and Self Care: When You Can’t Give Your All to Your Work

Strategies for Working When You Aren’t Feeling Your Best


Angela Wendel has been a nurse for nearly thirty-five years. She works demanding shifts – 12 hours – nearly every minute spent on her feet. Angela also has a chronic illness. Her shame about being “unable to do what she could previously do with ease” caused her to suffer in silence. She pushed forward wither her responsibilities and didn’t take care of herself as a result. Her guilt (and perhaps a smidge of pride) stopped her from taking sick days for her illness or outsourcing any of her duties to other less senior staff members. Instead of accurately describing the state of her health, she made light of her symptoms and kept on with a smile. 

Eventually Angela’s condition worsened. Unable to keep up the illusion that she was in perfect health, she finally clued her employer in to what was happening. Angela feared the loss of her job, negative perception changes from her colleagues, and being labelled or pitied. Immediately after her employer was notified of her condition, they took action. The company’s human resource department facilitated legal paperwork to guarantee job protection and health coverage, counselling and support groups, as well as a reduced schedule. A wealth of resources was available to her, and she wasn’t even aware! Due to the mutual understanding between her and her company, she’s finally grown comfortable with self-care, setting boundaries, and asking for help.

In an ideal world, we would only have to work when we feel 100% up for it. Unfortunately, our lives are a bit more complicated. Although mental health awareness is increasing, the idea of taking a “mental health” day from work is still regarded as indulgent in some working environments. In some working environments, chronic illnesses or disabilities may suffer from social stigmas or conflict. Managing a career and managing your health can be quite demanding.

Here’s your go-to guide for surviving work when you’re struggling.

Mental Health: Know Your Needs

Our personal needs aren’t clearly spelled out in an instruction manual. They’re unique attributes that you need to understand before you can clearly communicate them to others. Learn how to honor your mind and body. Respecting your boundaries instead of pushing yourself to the max is vital to creating a healthy work-life balance. There are many long and short-term solutions to ensure a win-win situation between you and your company such as reducing hours (temporarily or permanently), increase schedule flexibility, remote work, modified job duties, and assistance. Think about your ideal arrangement and how your workplace can support you. Finding the right workplace to fit you is the ultimate goal.

Communicate Boundaries and Expectations

You don’t need to tell anyone about your mental or physical well-being unless you want to. However, it might help you communicate boundaries, particularly, if you sometimes struggle with completing the tasks of the job. A culture of self-sacrifice has developed within the workplace. Typically, pushing our limits is typically viewed in a positive light, but it can have a serious impact on your health! Saying “no” is not a bad thing. We are our best advocates. Educate your colleagues on your current productivity bandwidth. Collaborate to distribute tasks and responsibilities. Delegating a task or asking for assistance is all a necessary part of work/life balance.

Be prepared 

Productivity does not remain stable. It ebbs and flows like the tide. When we aren’t feeling our best, it is understandable that we don’t get as much work done. Prioritise your workload in preparation for your lower energy times. Companies understand they aren’t employing robots (yet anyways!). Create contingency plans for short term and long term drops in productivity.

Ask for Help

There is no need to try and handle it all on your own. Colleagues, friends, family — there are many different places to go to for support and assistance for managing your workload. Although asking for help is usually a great way to get what you want, sometimes things do not work out. Not all employers will be able to provide you with the accommodations or environment that is best matched for your health.

Feeling down? Try these 5-Minute Mood Boosters


Deep Breathing Exercise: Breathe in through your nose to a count of five. Then, hold your breath for another five seconds. Now, exhale for the final five seconds. Repeat this breathing pattern five times. 

Change Your Environment: Is your desk cluttered? Spend five minutes organising. Just a few minutes of putting your workspace in order can do wonders for your mind and mood.

Get Some Light: Sun is a proven mood booster! Even if the weather is overcast, some fresh air can help clear your mind. It’s a bonus if you have any nature or greenery to observe!

Change Your Tune: If it’s possible, plug in some headphones and turn on a peppy tune. Many scientific studies have illustrated music’s mood-changing power. Treat yourself to a happy song or two!

Channel Gratitude: We all have people or things for which we are thankful. Take a moment to jot down a few things in your life that you’re glad to have. If you’d rather let someone know how much they mean to you, write a thank-you note. Whether or not you send the note, thinking of special people or things in your life can shift your mood.

Message a Loved One: Reach out to a friend or loved one. A few minutes of lighthearted banter or exchanging cat videos is a productive mental health break.

Are you having difficulty finding meaningful work that is right for you? If you are having difficulty managing and keeping a job, we can help. Our program finds employment that fits you, not the other way around!

To learn more about our employment program options that have given thousands of job seekers a new start, new skills, and a new job, visit our Job Programs.

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