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When Self-Care Isn't Enough: How to Take Control of Your Mental Health

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There is always another deadline to make, another donor to meet, another person to help. For those in social impact, it can seem like the work is never done. It’s easy for stress to build up. And while there is a lot of talk about self-care in the nonprofit sector, sometimes taking a day off or going to a yoga class just isn’t enough.

So when do you need more than self-care? When do you need to stop and seek treatment for more serious mental health conditions, like anxiety or depression? And how do you go about seeking treatment for the first time?

Anxiety and depression are common in the workplace

On average, one in five people suffer from anxiety or depression. And since most people spend much of their lives at work, that is bound to affect life at the office. Clare Miller, who directs the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, says that anxiety and depression can be particularly common in the nonprofit sector.

“Because nonprofits are mission driven, it can be harder to turn off and to keep that work-life balance,” Miller said. “But it’s like when you’re on an airplane, you need to put that oxygen mask on yourself before you help others. You will be able to do a better job if you take care of yourself.”

You will be able to do a better job if you take care of yourself.

Workplace depression is common. Miller estimates that organizations lose approximately $210 billion annually because of loss of productivity. That’s why her group works with organizations to provide free resources for employers who want to make sure their employees’ mental health is taken care of.

Is it stress or something more serious?

Many people can get stressed when they are facing a deadline or working on a big project. And sometimes stress can even be a good motivator. But when that stress really starts to impact your daily life and your ability to function at work or at home, it could be a sign of something more, said Dr. Debra Kissen, Clinical Director of the Light on Anxiety Treatment Center of Chicago and board member of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. She added that the earlier you seek treatment for your mental health, the better. You don’t need to wait until you hit rock bottom.

“Any kind of emotional distress is real,” she said. “The earlier that any challenge is handled, the less it will become a pattern.”

Pro Tip: We’ve covered stress management extensively here at Idealist Careers, so be sure to check out some of these resources for practicing self-care. You can read about “5 Self-Care Strategies for Care Professionals,” “5 Ways to Cope When Your Ambition Becomes a Source of Anxiety,” and “6 Ways to Work With And Not Against Stress.”

How to get treatment

So, what do you do if your stress, anxiety, or depression is impacting your life? Both Miller and Kissen have some tips.

Kissen suggests starting by making simple changes and then working your way up to more intensive treatment if necessary.

  • First, look at what you are eating and make sure you get enough exercise. This simple step can often help calm stress.
  • Second, you can try downloading an app to help. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has a list of suggested apps that offer users the ability to track symptoms and then provide tools and resources for managing those symptoms. Those suffering from anxiety, depression, PTSD, panic disorder, or obsessive compulsive disorder can benefit. All of the apps have been reviewed by independent mental health professionals.
  • Third, seek outside help from a life coach or mental health professional. The ADAA provides a good starting point for finding a therapist, and even offers a list of therapists who can provide treatment over the phone or internet.
  • Fourth, if therapy doesn’t seem to be working, talk to your therapist about more intensive treatment; both inpatient and outpatient options are available.

It’s also a good idea to look and see what resources your employer provides, Miller added. Talk to your boss or human resources representative to see if your organization has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). About 90% of organizations have EAPs, Miller said. Often, an EAP will provide free resources, such as telemental health or initial visits with a therapist.

Pro Tip: If your organization does not have an EAP, or does not have great mental health insurance, there are plenty of options available for low-cost treatment, including therapists who offer sliding scales or federally-funded health centers.

Don’t wait too long

If you feel like you are experiencing anxiety or depression, then it is a good idea to do what you can in order to seek help soon. And remember, there are different types of treatment for different types of people.

“Therapy doesn’t have to be a big complicated thing,” Dr. Kissen said. “Just think of it as someone coaching you to do things that are good for you.”

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About the Author | Samantha Fredrickson has worked in communications and nonprofit advocacy for more than a decade. She has spent much of her career advocating for the rights of vulnerable populations. She has degrees from the University of Nevada, Reno and New York Law School.

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