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Under Pressure | Tips for Beating Workplace Stress and Burnout

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni profile image

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni

A photograph of a woman comforting a friend who is combatting workplace stress and burnout.

With the workplace wellness industry valued at $8 billion, employers appear increasingly open to investing in the wellbeing of their employees. But a large component of wellness is mental health and emotional resilience—topics that can be difficult to talk about in the workplace. 

Read on to learn what emotional resilience is, and how you can take time off to combat the effects of workplace stress and burnout.

What is emotional resilience?

Simply put, emotional resilience is the ability to handle stress and challenges. Even though you feel overwhelmed, angry, frustrated, or sad in the face of everyday stressors or a larger crisis, if you are still able to adapt and work through it, you are emotionally resilient.                                                                                                

9 qualities of the emotionally resilient

Resilience is not innate, and therefore can be nurtured. You can exercise your resilience muscles by nurturing those qualities that foster greater emotional well-being. Here are nine common characteristics of emotionally resilient people:

  • Belief that you—not external forces—have control over your own life
  • Awareness of what you are feeling and why
  • An understanding that you have problems, but you are not your problems
  • Perspective that challenges are valuable life lessons
  • A positive mental attitude
  • A sense of humor
  • Perseverance
  • Regular self-care practices to turn to
  • Having a support system of family and friends

Mental health days

Part of emotional resilience is knowing when you need to recharge your batteries—that's where a “mental health day” can be useful. Workplace stress and burnout may occur in your career, so taking a day or two to recharge when you are feeling overwhelmed or exhausted can help get you back on your feet and feeling good.

There is no formal category of leave classified as “mental health days,” but its closest companion is the personal day. If you work for an organization that offers personal days—usually 2–3 per year—you can use these days for anything, including mental health days. 

Taking a day or two off

There are two ways you can approach taking a mental health day: schedule a personal day in advance or call in sick the day of. The advantage of the former is that you can plan your work commitments around your day off, which can make it a less stressful option. But life happens, and you may not be able to plan when you will absolutely need a day off. In that case, follow whatever your organization’s protocol is for calling in sick. 

If, however, your employer does not offer personal days but does offer sick leave, you can opt to use one of your sick days as a mental health day. 

What if there is a larger issue?

If you are dealing with a mental health issue that is affecting your ability to do your job, you may need a different approach because a day or two off is not enough. What is the best way to handle this?

  • Evaluate what you need to prioritize your health and wellness. What would help you support your personal needs while also honoring your professional commitments? Figure out if you need more time off or a more flexible working arrangement. 
  • Find out what your employer offers when it comes to what you need. Talk to an HR representative or consult an employee handbook, if that is available to you. Does your employer offer paid leaves of absence? Would you have access to your benefits if you take more time off? Does your employer offer flexible working arrangements? If so, what does that look like?
  • Talk to a trusted advisor—a family member, friend, or therapist—about what you are going through and your thoughts on what you need. Get their feedback so you can get another perspective and have the moral support you need to come up with a solid plan.
  • Prepare a proposal based on your plan. If you want to take time off, be clear on how long your absence will be and how you will bring your co-workers up-to-speed on your work for a seamless transition. If you are opting for a flexible work arrangement, make sure you are clear about what this arrangement looks like and how long you would need it. 
  • Schedule a meeting with your manager to discuss potential solutions.

The big conversation

When you go into the meeting with your manager having already done the prep, you will make a strong impression that you want to find the best solution for your organization and yourself, which can ease the negotiation process. 

But the biggest issue weighing on your mind may be how much to disclose about your mental health. Unfortunately, no one can definitively tell you how much to say or not say. How much you share depends on your rapport with your manager, as well as how comfortable you feel talking about your health.

Whatever you choose to say, remember that under the Americans With Disabilities Act, you cannot be fired on the basis of your mental health. Also keep in mind that your manager cannot offer you the support you need if you do not speak up, and they may be more understanding than you expect. As anxiety-inducing as this conversation is, combatting the effects of workplace stress and burnout can help you build a more healthy relationship with your day job.

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni profile image

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni is a writer and creative coach in New York City. She helps women living with chronic illness and mental health challenges to pursue their passion projects without compromising their health.

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