If you have a psychiatric disability and hold down a job in a workplace where most of the employees do not share this disability, you have a variety of stressful situations to deal with. Because of the stigma attached to mental illness, it's hard to decide whether to share this personal information with coworkers and supervisors.
And whichever route you take, you may have fears about acting or looking weird while you're working. Here are five suggestions for alleviating some of the stress:
1. Make Sure Your Job Matches Your Coping Skills
If you hear voices often despite medication and listening to music is a good way to tune them out, working in an office or a job site where you can have headphones or a radio may be a good option. If pressure to keep up with a hectic pace jangles your nerves, stay away from the restaurant industry, assembly-type jobs or publishing. Look for calmer settings.
2. Change Tasks Frequently or Take Breaks If Concentrating Is a Problem
Many people like variety in their work; you are not alone in needing to shift your attention from one task to another. Frequent but brief breaks may be an accommodation you need to request from your employer. If you do take breaks, find ways to do it that don't look too obvious to other workers who are not granted this privilege. Smoking breaks every hour will call attention to you. Talk with your boss about how you can change what you are doing legitimately.
3. Make a Few Friends at Work
People who have been out of the workforce for periods of psychiatric hospitalization or time in the mental health system often feel different and are fearful of socializing with people who haven't shared their experiences and may not understand. But staying apart from others only confirms you are different in their eyes. Becoming friendly with a few people doesn't mean you have to share your life story, but it can make you feel like you have some allies and give you another reason to enjoy coming to work.
4. Have a Strong Support System Outside Work
This should include your doctor and therapist (if you're working with one) and your family. But one of the best things you can do for yourself is to find or begin a support group of other people with a psychiatric history who are working regular jobs. Many, if not all, of them will be facing similar situations and feeling as you are. This is a group where you can discuss your fears, attempts to cope and successes. You can get feedback and discover strategies that others have used to deal with difficult situations at work. A good rule of thumb is one-third complaining time and two-thirds “what are we going to do to make things better?” time. There are more people than you know in the work arena who are being treated for psychiatric conditions. Your psychiatrist, therapist or other mental health professionals may help you find people who would be interested in a support group.
5. Stay on a Regime You Know Keeps You Stable
If your medication works, don't take med vacations without your doctor's support and until you are well-situated in your job. Sleep disorders are often part of the illness, but you need to keep your wits about you, so ask for help if this is a problem. Always eat healthy. Stay away from substances you know will impair your functioning, and get regular exercise -- one of the best stress releasers of all.
There will be times when you will be doing well and working at a high performance level. Other times, you will wonder whether you can get out of bed in the morning, or maybe feel so high that work seems beside the point. Those are the times when you need to reach out to your support system.