If work is taking a toll on your mental health, find balance by simplifying other areas of your life

Business Insider US
Overexerting yourself at work can often take a toll on your mental health.
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  • Having a full work and social schedule can be enjoyable for some, but overextending yourself with external activity can also be distracting and harmful to your mental health.
  • Psychotherapist Amy Morin explains that people often confuse a lack of focus or inspiration with mental weakness, when its really due to decision fatigue from having too much on your plate.
  • Morin says simplifying different areas of your life and automating the decision-making process can free up time to practice good habits and lean more into the activities you enjoy.
  • If you're struggling, call the SAMHSA National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. 
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One of my coaching clients asked what she could do to build more mental strength fast. She was overwhelmed and exhausted and felt ineffective in almost every area of her life, especially in her job. Her health was declining, her finances were out of control, and she never got enough work done to feel satisfied professionally.

She said, "I have plenty of support — an acupuncturist, nutritionist, personal trainer, chiropractor, therapist, business coach, and financial advisor." Her daily routine involved sprinting from yoga class to various appointments, and her spare time was spent trying to follow through with all the different advice she was getting from the experts in her life.

She didn't realise her lack of productivity didn't stem from internal weakness. It stemmed from too much external activity. Simplifying her life was the key to becoming mentally stronger.

When you're struggling in life, ask yourself whether you need to change yourself or change the environment. Sometimes, a few modifications to the world around you is all it takes to feel stronger and become better. And those helpful modifications usually involve making life simpler. Here's why mentally strong people rely on simplicity as a way to set themselves up for success:

Simplicity reduces decision fatigue

There's a reason Steve Jobs wore the same black turtleneck every day — he didn't want to waste brain-power picking out his outfit. There's a lot of wisdom in that.

Mentally strong people know that decisions require mental energy. And your brain runs out of energy when you make too many decisions — just like your body runs out of energy when you're working out.

Eliminating the need to make some simple little decisions — like what shirt to put on in the morning — frees your brain to focus on more important decisions. That can help you become a better decision-maker.

If you doubt that decision fatigue is a real problem, consider this: Research shows judges grant parole 70% of the time in the morning as compared to less than 10% in the afternoon. Researchers suspect when their brains get tired later in the day, they're more likely to go with the default option — stay in prison.

Even if no one's freedom is at stake, you likely make some important decisions every day in your professional life. Whether you plan out important meetings ahead of time or maintain a simple wardrobe, simplifying your life could ensure you have more mental strength to tackle tough decisions.

Automatic habits are easy to follow

Mentally strong people don't have more motivation or willpower than everyone else. Instead, they know how to work smarter, not harder. They create healthy habits for themselves and make those habits easy to commit to by making them automatic.

You have certain daily habits that require little mental energy because they've become automatic. For example, you likely have a certain shower routine —maybe you shower first and brush your teeth after. Or, maybe you always brush first and shower second.

When you have automatic or paired habits, you don't need to think about what's next because you always do it the same way.

Set yourself up for success by making your new habits more automatic — and by pairing them with something you don't have to remember to do.

For example, if you want to start reading more or networking on LinkedIn every day, set aside time in the evenings after dinner. After all, you don't have to remind yourself to eat. Pairing a new habit with something you already do and making it part of your routine increases the chances that you'll follow through.

Fewer temptations make delayed gratification easier

You might think mentally strong people are just gifted when it comes to ignoring a ringing phone when they're writing a boring report. Or, perhaps they're superhuman since they can show up to work early the day after a company party. 

But, the truth is, mentally healthy people don't invest all their energy into resisting temptation. Instead, they modify their environment when they need to.

After all, it only takes one minute of weakness to talk yourself into doing something you might later regret (like convincing yourself you should watch TV now and just finish your work assignment later).

It's easier to reach your goals when you create an environment that makes it easier to be mentally strong. If you're trying not to drink, don't work in a bar. If you're trying to stay on task, shut off your notifications. 

Create an environment that is conducive to improving your mental health. Keep in mind that the best mental muscle building plan is a plan that you will stick to. The simpler you make things for yourself, the more likely you'll be to stick to it.  

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