5 Mental Health TED Talks That Will Help You Cope With Stress at Work


Mental health in the workplace: from mild anxiety to chronic stress

It’s Mental Health Week in Canada, an annual event sponsored by the Canadian Mental Health Association for the last sixty-six years. However, despite a relative push for awareness on the importance of mental health, too often it still remains neglected, ignored, and worse yet, stigmatized by organizations big and small.  

For those of you who may believe this to be hyperbole,  just think about how often you tried to ignore an “embarrassing”, or “shameful” physical pain just to avoid going to the doctor for help? Or,  you’ve told ourselves: “it’s just going to go away”, or “I’ll live with it”?

Now imagine the same scenario, only this time, it’s an emotional pain that afflicts your mental health. Telling oneself, “it’ll pass”, or “ it’s nothing, I just need to get myself together” to spare yourself from the shame of having to see a clinical professional can be extremely detrimental to your mental health.  Saving yourself from the fear of having to tell your employer that you’re going through something actually puts you in harm’s way.

Emotional and psychological issues can impact both your personal and professional life in serious ways. Whether it’s simply mild anxiety, an anxiety disorder, or chronic stress, every mental health issue must be addressed. Your personal sanity and overall happiness are at stake. 

The good news is: taking care of one’s mental health does not necessarily mean having to treat mental illness, per se. Take stress, for instance. Stress is a natural human reaction, a healthy physical and emotional response to a challenging situation. It is often associated with job and work environment, as most of us spend most of our time in the workplace dealing with deadlines. And performance pressures. But taken to an extreme, stress can affect employees’ psychological and physical health to the point where workers can be totally disengaged and develop a chronic stress disorder, which can result in anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system.  

The statistics tell the true story of psychological health and safety in the workplace. According to Forbes, 1 in 5 employees has a mental health problem. Additionally, stress negatively impacts employee engagement, since engagement comes down to how much employers care about their employees’ wellbeing. It’s precisely because stress at work is a major part of our lives that it is essential that we all learn how to properly live with it.

Here’s five mental health Ted Talks that may help you cope with stress at work!

There’s no shame in taking care of your mental health, by Sangu Delle

If mental health was a house, this  Ted Talk would be its foundation. Here we watch Sangu Delle address the shame surrounding mental health issues and illnesses. Delle believes society has taught us to equal mental health problems with madness and supports the “fool” archetype conjuring images of a half-naked person on drugs wandering the streets.

It’s true that madness is a disorder, however, not all disorders are madness. Mental health issues have too often been associated with weakness, or lack of control, which serves to wholly disassociate, devalue the clinical and physical aspects of this far-reaching dilemma. Since the workplace itself can be considered a microcosm of the world at large, social interactions are weighted just as heavily.

We, on planet earth, have a tendency to perpetuate these behaviours either consciously, or unknowingly. We can hardly imagine our tough-as-nails boss sitting in the psychiatrist’s over-stuffed, way-too-expensive couch, unabashedly crying because they’re scared, and stressed out about work. Maybe we should though.

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being honest about how we feel. It does not make us weak, it makes us human”, Delle so kindly reminds us. So if you’re having a hard time coping with stress and its toxic effects at work, it’s important that you reach out to a friend, a loved one, a mental health professional or even a trusted colleague.

How to make stress your friend, by Kelly McGonigal

Every worker should watch this talk at least once.  In it, you’ll learn that stress is not the enemy, your perception of it is.

Ted Talk host and Health Psychologist Kelly McGonigal explains that her perspective has evolved on the matter based on a study  that tracked 30 000 adults in the US for eight years and revealed that people who reported a high amount of stress and were convinced it had an impact on their health had a 43% increased risk of dying compared to people who reported the same amount of stress, although did not think it would impact their health. Lesson here: selective ignorance can actually be deadly.

So basically, changing how you think about stress can make you healthier. Yessir. But how? And why? The answer… Because common symptoms of stress, like your heart, pounding, and your palms sweating, are signs that your body is properly preparing to cope with it. By strategically avoiding the acceptance of stress and its effects on your everyday life, you’re actually ill-equipping your body, and robbing yourself of the natural defences it mounts against this powerful perpetrator.

In yet another study conducted by Harvard University, participants who viewed their stress response as helpful to their performance (giving a public speech, for instance) were less stressed out and less anxious overall. So what can employees do to manage job and workplace stress? According to McGonigal, “your stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection”. Rethinking stress, engaging with others, and seeking help when needed can help you tackle work challenges big time!

Be the Warrior Not the worrier, by Angela Ceberano

This Talk is perfect for those who seek clear answers to mental health concerns. Angela Ceberano posits that dealing with work stress and anxiety on a daily basis requires implementing workplace strategies. But before you do, it’s important to understand how irrational stress can be. As Ceberano reminds us (we’re very thankful she does!), research has shown that 40% of the things we worry about never happen, ever. A further 30%  of those things we so often freak out over are in the past and can’t be helped, and 12% involve the affairs of others. Lastly, 10% relate to sickness, real or imagined. This means that only 8% of the things we worry about are likely to happen. Only 8%. Remember that the next time you stress out about meeting a deadline at work!

Now, if you’re really afraid of something, just “take the bull by its horns”, as the saying goes. Ceberano refers to it as “the fear project”: pick something, anything that is a great source of stress for you and build a project around it. Let’s say your biggest fear is hosting a presentation at the office in front of all your bosses and coworkers. Just dive in, you’ll be surprised how this can help you cope with your stress!

How to cope with anxiety, by Olivia Remes

This Talk will definitely help your anxiety issues. The normal levels of anxiety most of us experience is an emotion that we all get when we’re in a stressful situation, says Olivia Remes. Anxiety is common, and almost expected at work when you have to meet a deadline or deal with personal life emergencies. But it’s important to reduce anxiety-induced stress. And for that, the only thing you need to do is implement three major coping resources.

The first one is “feeling in control of your life”. Take action, stop procrastinating on your work, don’t wait until the last minute to tackle a big work project or you’ll end up stressed. We stress at work because we care about doing things right, we value being recognized for our good work. So take control of your work and your mental health will thank you for it.

The second coping mechanism you can begin to employ is to simply allow yourself forgiveness… In other words, don’t be so hard on yourself all the time! It’s OK to make mistakes. Even your employer knows it, otherwise, people would get fired all the time. So give yourself a break! Remes colourfully illustrates this point in her Ted Talk with a funny analogy… Remember when you’re being hard on yourself: if you had a friend who constantly pointed out everything you do wrong and blamed you for it, you would probably get rid of that person, wouldn’t you? Well, people with uncontrolled anxiety do that to themselves all the time! It’s time to let things go and be your own best friend for a change!

Last, but certainly not least, having a life with purpose and filled with meaning is essential to coping with the aggravations, and seismic anxieties we may feel in our every day. No need for earthquakes. Settle for positive vibrations instead by engaging in your work, finding meaning in your tasks, and successfully achieving goals. All are so important to your mental health.

How to stay calm when you know you’ll be stressed, by Daniel Levitin

If you’re looking for a funny, engaging presentation on stress management, this Talk is for you! Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin knows something or two about stress. Namely, he speaks of how cortisol, a steroid hormone released in response to stress and low blood-glucose concentration, can cloud your brain and lead to irrational thinking.

Several years ago, during one of Montreal’s cold and bitterly dark winter days, Levitin had to break into his own home during -40c weather. He had left his house that day and had mistakenly left his keys on the dinner table. Eesh.

He couldn’t head over to a friend’s place to stay the night since he needed his passport for an early flight he had the next morning. Fast forward to the next day. Levitin got to the airport on time, despite the lockout only to realize in the end that he had forgotten his passport. The lesson learned?

Look ahead and try to plan for the things that could go wrong to prevent them from happening. At the office, it means developing a system that will help you reduce stress: download software that helps you remember your deadlines, spend some time organizing your calendar to manage your month’s tasks. Think of things you can proactively do to considerably reduce your anxiety at work. Make an action plan and stick to it.

Managing job and workplace stress, what it’s all about

So what’s the takeaway from these five amazing Ted Talks?

The key to managing job and workplace stress, or any kind of mental health concern, is to develop coping strategies. We all get stressed once in a while, but it’s important to remember there’s more to life than being anxious all the time. Your work environment, your colleagues, and your employers can all play a part in helping to reduce your workplace anxieties. Ultimately, however, it all begins with you being engaged enough to leave stress behind!