May is National Mental Awareness Month, and the theme this year is “Back to Basics.” After two years of pandemic-induced isolation, political hostility and relentless incidents of racism and system oppression, Mental Health America invites to go back to the basics of taking care of ourselves and prioritizing taking care of our mental health.
According to Mental Health America’s website and toolkit, about half of all Americans will experience a diagnosable mental health condition sometime in their life, with symptoms usually starting by age 24. Because mental illness is difficult to detect, combined with the stigma surrounding seeking mental health treatment, “the average delay between symptom onset and treatment is 11 years, meaning a lot of people spend months or years facing mental health challenges before getting a diagnosis.” It is never too early to seek treatment for your mental health. Detecting and treating mental health issues early can save lives and promote quality of life.
Whereas mental health has long been a buzzword in corporate circles, few leaders truly understand what it means to take care of their employees’ mental health, as well as their own, effectively and on an ongoing basis. I asked 10 leaders to identify ways they prioritize mental health in the workplace. Here are their responses.
1. Leading Others Starts With Leading Yourself, And You Can’t Lead If You’re Burnt Out
“Burnout is a cultural epidemic – and a preventable one. As a leader, preventing burnout starts with taking care of your mental health, regulating your nervous system, and setting intentional boundaries,” says Ashley Gordon, founder of Quantum Coaching Academy.
“The Clear, Fill, Protect Process is an essential practice I use daily to maintain my energy and strong boundaries when leading others. To clear, close your eyes and imagine a waterfall washing away any energies from others that may have latched on from the previous day. When you’ve completely cleared all energies from others, you get to decide what energy you want to intend for the day, ie abundance, kindness, and how you want to fill yourself up. Lastly, once you decide how you want to fill yourself up, imagine a bubble of light surrounding and protecting your whole body and energy field, sealing in your intention.”
“In moments of difficulty, after calls, meetings, or at the end of the day, you can return to neutral and reinforce your boundaries and energy protection by imagining this bubble. I recommend using this process each morning before you start your day. This will prevent you from taking on others’ energy and create space for more of your own energy to combat burnout and move through your days with ease.”
2. Your Team Will Improve If You Focus on Being 1% Better Every Day
“It is critical that leaders have a firm grasp of their mental health. The easiest method to accomplish this is to commit to a daily meditation/mindfulness routine,” says Coral Elizabeth Young, COO of Viral Growth Media.
“If you want to take it a step further, hire an EMDR therapist to help you work through any internal issues that are holding you back because the best way to serve your team is to be able to show up 100 percent for them with no limiting beliefs.”
3. Master Your Words And You Will Master Your World
“The words you speak and write have incredible power. Many of us don’t question our thoughts, actions, and words. We become so focused on being successful that it becomes the only thing in life which is important to us – but what if this isn’t true?” asks Tim S. Marshall author, CEO and founder of Marshall Growth Institute.
“When you are aware that there is nothing to fear, your world becomes lighter. You can finally let go and live for yourself instead. The words you speak, the thoughts you think, and the actions you take may possibly be from someone else’s script. It is crippling to live according to someone else’s idea of how you should be and what you should do. So take control. Live positively every day knowing with certainty that the mindset can overcome any fear, stress, and anxiety.”
4. All Work and No Play Wreaks Havoc on Corporations
“When a leader can grasp and enforce a true mental health balance culture, they’ve succeeded in understanding the key to positive and productive teams,” says Robin Gargano, CEO and founder of L4, Livin’ Life’ Lovin’ Life.
“We come into this world learning through play and along the way we lose sight of its importance. Play increases job satisfaction, well-being, creativity, and productivity, encouraging next-level social interaction. Strengthening social bonds also leads to new connections, fueling increased communication, collaboration, and advocacy.
“Research indicates when a play culture is in place, your employees experience less burnout, fatigue, boredom, and stress creating a healthy environment for healthy living. Life is a full spectrum of responsibility, but if fun equals increased revenue year over year, I’d say that’s an easy equation to put into play.”
5. Optimal Mind Fitness: Train Your Mind to Balance Emotions
“Flexibility, diversity, and originality attract new opportunities and promote emotional balance. Practice abstract thinking, nurture mindfulness, and take control of your environment,” says Dr. Olga Zbarskaya, author, founder, and president of OZ CREDO Institute of Creative Thinking.
“Creativity reduces anxiety, depression, and stress. Re-invention of our creative selves allows us to explore emotions and acquire new abilities. Pick up a craft or a hobby that will allow your creativity to flourish. Re-channeling your focus into creative projects balances emotions with creativity, utilizes challenges, fuels inventions, and promotes optimal mind fitness.”
6. Focus on What You Can Control
“Create margins in your life to be able to reflect and focus on things you can change rather than worry about things that are beyond your control,” says Bobby Jones, partner with Elena Cardone, Exp Realty.
“Leaders must stay mentally, physically, and spiritually strong. Their energy is constantly being given and taken from others and can drain them very quickly without margins to reflect and pray.
“Mentally, leaders have to realize that their role is not to please everyone, but to do what others aren’t willing to do, with honesty and integrity; to be an example and serving to others by leading from the front.
“Leaders can’t get caught up worrying about things that they can’t change such as a market crash, interest rates, etc. They should only focus on the best decisions to make for the betterment of those that trust and follow them.”
7. Resilience And Grit Are Two Very Important Traits For Leaders
“As entrepreneurs, we must accept that there will be more losses than wins and that the bigger the problem we solve, the more money we earn. The question we need to ask ourselves is how much rejection and uncertainty can we comfortably live with? This can have an impact on our mental health and wellbeing,” says Dariush Soudi, founder of Be Unique Group.
“I tend to weigh out the two options before making a decision so I know ahead of time what I may endure. There is a lot of uncertainty in being a leader. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow but we can at least be mentally prepared for different possible outcomes.”
8. Realize That No One Is Coming To Save You. It’s Up To You
“The best day of your life is the day you realize that no one is coming to save you,” says Justin Waller, founder RedIron Construction.
“This allows leaders the mental freedom to take responsibility for their team, their situation, and all collective outcomes. Stop searching outside of yourself. Get the ball in your court and play the game.”
9. Make Mental Health Your Primary Focus
“As a soldier for over a decade, mental health was second to the mission. Now it’s my main focus as an entrepreneur,” says Naaman Taylor, founder of Marching Time Capital.
“Whether it’s a life or death decision or which new software to implement, it takes a toll. Staying ahead of the curve with practices like exercise, meditation and reading have helped assist me in the everyday challenges of staying mentally fit.”
10. Living A Life Fulfilled Will Help Keep Your Mental Health Balanced
“Mental health has been very important to me, growing up with a mother who suffered from schizophrenia on an island where this was looked down upon. This has led me to live my life with a clear sense of purpose,” says Yassin Hall, CEO of BOSS Class LLC.
“So how do you find your purpose? For some people, this may come naturally. They’ve always known what they’re passionate about and what they want to achieve in life. For others, it may take some time and soul-searching to figure out what they’re meant to do.
“But there are a few questions that can help. First, ask yourself what you enjoy doing. What are your natural talents and strengths? What makes you feel alive and excited? Once you have a better idea of your passions, start thinking about ways you can use them to make a difference in the world. What problems do you want to solve? What change do you want to see? Answering these questions will give you a starting point for finding your purpose. From there, it’s up to you to turn that purpose into action and start living a life fulfilled.”
Great leaders know that caring for the mental health of others begins with them. Make time each day to meditate, reflect, and align yourself with your purpose. Check that your thoughts, words, and actions are not only aligned, but that they are truly coming from you, and not a script that your parents and society have dictated. Make room for play. Focus on what you can control. You don’t have the time or energy to focus on anything else.
Finally, realize that it’s all up to you. No one’s going to save you, and no one needs to. When you prioritize taking care of yourself, you prevent burnout, and you are better situated to take care of others.