You’re in the middle of a long week, dark bags hang under your eyes. You need to finish a big project but a new hire needs help with a complex deliverable. Then the phone rings. You’re roped into a client call, troubleshooting problems and planning future endeavors. Finished, you’re out of one oven but into another frying pan.
Hours later, you clock out, run some errands, and head home. In the living room, the kids are wrapping up remote classes and need help with their homework. Back to work you go. The sun sets. Dinner is served. Then the little ones are tucked in. Lights out, you find yourself tossing and turning through the night.
Endless problems and things to do, yet only so many hours in the day. If only you had some time for yourself. But team and family needs come before personal needs, right? Thinking about yourself is selfish, isn’t it? Wrong!
We must go above and beyond as the COVID-19 pandemic rages and other challenges arise. Yet to put in our best effort, we have to find our best selves. And that begins with taking care of ourselves.
Many leaders are quick to put their company and team first. Even thinking about yourself may seem selfish, but you’re not going to perform at your best if you don’t take care of yourself. Writing on Medium.com, Clinical Psychologist Claire Nicogossian points out:
“Self-care is taking time to nurture yourself through activities which replenish energy and help manage stress. It is different than self-pampering: getting manicures, pedicures, taking baths or having a massage are nice activities, but it is not self-care. Self-care is taking care of your physical, emotional, social, mental/cognitive and spiritual parts of yourself.”
“Regard yourself as priority number one. When people are stressed, they let themselves go and forget how important it is to make themselves a priority. But if you don’t, it becomes progressively harder to replenish your physical and mental energy. When that happens, you lose clarity and focus—and that, in turn, further depletes your well-being. It’s an unhealthy cycle, but it’s one you can end. If you want to stop feeling exhausted, start treating yourself as your own top priority”
Breaking the cycle is easier said than done, but you can take meaningful steps to reduce stress. Meditation has become a go-to for many people looking to reduce stress and improve well-being. Mindful meditation is especially promising as it’s relatively easy and you can perform it at your desk. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Julie Corliss states:
“The practice of mindful meditation involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing, and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future.”
Elsewhere, Corliss points out that mindful meditation:
“…helps you break the train of your everyday thoughts to evoke the relaxation response, using whatever technique feels right to you.”
Physical exercise offers another excellent way to improve mental well-being. Of course, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a busy career, hitting the gym is easier said than done. In Psychology Today, Dr. Patricia Harteneck suggests:
“Your body releases stress-relieving and mood-boosting endorphins before and after you work out, which is why exercise is a powerful antidote to stress, anxiety, and depression. Look for small ways to add activity to your day, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or going on a short walk.’
Even a quick trip to the water cooler may help you reset and recharge. Another way to improve your mental health is reducing negative thoughts. If you’re constantly putting yourself down, negativity can snowball into an avalanche. Psychotherapist Amy Morin says:
“Identify and replace overly negative thoughts with thoughts that are more productive. Productive thoughts don’t need to be extremely positive, but should be realistic. A more balanced thought may be, ‘I have some weaknesses, but I also have plenty of strengths.’ Changing your thoughts requires constant monitoring, but the process can be instrumental in helping you become your best self.”
Once you become your best self, you’ll be in a better position to lead. And when it comes to your coworkers, remember their mental well-being is important too.
By taking care of your mental well-being, you’ll be better positioned to aid family, coworkers, clients, and others. A well-rested and focused leader can more easily cope with stress and is better equipped to share burdens and help employees care for themselves.
So how do you support your employees’ mental well-being? Start by sharing your own experiences and challenges. As Kelly Greenwood and Natasha Krol put it in the Harvard Business Review:
“One silver lining of the pandemic is that it is normalizing mental health challenges. Almost everyone has experienced some level of discomfort. But the universality of the experience will translate into a decrease in stigma only if people, especially people in power, share their experiences.”
Kelly Greenwood and Natasha Krol also urge employers to check in with their employees. While checking in has always been important, it’s even more so now given how many people are working remotely and maintaining social distance. They suggest that you:
“Go beyond a simple “How are you?” and ask specific questions about what supports would be helpful. Wait for the full answer. Really listen, and encourage questions and concerns. Of course, be careful not to be overbearing; that could signal a lack of trust or a desire to micromanage.”
Elsewhere, Kelly Greenwood writes with Jen Porter and Bernie Wong to suggest that employers should establish mental health employee resource groups (ERGs) where people can share their stories and experiences.
“ERGs are created to build community among people with shared identities or experiences at work. When done thoughtfully, those that focus on mental health promote diversity and inclusion and provide support for employees managing symptoms of mental health conditions.”
Just remember, as you help others, you must continuously circle back and take care of yourself. Finding your best self will make it easier for you to lead others to a mentally healthier place. As Sharmishta Sivaramakrishnan and Peter Varnum point out:
“This moment calls for a new type of leadership: one in which leaders show strength through embracing vulnerability, and exercise wisdom through creating spaces in which their teams can be psychologically safe, innovative and open about their mental health – if they so choose.”
These days, many extraordinary leaders are going to great lengths to help others and society at large. That’s awesome! But don’t lose yourself in the shuffle.
What does this have to do with packaging leadership? Everything! If you want to perform at your best, you need to prioritize your mental well-being. And amid these challenging times, our best selves are best positioned to support coworkers, family, and others.
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