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Your mental health matters, here are 5 ways to make it a priority

As a business leader, prioritising your personal mental health is an imperative part of your organisation's success and drive. Unfortunately, many executives don’t know the steps to take to avoid burnout.

Navigating through Covid-19 has taken a toll on senior executives and business owners. You’ve endured unbelievable stress adhering to government regulations, assuring teams that their safety and finances would be looked after as well as keeping productivity as high as possible. It’s hard to cut out some time to care for yourself too.

Improving your mental health

While looking after the mental health and wellbeing of staff has arisen as one of the top employee priorities coming out of lockdowns, it’s essential to remember to look after your own mental health as an executive too. When you are calm and clearheaded, that’s when you can lead your team effectively through times of crisis.

Of course, as a business leader, you are looking to take action to address health risks for your employees first, but the result can be that you end up overlooking self-care.

Dr Wedell-Wedellsborg, the Adjunct Professor in Leadership at the Institute for Management Development, identified three phases of a crisis:

  1. Emergency - When a crisis emerges you strive to overcome the challenges, which can result in a spike in energy and performance
  2. Regression - Once the crisis is resolved, you and your staff may feel exhausted and burnt out
  3. Recovery - This is the phase where you regroup to focus on goals that can uplift and motivate the team about the future

Identifying which phase you’re in can help you minimise the strain for you and your team. It can also give you a clear idea of the steps you need to take to reach the recovery phase.

To help you overcome challenges and build towards increasing your resilience as a business owner or senior executive there are three skills you can start to master:

  • The ability to manage uncertainties. In most cases, an emergency will be out of your control, the only thing you can control is how you react and how you lead your team. This needs to be your focus.
  • The ability to lead and adapt to hybrid work environments. Your workplace structure and processes will need to change rapidly to fit the new situation, at least temporarily. Finding the right fit quickly and moving across easily will help provide momentum and motivation
  • An openness and willingness to address mental health and well-being in the workplace. Even though stigmas are easing, admitting to and discussing mental health issues can make you feel vulnerable. Starting a difficult conversation is what real leadership is all about.

A certain amount of pressure is part of the territory of your executive role, however, understanding when things are getting too much and you need support is essential. When you prioritise your mental health and well-being you will be able to lead your staff more effectively and gain a better understanding of your capabilities and shortcomings in order to continue stepping up into greater leadership roles.

How your working environment can impact your well-being and productivity

Prioritising mental health and wellness will allow you to create a mentally healthy workplace for you and your staff members, a situation that is more important now than ever before. 

Start by providing a positive work environment that naturally supports and promotes high productivity and engagement. Different factors can affect performance, especially if your organisation is operating on a hybrid work model. Having dedicated workstations as well as a stable internet connection are baseline necessities, but far from enough to sustain overall wellbeing.

Some key areas here are transparent and effective communications as well as flexible work schedules. 

Having an open-door policy and taking an interest in your staff as individuals helps reassure them they can talk to you about their concerns. This goes both ways. Realising that you are not alone in your battles helps make the situation manageable and solutions become more obvious, especially when you have different perspectives coming together for resolution.

For the same reason, open communication also needs to exist around normalising mental health issues and developing ways to support each other. Joining forces will build resilience and help your team bounce back and create strong, professional relationships.

While staff are pushing hard for flexible work schedules off the back of the pandemic, you need to consider how you can find ways to improve your work-life balance as well. Prioritising life outside work has been shown to increase workplace productivity as well as help improve mental health and personal fulfilment.

5 tips to boost your mental health

Taking care of your mental health is as simple as putting the right process in place. We’ve broken it down into a step-by-step approach to help cut through any overwhelming feelings and help you to become a stronger and more resilient business leader.

  1. Identify early warning signs 

Keeping track of common patterns or signs that your mental health is deteriorating can help you know when to pull back and take a break. They don’t usually happen in isolation, there’s typically a combination of signs at work.

Some of the most common signs of mental health issues include experiencing:

  • Feelings of anxiety or worry
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight or appetite problems
  • Becoming quiet or withdrawn

It’s normal to feel negative emotions from time to time. Just be sure to acknowledge if symptoms of stress start to affect your physical health or disrupt your daily routine. Experiencing these symptoms to an extreme degree can significantly impact your well-being as well as your ability to handle your workload, make decisions and interact with your team.

Once you identify the early warning signs, consult with a professional that can give you a proper diagnosis of what you’re currently going through and provide solutions - do it now, before things get worse and take longer to heal. 

  1. Build your support system

Having a strong social support network - both in and outside work - has multiple positive impacts. It’s easier to manage stress and everyday challenges when you have a community you can trust and depend on. Building a support system can also help you combat social isolation and loneliness, a big factor now that many businesses are implementing hybrid work models.  

Which networks work for you will depend on your industry, personal preferences and personality, here are some suggestions of where you can go to build or extend your social support system:

  • Connect with like-minded individuals on social media
  • Attend industry conferences and events
  • Join clubs for personal interests and hobbies

Bonding with diverse people and challenging yourself with new activities and hobbies can give you a sense of belonging, connection and confidence. Your support system also acts as your safety net if you are going through difficult times, especially if you’re trying to improve your mental health.

  1. Set clear professional and personal boundaries

Developing healthy boundaries gives you permission to say no to projects or tasks that are beyond your capabilities or scope, or those that aren’t an efficient part of your workday. This will also help improve your delegation skills as you move these tasks and responsibilities over to staff or contractors.

It is simply a way of being assertive without being aggressive.

There are multiple benefits of setting and clearly communicating your boundaries, both at work and at home, including:

  • You get more buy-in - People will respond better if they can see where you are coming from and why it’s important.
  • You automatically have a better appreciation for your own boundaries and priorities - Usually, it’s you violating these more than anyone else- knowing what they are takes a huge pressure on yourself to manage everything all the time.
  • Gain mutual respect - You’ll become more efficient at listening to other people’s points of view because they won’t be a threat.
  • Great communication - When everyone knows where they stand upfront you avoid future conflict, misunderstanding and resentment.

It also sets a great example to your team on how to set and stand by their own boundaries.

Developing self-awareness around your goals and limitations as well as patterns of internal and external conflict will give you a better sense of what kind of boundaries to set and how to enforce them. 

  1. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is more than a buzzword, it’s a genuine assistant to help you stay focused on the present while improving attentional control (i.e. your capacity to choose what to pay attention to and what to ignore).

Practising mindfulness can aid self-regulation and work performance as well as encourage collaboration and self-compassion, allowing you to develop healthy work habits and reduce burnout, stress and negative emotions like anxiety and worry.

When you are able to identify your automatic responses to stressors you can stop reaching for unhealthy substitutes and put alternatives in place to deal with stress more effectively.

Being mindful helps you stay in the present moment, allowing you to focus on the task at hand and see more goal-driven results.

  1. Consult a professional

While your social support system is a great way to sustain your mental health and wellbeing, you need to know where to go for assistance as soon as you notice unhealthy patterns impacting your home or work life.

Talking to a healthcare professional will help you address mental health issues or emotional concerns much faster and more effectively than you can on your own. They will provide an objective and expert opinion on what you are going through and the options you can take to improve it.

These consultations can also serve as a safe space for you to air out any thoughts, emotions or opinions that you have difficulty sharing with others.  

Taking care of your mental health can be a challenging process, especially if your business is going through a crisis or is just starting to recover from one. It’s important to remember that your overall health and well-being matter too, not just for you, but for your business performance as well. 

Contact any of these health lines and resources if you need support:


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