Creating personal and professional mental health wellness plans
By Dean Aslinia, program chair for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at University of Phoenix and president of the Arizona Counseling Association
Layoffs, furloughs, sudden and significant loss of revenue, rapidly changing markets, supply chain problems and the challenge of motivating a newly dispersed, remote workforce — these are now common challenges businesses are facing across the country and around the globe. Regardless of your business’s specific challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, enterprises large and small now have at least one thing in common: Everyone is stressed out.
Business leaders and managers are feeling the stress and uncertainty of this crisis on a personal level, as well as on a professional one. In addition to worrying about the health and wellness of their family and friends, they’re carrying the heavy burden of being responsible for the future of companies and the welfare of their workforce.
It’s more important than ever for business leaders to prioritize their mental health as they navigate these unprecedented changes in their personal and professional lives. If you aren’t taking care of your own needs, you can’t be there for your employees. It’s like what they say in the safety presentations before an airplane takes off—you have to put the mask on your own face first before you can help others.
Here are three steps to help manage stress during these turbulent times.
1. Create a personal mental health wellness plan.
Put the mask on your own face! Address ways to release stress, avoid anxiety, get support and comfort when you need it. Not sure where to start? Meditation, exercise, eating healthy foods, sleeping well, staying connected over social media, learning a new hobby or taking an online class are avenues to explore. And, if necessary, seek professional help. Many mental health professionals are offering help during the pandemic via telephone or video appointments.
2. Model the behavior. Yes, you should share these tips with your workforce. But nothing is more impactful than showing your team that you are taking mental health wellness so seriously that you are doing it yourself. If you are comfortable, share some of the relatable, personal struggles you and your family are having at this time. Modeling gives teams a sense of permission, an understanding that you really mean it when you say, “We are all going through this together.”
3. Share and model the plan. Your mask is on. Now it’s time to help your team with a professional mental health wellness plan. Here are my suggestions for how business leaders can boost mental health priorities in the workplace during the pandemic:
- Stay informed: When you are well informed and relay this to your workers, they can take a step back from the news, assured that you are on top of the latest developments. Find one source for your information, like WHO or the CDC, and stick with that source.
Don’t leave your team in the dark, where speculation and rumors can grow into big distractions and increase anxiety. Be open and honest about your priorities during the pandemic and how changes in the marketplace are affecting your business and industry.
- Remain calm: When you’re calm, your team is calm. Alternately, if you’re in a panic, your team will reflect this panic. Keep a cool head. If you find your anxiety levels rising, it’s time to take out your personal wellness plan and focus on some self-care. Go back to work when you have regained your composure and can think, communicate and act with a clear head and heart.
- Listen and validate concerns: Give your workers an avenue to share their feelings, then practice active listening. Don’t try to correct their feelings or dismiss them. Instead, let them know you understand how they are feeling. You can’t change how they feel, but you can change how they think about how they feel.
- Be creative and flexible: Many businesses have already gone remote. It may require reevaluating project milestones and changing job duties to allow your workers to be productive while transitioning to a new work environment and new family obligations.
- Self-compassion: When making difficult decisions, like laying off valued team members, there can be a significant amount of guilt and inner turmoil involved.
First, recognize the duality within yourself. As an individual, you have feelings of grief and guilt that are very valid reactions to making these very tough decisions. However, as a professional, you must make decisions based on the rules dictated by the entity for which you work, the industry and even the laws regulating your business activities. These are two separate facets of your identity and they can be in conflict, recognizing this makes it easier to move forward.
The second thing you can do as a business leader facing difficult decisions is to take a mental snapshot of the situation you are in. Know that you have made the best decision you could given the information you had.
You may not be able to control how the coronavirus is impacting your business or your team, but you can control how you react to it. Having a mental health plan for your personal and professional lives can be an important tool for you as you steer your business through these turbulent waters.
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