The last two years has illuminated the fragile mental health of executives and their teams.
In December last year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released their First insights from the National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing, 2020-21 report. Some of the findings were:
- 15% of Australians (and more women) experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress
- 3.4 million Australians saw a health professional for their mental health
- 612,000 Australians accessed other services for their mental health via phone or digital technologies
- Many Australians (61%) took actions to help manage their mental health
- 15% of Australians felt lonely in the previous four weeks
In my private and corporate practice this includes Executive Leaders. Executive Leadership teams are needing to take a proactive and empathetic approach to address these issues, which for some Leaders can be uncomfortable and confronting as it can mean looking in the mirror at their own mental health.
Why it Matters
Sadly, there appears to be a dearth of research exploring the mental health of CEOs’ and Executives since the pandemic. In my experience working with CEOs, the impacts have been just as significant as although many senior leaders, may at times be or feel super-human, they are still human. Many leaders have the added pressure of having to appear to appear more resilient, so as not to cause their workforce alarm, and how it may look to their key stakeholders (i.e., peers, board and shareholders) if they are not coping. This can mean some leaders do not seek support. Many leaders I have worked with describe feeling shame for needing support. For those that don’t get help or support, their shame gets pushed to the side through unhealthy avoidant coping strategies, such as drinking and eating more, drugs, working even longer hours, exercising more than their body can cope with, and seeking solace outside committed relationships. This may not be you, but it may be someone you know. When I was doing my thesis on CEO wellbeing and performance in 2015, multi-rater or 360 research showed that 90% of Leaders were surprised by their feedback. This suggests you may not be hiding your stress as well as you think, I take some solace in this, as it means we are all really bad at hiding our cr@p!
So what do we do about it? How do we build a more resilient and healthier mindset?
Shame is a bit like a kryptonite for a resilience and a healthy mindset. While anxiety, frustration and stress are very normal and acceptable experiences when we feel we don’t have the skills, support, resources, time and energy to cope.
Step 1: Recognise the different between shame and uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. Even if you don’t want to admit to someone else you are not coping, admit it to yourself, and with some kindness and acceptance. You are human after all. Without uncomfortable feelings like anxiety, frustration and stress we cannot appreciate the more comfortable feelings of joy, success and calm.
Step 2: Write, write, write. Heaps of research that shows that writing down our worries, allows our mind to process these, instead of pushing them aside, and sometimes by writing them down it can reveal some solutions. I often suggest to my clients to right their worries with the hand they normally write with and then swop it with the other hand for the solution.
Step 3: Move your body. Physical activity stimulates hormones that help mediate stress, and not just after the workout. Twenty to thirty minutes of intense exercise such as jogging on a treadmill, cycling, swimming, running, aerobic type class, can also help to sustain a more positive mood over the day.
Step 4: Gratitude practice. Yep, this really works. Again, lots of research that suggests that having gratitude can also mediate anxiety, frustration and stress. Try writing down 3 things you are grateful for every day. It can be as simple as your first coffee, patting your pet, seeing the sunshine, a cuddle with a loved one. Those of you with kids, might like to try this at meal times and go around the table, where everyone has to share at least one thing they are grateful for.
Step 5: Try Mindfulness. I could do a whole article on this one! Mindfulness practice increases wellbeing in CEOs. Mindfulness helps relax us in the moment but over time (usually 10 minutes a day over 8 weeks) helps us build resilience towards negative thinking about ourselves and the world. I often call this your kryptonite for your negative self-talk.
Step 6: Get support. This can be a friend, mentor, GP, counsellor or coach. There is NO shame is asking for help. In fact asking for help demonstrates courage, self-awareness and a willingness to not only improve resilience for yourself, you are also leading by example.
Margie Ireland is the author of The Happy Healthy Leader – how to achieve your potential even during a crisis. Margie is a registered Psychologist, Leadership Coach and Workshop Facilitator, highly sought after to help Leaders and their teams navigate stress and change with healthier coping strategies, leading to happier, healthier and high-performing teams. For more go HERE