What’s more important than mental health?

Um, nothing?

Put your oxygen mask on first.

I would argue nothing.

So I want to actually get on my high horse about the importance of mental health. Ha, do you know what that means? The combination of the imagery of being high off the ground when mounted on a great war charger, looking down one’s nose at the common herd, and also being a holder of high office made it intuitive for the term ‘on one’s high horse’ to come to mean ‘superior and untouchable’ . By the 18th century, the use of such visual aids was diminishing and the expression ‘mounting one’s high horse’ migrated from a literal to a figurative usage.

Anyway, lately I’ve been surrounded by mental health challenges, in myself, those I love, work with, in classes, coaching and well, in society.  Because the Olympics are on and we see physical and mental health and well being on a global stage.

And when I say mental health, I mean people feeling mentally healthy.  This is not about diagnosis or treatment or a specific diagnosis.  Rather that any of us are cognizant of the current state of our minds and how that is affecting our lives.  Personally and professionally.

And, are we taking care of ourselves.  Our mind.  How clear and constructive is it working for us?  And are we paying attention to it?

Growing up, strength was valued in our family.  Meaning, we were taught to tough things out, persevere, keep going, be strong.  That German ethic, and I totally get it, frankly quite proud of that heritage.  Combined with the Catholic upbringing, oh and then let’s add guilt.  It’s a recipe for putting on your big girl pants. Get out there, get it done, don’t ask for help.  Figure it out.  And this is not a commentary on parenting at all, my parents taught us strong values and work ethic—and for that, I am thankful.

In fact, on a leadership assessment I did awhile back I scored in the 96+ percentile on Enduring—described as persistence, determination and tenacity.

Which until recently in my life—I thought of this as a virtue.  But, it begs the question, when does a strength become a weakness? (And I hate the word weakness, I don’t like it in terms of how we view ourselves, I don’t feel like it’s a way I want to frame the image I have of myself, well, because you know—I’m high on endurance.)  We’ll reframe to when does a strength become a challenge to us?

Because what happens when we need a rest. We need a break.  Before we break.

And this sounds easy, like well, duh.

Step 1:  First we notice we’re getting stressed.  We read the signs, we know our emotions.  We feel the emotions and realize the thoughts causing the stress or anxiety.  Then before it gets worse, we reach out for help.  We take care of ourselves.  We make good choices.  We pay attention to what is causing the angst, anxiety or overwhelm.  We give ourselves grace and compassion.  We take the necessary space to process it all.  We rest and regroup.  Then we determine how to prevent those challenges, how to learn from them.  And, we live happily ever after.

HA.

Is this you or anyone you know?  Because I just don’t see it, or hear of it.

But it all makes logical sense.  Of course that is what we are supposed to do.  Then, why don’t we do these things for ourselves?

Well maybe because we aren’t even aware that it’s happening. It’s more like me binge eating, drinking wine, and pondering what am I feeling and why?

Or perhaps when we do we just figure we’ll keep pushing forward.  Momentum.  We’re already on a path, keep trudging along.

Or we’re influenced by the expectations of those around us.  How we’ll be judged.  Oh, you know, by those that are figuratively on those high horses.  Because they’re everywhere.  And those are some loud voices on those horses.  We most certainly don’t want to lose credibility, or status, or be seen as weak.  As human.

I think about our duty as leaders to be vulnerable, and to be transparent, and to be good role models.  And what are we role models for if not good mental health?  Isn’t that just as important, if not more than modeling good work practices or processes or facilitating meetings effectively?

How are we coping with the stress of not just work challenges but life challenges?  Are we pushing through when we should be taking a nap?  Are we persevering when we should be breathing?

Are you caring for your brain and what goes on in it?  Are you speaking to yourself with the compassion you give to others?

It’s something to think about.

If you’re open to some perspectives, here are some of mine. And yes, this is for me and for you. And by you, I hope you share it with others in your life that you care about.  These are things we hear all the time.  I want to hear it differently this time and see what might apply to you right this very minute.

  1. Know the signs of your stress and anxiety. Be more conscious of when your mental health is being compromised.  Sometimes the signs are physical.  Sometimes its just a general feeling of overwhelm.  Check in regularly with your mind and your thoughts and what they are telling you.  When you have negative emotions, they are attached to negative thoughts.  Find them.
  2. Pause and reflect. Take a breath.  Bring the issues to the surface.  Identify the problem.  Write it down.  Label emotions.  Identify what you are feeling and why.
  3. Talk to someone. Not just anyone.  I mean someone who will listen, empathize, and support you in a non-judgmental manner.  They won’t try to solve the problem or fix you.  Because a sign of resilience is a strong support system.  It means you are willing to reach out, don’t isolate yourself when your head is already spinning with negative emotions, thoughts, and energy.  It is courageous to seek help, it’s not a weakness.
  4. Find some perspective. This can take many forms.  You know these, so try something new:
    1. Review your lifestyle, what habits are you indulging in that are not serving your mind and body, what very small habits can you adopt to be healthier (a healthy brain is about whole-body care)?
    2. Get away. Plan a vacation.  Need adrenaline, get some.  Need peace, find some.
    3. Mediate, journal, walk, allow your head to clear—then find clarity, problem solve, make decisions, chose a course of action.
    4. Find humor, laughter is called the best medicine for a reason. Create a meme, or find one.  Not to trivialize the issues or challenges, rather to put things in perspective.  Get outside of our own heads.
  5. Take the time, energy and money to get on track mentally.

“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation.” – Glenn Close