🏋🏽 Good mental health will develop a good leader.
Mental health and wellness are more than just a conversation to be had in the workplace, it’s a practice. When a leader’s mental health is in good shape, they are more receptive and can better adapt their approach and respond to situations (Thought leader, 2021).
But this is far easier said than done. In 2020, the World Health Organization declared depression to be the leading cause of disability worldwide, with more women being affected than men (WHO, 2020). Depression can also lead to suicide, which is the second leading cause of death to those between 15 to 29 years old (WHO, 2020).
Long hours, isolation, and stress are common themes across tech companies; and the pressure for product people to make high stakes decisions can take a greater mental toll (Eriksson, 2019). Stack this on top of factors like food insecurity, housing, socioeconomic status, and financial stress (Lake, 2017)… it’s no wonder that employees are reporting high-stress levels, burnout, and loss of productivity (Forbes, 2021).
Thankfully there is accumulating research evidence that demonstrates that lifestyle modifications such as changes in diet and exercise, mindfulness meditation, and mind-body practices, are beneficial, safe, and affordable interventions for many common mental health problems (Lake, 2017).
🏔 Turn challenges into opportunities.
“The stressors from our personal and professional lives intermingle to create an extremely toxic environment for our wellbeing. It's like all the different forms of stressors become best buddies to work against you.” - Bosky Mukherjee
Working hard and running on survival mode are not badges of honor, but instead a surefire path towards the deterioration of your health and mental wellness. Bosky Mukherjee, PMDojo Founder, knows this all too well after experiencing extreme burnout in 2019. She reflects on the challenging journey towards her rock bottom - and towards healing - as a wake-up call to unlearn the narrative that work defines self-worth (Spark to Substance, 2020).
Bosky opens up vulnerably about her experience and shares the ways she began recognizing the habits and symptoms that led to a lack of self-care and self-empathy. A few of these key takeaways are (Spark to Substance, 2020):
💙 Let go of perfection and the need to always be fixing something right at this moment.
💙 Listen to your body (the changes in your sleep patterns, your appetite, skin, mood, etc.) Add self-care to your daily ToDo’s.
💙 Stop blaming yourself for problems, never compromise on your values, and assess your role readiness.
💙 Ask yourself what your purpose is, and what drives you. Let that drive, passion, and belief be your motivator. (Don’t just “hustle” to hustle, what is your “why?”)
“The best colleagues tend to be nurturing, communicative, and interactive types that are known for their ability to bring out the best in their teams” (NPCA, 2015), so be the same for yourself.
As product people, we make tough decisions and manage conflicts and high-stress situations. This is a tough role. Therefore, it’s no surprise that we experience strong emotions at work.
“While feelings like frustration, tension, and anger are unpleasant, learning to constructively deal with them is an important skill: It increases our mental wellbeing, builds trust, strengthens connections, and improves our ability to make effective decisions.” (Pichler, 2020).
📌 Some steps to get started on taking care of your mental wellness today (Ivy Exec, 2020):
Acknowledge the difficult feelings you (or other(s)) are feeling. Don’t put the blame on anyone (not even yourself). Just hold space for the feeling.
Do a mental check-in with yourself.
A few prompts to get you started: “What uplifts me?”, “What do I need in order to be my best self with others?”, “What is my greatest stressor right now and what can I do to help alleviate this?”
Go for a walk. Do something you love. Do a body scan. Meditate. Rest your eyes. Drink some water. Step away, take a deep breath. Do this every day, as much as you need.
Create a “things I’m proud of myself for” list. Write everything you did that day/week - both big and small wins. Take your time reading it and indulge in the joy of your successes!
“Unlike physical health where there are often clear numbers to help track progress, monitoring emotional health can be more ambiguous. The inward and often solitary work that makes up managing your mental health makes it more challenging to keep perspective of where you started and how far you’ve come.” (HaPi, 2021).
Everyone approaches life’s challenges differently, each needing a different strategy that will help them.
Business leaders have an important opportunity and obligation to prioritize mental health within their companies through open discussion that promotes the sharing of these struggles and difficult feelings without fear of judgement (Moore, 2021). By creating the important touchpoint of an open-door policy, you build trust with colleagues and employees, reduce the stigma, and foster better communication within and between teams. “When you prioritize mental health and wellbeing, the rest will follow” (Foskett, 2021).
“Career, Motherhood and Burnout - Year of Shame, Unlearning & Empathising With Myself” Spark To Substance, 30 Oct. 2019, www.sparktosubstance.com/post/career-motherhood-and-burnout-year-of-shame-unlearning-empathising-with-myself.
“Depression” A Call For Dignity, Rights And Empowerment, 30 Jan. 2020, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression.
Eriksson, Martin. “Mental Health as a Product Person - Let's Talk” Mind the Product, 10 Oct. 2019, www.mindtheproduct.com/mental-health-as-a-product-person-lets-talk/.
Foskett, Olivia. “Mental health and Productivity: How can we look at this in a holistic way?” HOST, 14 Oct. 2021, wearehostcommunity.com/articles/mental-health-and-productivity-how-can-we-look-at-this-in-a-holistic-way.
“How to Find Success in Your Mental Health Journey” Harvard Pilgrim Health Care - HaPi Guide, 22 Sept. 2021, www.harvardpilgrim.org/hapiguide/how-to-find-success-in-your-mental-health-journey/.
Lake, James. “Urgent Need for Improved Mental Health Care and a More Collaborative Model of Care” 11 Aug. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5593510/.
“Mental Health Awareness is a Leadership Skill” Ivy Exec Blog, 22 Dec. 2020, www.ivyexec.com/career-advice/2020/mental-health-awareness-is-a-leadership-skill/.
Moore, Lisa. “Mental health at work: How to turn awareness into action” HR Dive, 19 Nov. 2021, www.hrdive.com/news/mental-health-at-work-how-to-turn-awareness-into-action/610305/.
Pichler, Roman. “How to Deal with Difficult Emotions in Product Management” Roman Pichler, 1 Apr. 2020, www.romanpichler.com/blog/dealing-with-difficult-emotions.
“The 5 Most Difficult Management Challenges... Tackled!” NPCA, 5 July 2015, precast.org/2015/07/the-5-most-difficult-management-challenges-tackled/.
“The Need For Leaders To Implement Mental Health Policies” 19 Nov. 2021, www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2021/11/19/the-need-for-leaders-to-implement-mental-health-policies/.
“Why Good Mental Health is a Leader's Best Friend” Thoughtful Leader, 20 Feb. 2019, www.thoughtfulleader.com/why-good-mental-health-is-a-leaders-best-friend/.