Leaders, managers, and diversity executives carry a great deal of responsibility in the workplace, and the majority of that responsibility is related to emotional labor centered on organizational change, growth, and development. While it is rewarding and inspiring work, the responsibilities are often accompanied by a steep tax on our psychological well-being over time.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. live with some kind of mental illness, ranging from mild anxiety or depression to more severe mental illnesses that cause significant functional impairment. Mental health, especially on the milder end of the spectrum, can often be overlooked or minimized, but it is just as significant to our well-being as physical health. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, the estimated cost to the global economy due to anxiety and depression alone is US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity. Self-care is a way to create a foundation for our own mental health, and doing so allows us to carry on the work of leading and listening, without stress, burnout, or other symptoms that decrease productivity.
But what if you find yourself completely exhausted, emotionally depleted, and it’s only Wednesday morning? What does caring for yourself look like when you’re overwhelmed and overextended? Below are five actionable steps to reset, recharge, and build resilience.
Step 1 | Take stock.
Begin by asking yourself these questions:
How is my body feeling? Am I tired?
Have I had any water today?
Am I taking intentional breaks during the day to eat, breathe, or decompress?
Have some of my needs gone unmet for too many days in a row? Which ones?
So often we are caught up in being productive both at work and home that we may not realize that we have neglected some of our basic needs. Taking stock requires us to enforce a pause in our daily routines, to check in with ourselves, to ask questions and answer them honestly. It encourages generosity inward. Be kind to yourself. Note your needs, and aim to meet them.
Step 2 | Go outside.
Be it for a walk, a run, a picnic, or just to sit on your porch, spending time outdoors has been proven to have a positive impact on mental health. Take an hour, or even just ten minutes, and spend it outside. Fill your lungs with fresh air, soak up the sun, and feel your body expand and contract as you breathe. Let yourself just be, rather than being preoccupied with what you have on your “to do” list.
Step 3 | Give yourself a permission slip.
Allow yourself to be fully human. It sounds simple, but it can be quite difficult. Sometimes it takes checking in with ourselves to notice that we are frustrated or even wiped out. We might not realize we’ve hit a wall until we give ourselves permission to feel our feelings. It’s okay to feel exasperated with work and value it at the same time. We are capable of holding contradictions within us. It’s okay to take a break—to take a day (or seven) away from work to play and to rest. The acknowledgement of our own needs and feelings is a way to respect them, to respect ourselves, and hold space for our own complexity.
Step 4 | Find a witness.
People need other people. There is value and solace in feeling seen and heard by someone who cares about you. In our solutions-oriented culture, we often jump into problem solving without considering that just being heard is enough. Giving language to the complexity and messiness of our internal emotional landscape with a trusted witness in a close friend or loved one has the power to turn down the intensity of our emotions and make navigating them more manageable.
Step 5 | Do something with your hands.
Clean and reorganize your pantry.
Embrace a creative project like painting or crocheting.
Bake something from scratch or plant an herb garden for your kitchen.
Leadership and diversity, equity, and inclusion are incredibly cerebral work. Creating space to do something tactile gives the mind a point of focus that doesn’t require emotional investment. There is mental rest in cleaning, creating, planting, and cooking. It can be cathartic to keep our hands busy. Our work will be better for us having left it, physically and mentally, for a while.
Building a good self-care practice makes us more emotionally available to do the essential work of leading with keen focus, empathy, and understanding. It’s important that we take time as needed, as to not burnout down the road. Mental health and self care need to be a priority both at work and at home.
Whitney Wilson is a writer and editor based in Raleigh, NC. She previously served as Editor at TWLOHA, Inc., a nonprofit focused on mental health that provides resources to people in need. You can find her on LinkedIn.