For decades, mental health has been set aside as something entirely different from a person’s physical health and has had a stigma attached to it. Fortunately, there is now more awareness of the importance of good mental health and the fact that it is a true disease—not something that happens due to a weakness or wrongdoing of some kind.
In this month’s Just Ask virtual program, we heard from experts Dr. Eva Ritvo, an internationally-known speaker, executive coach, psychiatrist, and author; and Dr. Michelle Leve, a clinical psychologist running a private practice in Miami Beach. Dr. Ritvo and Dr. Leve shared with us just some of the ways that we can work together to foster positive mental and physical health both in and out of the office.
1. Acknowledge That Mental Health Issues Are Real
Dr. Ritvo stresses that the first step in addressing mental health issues is acknowledging that they exist. “Mental health issues are so prevalent,” she says, “they must be a part of all of our conversations. We can’t continue to deny it. Acknowledge that mental health issues are real—they’re not a weakness of character—and need treatment like nay other medical illness. We need to get past the stigma and shame as a society and culture.”
Similarly, Dr. Leve suggests being more in tune with the behaviors of those around you, as well as within yourself. “Oftentimes, we can get a lot of information if we see how people are behaving and how they are speaking. Do they seem stressed or overwhelmed? Are they coming in late all the time? Be aware of what’s happening.”
2. Take Care of Basic Needs
It’s important to remember that the mind and the body are not two separate entities. Because they are one in the same, taking care of basic physical needs can have a profound impact on our mental health as well. Dr. Leve reminds us to “keep active, stand up for a few minutes, nourish ourselves, drink water, watch alcohol use in certain corporate environments, and take breaks.”
She also suggests “doing tasks that you’re good at first because it helps to boost your self-confidence.” And never be afraid to ask for help. “Asking for help is actually a sign of strength,” Dr. Leve says.
3. Be a Reflection of Positive Mental and Physical Health
Dr. Ritvo uses the concept of mirror neurons to explain how our thoughts and feelings can have a large impact on the thoughts and feelings of others, and vice versa.
“Mirror neurons exist in a part of our brain that mirrors what we see,” Dr. Ritvo explains. “Humans are natural imitators. The best way to learn is to watch someone do something to trigger mirror neurons. People in your work environment are going to pick up on how you’re feeling. In workplace settings, emotions tend to flow from the leader on downwards, so health organizations have healthy leaders who are taking care of themselves. If leadership is doing that, then through mirror neurons, other people in the company are going to be able to take care of themselves better.”
Interestingly, mirror neurons can also work in the opposite way. Dr. Ritvo stresses the importance of “protecting yourself from someone who is in a burnt-out state, because that’s contagious. Pick and choose who you’re spending time with.”
If you do notice that a coworker seems burnt-out and stressed, you might suggest catching a yoga class with them or going for a walk, as stress can have a plethora of mental and physical health consequences.
4. Take Advantage of Free or Low-Cost Mental Health Services
Whether you’re looking for help for yourself or for resources to offer employees of a smaller business, know that there are many free or low-cost resources now available. Apps like Headspace, Daily Calm, and Talkspace offer low-cost solutions and texting or video therapy. You can also look into community resources, 800 numbers to call, and perks to offer employees to help reduce stress.
“Large companies like Google and Facebook are doing this on a much larger scale – they bring in healthy food all the time or have a masseuse or yoga instructor available for their employees,” Dr. Ritvo says.
5. Start “Sweatworking”
Many people don’t realize that happy hours after work can create more stress and mental health issues than they relieve. Rather than promoting alcohol use as a workplace activity, many companies are now starting to do corporate runs to focus on exercise and better nutrition.
Dr. Leve brings up the idea of “sweatworking,” or networking over exercise. “Go to the gym or go for a run, then grab a juice after,” she suggests. “It only takes one person to engage in a different way to trigger the mirror neurons and different ways of relating in the workplace.”
Keeping a positive conversation going about managing mental health in the workplace can be helpful for everyone—yourself on a personal level, your employees, and society as a whole. As social norms continue to shift, we will hopefully see less of a stigma attached to mental health issues and those suffering from these problems can get the help they need.
Please join us for our next Just Ask virtual discussion, which happen on the third Thursday of every month. And remember, these talks are free and open to the public, so grab a friend and some juice and join us!