Executives are in a strange position compared to the rest of Australia when it comes to mental health. People think, by virtue of affluence, that you are, and can only be, happy. This is not true. Vigilance is the key to mental wellbeing. .
The corporate world moves at a rapid pace. There is rarely enough time to breathe, let alone relax. That is why these long weekends, like the recent Easter Break, are so vital to our mental health; they give us a chance to think less about what’s going on around us and more about how we are coping.
This is especially important given the bleak picture of executive wellbeing painted by various studies.
In 2015, Professor Michael Freeman’s research indicated that 50% of CEOs had experienced a decline in their mental health. To put this in perspective, this is 30% more than Australia-wide figures. Clearly, the lifestyle that comes with an executive role, for a variety of reasons, is conducive to lower mental wellbeing.
Freeman’s research suggests that the very qualities that render someone the perfect fit for an executive position may be the same characteristics that lead someone down the dark rabbit hole of mental illness. For example, your ambition and determination – which, on one hand, help you get the job done – can keep you up until 3 AM and away from social gatherings with friends and family.
Therefore, it is incredibly important that you take your time away from work as a chance remove yourself from the to and fro of the corporate world and consider how your work is affecting your wellbeing.
This is not easy. Australia has a problem talking about mental health, with 26% of all people refusing to have this conversation. However, this problem is even worse for people in positions of privilege.
With wealth and prestige comes an expectation that you are living a good life. Mental health problems are considered a sign of ingratitude. Many suffer silently because they believe they shouldn’t be feeling the way that they are.
It is an old adage but, nonetheless, true: it’s okay to not be okay. Mental illness is indiscriminate in who it effects; financial security and a flashy office aren’t a cure to what are serious health conditions.
So, what can you do if you’ve realised that you are slipping?
The problem that many executives run into once they realise that their mental health is deteriorating is that they don’t have the time or resources to adequately address the issue.
Dennis C Miller, a successful healthcare and non-profit executive, has mapped out 3 key steps to do so.
Step 1: Treat your mental health condition as you would any other physical problem
If you break your leg, you wouldn’t go back to work and pretend everything is okay. Visit a doctor. This is the first step towards any cure.
Step 2: Don’t let stigma add to your stress – Speak!
You would be surprised about how empathetic people can be. Your colleagues and friends care about you and your problems.
Step 3: Recalibrate your work-life balance
If workplace stress is the cause of your mental health problems, then it is illogical to maintain your current schedules and habits and expect the issue to go away. The way to temper the effect of work is to create an equilibrium; if you are eating well, exercising and getting away from work by hanging out with your friends and family, then your stress will become less overwhelming.
Everyone is different, so this plan might not work for you. The important thing to remember, however, is that you need to take active steps to get on top of mental health issues.
But any sort of improvement can be traced back to one key step: self-evaluation.
When the constant ebb of work slows down and you have the chance to pause, that time must be spent thinking about yourself and how you are coping.
If not then, when?
If you would like to discuss strategies to manage the effects of your executive workload on your mental health, please contact Melinda Fell.