If you have ever found it difficult to stay mentally tough, you are far from alone. Being a CEO or business owner comes with immense pressure, intense demands on your time, and, if not properly managed, a whole lot of stress.
A study by Horton International reported that as many as 49 percent of CEOs struggle with a mental health condition as a result of this sustained stress. On top of that, the collective trauma over the last few pandemic-ridden years has triggered a 25 percent increase in anxiety and depression worldwide.
Taking care of your mental health is important not only for you but for your team members who look to you for inspiration and guidance. I encourage you to reach out to a professional if you are struggling with serious mental health challenges, but if you are looking to get ahead of some of these challenges, there are a few simple steps you can take to get started.
Here are three things I have prioritized and incorporated into my routine that help me build more mental resilience.
1. Get moving-- both physically and mentally.
There's plenty of research showing a direct link between physical health and mental health, even if you are doing a minimally strenuous activity. Life gets busy, so on a daily basis, I block time in my calendar for exercise. As a leader, you should feel comfortable prioritizing this time on your calendar and making sure you don't schedule over it.
For me, I like to switch it up. Some days, I run or mountain bike, but on busier days, I might just take a brisk walk during a conference call. It doesn't matter what type of exercise you choose to do -- just get yourself moving every single day.
I also take time to exercise my brain every day, practicing activities that stimulate positive thinking and idea generation. Every morning before I start my work activities, I visualize the three things I'm most grateful for-- practicing gratitude starts my day on a positive note. Then I think about three goals that I have, breaking them down into goals for today, the short term, and the long term. That's an exercise that I've been practicing for many, many years, and I find it to be grounding and helpful for dispelling any kind of anxiety I might have at the beginning of each day.
2. Pursue personal passions.
Sometimes when you have a very busy and intense job, it's tough to make time for hobbies. You might even consider them a waste of time. But I've found that enjoying hobbies enables me to do better work, as it energizes me and challenges me in a very different way than my day job. Over the past few years, I've fallen in love with flying planes. It gives me a completely different perspective, so every week or two I get up in the air and leave feeling refreshed and exhilarated.
If you feel like your hobbies aren't having this effect on you, maybe it's time to try something new. I've found that I'll be really into a hobby for three or four years, and then I'll discover something new that really stimulates my brain in a creative and therapeutic way. If your interests ebb and flow over time-- that's natural. What's important is staying stimulated and excited about something outside of work. Invest some of your time into testing out new activities that can give your brain a creative refresh.
3. Develop strategic focus.
This one might seem obvious, but it's also very important. It's easy to become overwhelmed by all the daily tasks you need to accomplish. The best way to negate that is to develop an organizational strategy that ensures you don't get lost in the weeds.
For me, that largely involves schedule blocking on a weekly and daily basis. I try to schedule all of my one-on-ones on the same day of the week, which enables me to build a routine around those meetings to make my work more efficient. I also create dedicated blocks of time for checking email, so they don't get lost in my ever-growing inbox. I'm not super strict about when those blocks happen throughout the day, but I am religious about only checking email a few times a day.
I also have a specific methodology for keeping my daily to-do lists organized. While I'm very digitized in the way that I track my activities, I find it helpful to extract the top priorities onto a piece of paper. That way I have a shortlist that's focused on the highest gain activities of the day.
Being a CEO is no walk in the park. I have now been CEO of two fast-growing companies, and in 2022 I plan to keep accelerating growth at my company by introducing our business to many new markets. I can tell you from experience that in order to do this successfully, I need to take very good care of myself and build a life that bolsters me at work and gives me the tools to handle the pace and stress of the job.
You can't wait until you are drowning in anxiety to take action-- you need to anticipate the pressures of the job and build resilience however you can. Your strategies might not be the same as mine, but I hope you'll think about techniques that could work for you and feel comfortable prioritizing your mental health as a leader. It comes with the job.