I gladly will admit that there are days where I want to find a giant red STOP button, send everybody away and do nothing but watch standup comedy until I remember the world's not all dung and feel better. As I juggle the roles of wife, mother and freelancer, though, it's a precious, rare day when I can slow down to mentally deal with whatever issues are building a stress volcano.
I know I'm not the only one who finds it logistically difficult to take a break. A typical CEO works 62.5 hours a week, based on 12-year a study begun in 2006 by Harvard Business School professors Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria. And the number of adult Americans with multiple jobs (8.3 percent, according to 2013 data from the U.S. Census Bureau) also has exceeded the typical range of 4.5 and 6.2 percent that's generally held since 1970, both because people want to move to new ventures and because they simply need to make ends meet.
Then of course, there's the issue of fear and stigma. Despite the fact that more leaders are recognizing the importance of addressing mental health in the workplace, more than half of workers--55 percent out of 10,000 surveyed, according to a 2019 report from Mental Health America--said they're afraid they'll get punished if they take a mental health day. The idea that addressing mental health somehow will reap a negative consequence can be hard for people to dismiss, even after they work their way up to the corner office or solidify their own companies.
So if you need a mental health day but can't take one, these strategies can take the edge off.
Yes, you have to give that huge presentation, have a meeting with Narcissist Joe and go over legal documents. But you don't necessarily have to do all those highly stressful things back to back. Sprinkle more enjoyable or independent tasks in between what's more difficult so you have a chance to regroup and a bit of a reward to anticipate.
Focus on the short term.
Leaders are usually pretty dang good at planning for the long-term future. But when you feel anxious and depressed, you can get stuck thinking in black and white or worst-case-scenario terms, such as "This will end the business!" or "I'm never going to learn this software." Identify at least three actionable things you can do in the immediate present that are solution-oriented to prove to yourself you still have control and aren't helpless.
Talk or write it out.
You don't have to share your life story. But you can let your team know that you're having a rough day and would appreciate their support or patience. You can discuss new, tactful boundaries. Hit up mentors and others in your industry who truly can understand your situation, and call friends and family on your break to vent and get perspective.
Don't feel comfortable with full transparency yet? Keep a personal journal of all the things you wish you could say. Then review it when you're more in control of your emotions to pinpoint what's really happening and how to tackle the issues in a productive, respectful way.
Improve your basic self-care.
Proper diet, exercise and rest all influence your body's ability to maintain the chemical/hormone balance necessary for good emotional regulation. They also influence your brain's ability to focus, interact and be creative, meaning that you won't add to your stress with poorer performance or lack of connection. And each time you engage in these simple activities, you can practice positive thoughts that reaffirm that you're worthwhile on a very basic, existential level.
People at all levels have a tendency to make work part of their identity. But it shouldn't be the only way you define yourself. Hobbies allow you to relax and see that you have a wide range of skills, and they can energize you with learning. They even can expand how you approach problems, which can carry over to your work for the better. Find activities you enjoy, even if it has to be in 5-minute increments, so that you can disconnect yourself from your office persona in a healthy way.
As a leader, it's easy to sacrifice yourself for your business, to feel like it has to succeed or you fail. Founders in particular are prone to this way of thinking and subsequent depression. But your business never will be truly together unless you get you together. The more you get your heart and head in order, the more your business will be, too.