We have been hearing a lot about mental health lately. The headlines are filled with devastating reports of people around the world who are having a challenging time coping with life. Mental health is something that can't be ignored, yet many people work in environments where there is little or no attention being paid to maintaining balance in the workplace.
Nonprofit leaders are often empathetic people who deeply care about their work, and many have personal connections to it. They work long hours and give so much of themselves, and with the pressures that come with nonprofits (fundraising, volunteer management, engagement, staffing and more), nonprofit leaders can find themselves in an emotional pressure cooker with little room for balance.
We have to implement mental health practices at home and in the workplace. Mental health must be a lifestyle commitment so that we can maintain sanity, serenity and self. Here are some ways we can be more thoughtful in our approach to maintaining balance, sanity and serenity -- for ourselves and others in the workplace.
Care -- really care.
If I had a penny for every time I heard someone ask someone else how they were doing and accept a response of "fine" as an absolute answer, I'd be a millionaire. How many times have we heard someone ask this question, get a response of "I'm fine," and accept that as enough? It's a travesty.
We need to really care about people and show it. That means asking beyond the "OK" or the "fine." It could be as easy as asking someone to go for a walk to get some fresh air or asking how you can help a colleague if they seem overwhelmed. It may be telling someone that you appreciate them and writing them a nice note. Kindness is free and invaluable. Dish it out -- often.
Check in with yourself regularly.
We often wait to see something manifest before we pay attention to it, but by that time, the situation is often acute. Take some quiet time to assess how you feel when you feel good, and make an intention to -- as often as you can -- stay in that space. Don't wait for life to give you pimples and scars. Make an intention to clean out emotionally, often. I like to call it practicing spiritual hygiene.
I'm a doer. I used to be a hustler and a workaholic. I thought that those things -- the grind -- equated to productivity. What I realized one day was this: If I wasn't happy and content in my life as it was happening, none of what I was accomplishing was worth it, and what would it matter in five, 10 or 20 years?
I've spoken with so many successful executives who are unhappy, and some quite miserable. We have seen recent headlines of successful celebrities who suffer from depression or other mental illnesses, some of whom have committed suicide.
It's so important to check in with ourselves. Are you enjoying where you are today? If the answer is "yes," do more of that. If not, reset and get in alignment with yourself.
Don't be so focused on the future that you lose the present.
The work toward future gain and meeting goals drives most leaders. Another "tenet" that drives many executives is "sacrifice." We use these words often, and many of us have abided by or are still abiding by these principles.
I've spoken with several "grinders" in the recent past, all of whom are too busy achieving their goals, traveling and accumulating wealth to make time for the one thing that every human being craves: love. A friend of mine spends more than 100 nights on the road, goes to events alone or with various "friends," and has no real place or person to call home -- all by choice -- because he's too busy. At the same time, he's unhappy that he is alone.
We miss out on life when we're chasing after the rainbow, struggling to see what is right in front of us. We may not see the beauty in the world every day, the people and the possibilities of now. Giving up too many todays in pursuit of an ever-elusive tomorrow is not a healthy practice.
While it is important to pursue our visions and goals, leaders must also create pockets of presence in their days. This means intentionally stopping to embrace the present and celebrating successes every day. For me, I assess my day at each end and note the wins.
Remember that you are the prize.
One of the reasons people work toward something is that they believe they will be happy when they get there. Another reason is the expression of our inner gifts, our talents, our self.
You are your most valuable commodity, not the things that you strive for. Without a sense of self, sanity and serenity in your life, there is no balance. What that means is we must care for the self. Self-care -- rest, diet, exercise, reward, love, nurture, laughter and contentment -- should be our first goal.
I try to do this continuously, with an emotional check and morning rituals before I start my day. During the day, I check in, and again at night. I do this because I know that the thing I am seeking most starts inside of me. My serenity and my joy are the prizes. By achieving these, the rest is gravy.
Remember this: In all that you do, there you are. Giving to others through our work is a powerful act of service. Yet, while we serve others, we must care for ourselves first. Isn't self-love the start of charity itself? By beginning with implementing care of the self, we can lead even more clearly and better carry out our missions. So, strive to attain a holistic sense of self before all else. That really is the true win.