What would happen if every month became mental health month?

I sat down with human performance and wellbeing thought leader, author, keynote speaker and coach, Jeanette Bronée, to explore how we can rethink self-care and redefine resilience to make it easier to perform at our best and grow without burning out.

May was mental health month. You advocate that every month should be mental health month.  What actions could leaders take to extend mental health momentum throughout the year?

When we think of mental health as a personal problem, we fall short of understanding the power of mental health and unlocking our human potential at work. When mental health is a conversation about working too much, we lose out on the opportunity to change the culture from a toxic melting pot to a powerhouse of people who are thriving and co-creating success.

The paradox is that we self-care together. That’s the opportunity I want leaders to harness for themselves and their people every day.

When we talk about mental health, we tend to focus on the point of us breaking down, we talk about recovery rather than prevention. To harness mental health as a positive force, we need to cultivate a culture where it’s normal to ask for help before we are working on the edge of burnout, which, unfortunately, still, too many people are. This should not be a cry for help but rather an indication that we have work all wrong. To harness the power of mental health, we must understand the preventive power of self-care as a regenerative support system and recognize that our mental health gives us clarity, courage, and confidence. It’s what makes us more creative, constructive, and collaborative. We must both protect and harness our mental health every day.

When we are running in survival mode to keep up, we are not just creating a culture that breaks people; we are also not doing our best work, individually or as a team. We are making do, or worse; we are losing against the competition. We also need to recognize that we humans are no longer paid to work faster the way we were during the industrial age. We are in a relationship economy now, which means we need to focus on how we think, engage, and act with more discernment. What we want from people now is clarity, curiosity, courage, confidence, and an ability to connect, communicate and collaborate with care.

And people want to work for companies that care about what they care about, which is no longer just a paycheck. That’s why mental health is an opportunity to harness because when we just feel we are a cog in the wheel, doing meaningless work that we are never successful in doing, we not only get disengaged and demotivated, the risk of depression increases. We, humans, need to care about something other than ourselves to thrive, and more importantly, we need to do so collectively to feel part of something that matters.

Leaders must recognize that emotional and mental health is the key to a healthy team that works better together. Even if they are not responsible for someone’s mental health, they are responsible for the impact they have on it. A leader can be a positive force of care by asking someone what they need to feel supported, starting by simply asking, “What do you need right now so that you can get this done?”

If a leader is under stress and scared about producing results, the ripple effect will reach the team, and everyone will burn out. If a leader is authentic and shares the concerns and the challenges, and asks for input people feel included, while also supporting their people during times of change and uncertainty, the team can grow through adversity together.

You teach Power-Pausing as one technique to improve your overall wellness.  Tell us more.

You can think of it as mindfulness in action. Most people think of it as taking breaks, and essentially, it’s like micro-pauses throughout the day. Some might be 5-10-15 minutes; some might just be 1 minute. You can do it in a meeting, between meetings, you can even do it in the bathroom instead of texting…

The point is, how do we use our minds to work better for us?

There are three Power-Pauses: the physical, the emotional, and the mental, which overlap with how we think, engage, and act with purposeful intention and care.

  1. The Physical Power-Pause is to check in between meetings to see how you and your body are feeling and to take a few breaths to calm down the nervous system. A simple: Hey… How am I in there right now?

    This is how you keep your energy, focus, and attention from being stagnant. Maybe you need to stretch, get more water, remember to breathe because you are holding your breath, or maybe you simply have not stepped away from the computer for hours, and your eyes need a break, and you need a bite to eat. This pause is essential to get out of survival mode, which most people work on every single day, all day long, because they just keep going without pause.

    When we go back-to-back meetings, the adrenaline rushes through us, causing cortisol to rise, and with that, we become hyper-focused, which can feel good at first, but it takes over. Instead, we lose out on the ability to think with clarity, communicate with curiosity, and solve problems more constructively. What I suggest is that people schedule these regenerative energy pauses into the day to include 5-10-15 min between meetings every 45-90 minutes, which is the length of time we focus optimally. Include a 30-minute lunch break in your day and take another 15-minute break in the afternoon for a cup of tea or a quick walk to set yourself up to be productive for the rest of the day. Most people’s energy and attention are shot by 3 pm.

  2. The Emotional Power-Pause is to check in at any time about how you feel in there. I do it during meetings and conversations to make sure I’m not reactive and impulsive and instead respond in a way that supports what I’m trying to achieve and what matters, rather than reacting to what seems urgent. When we take a Power-Pause to check in with our emotions and ask ourselves: How am I feeling in there? Instead of suppressing how we feel, we can use our emotions as information; we can stop reacting based on fear and start responding based on care. For example, if we are feeling concerned and worried and don’t feel we have control, we will become anxious. Instead of telling ourselves that it will be ok and to just calm down, which will just make us more anxious, we can pause, listen to the concern or fear, and then focus our attention on what we need to feel more in control. The emotional pause makes us more inclusive of our most important human advantage, our emotional intelligence, and listening gives us the power to reclaim emotional agency.
  1. The Mental Power-Pause is important to access the part of the brain where we solve problems, use our ability to be constructive and creative, and essentially tap into the growth mindset, which is what The Self-Care Mindset is. We cannot just jump to this mindset; we need to go through the three pauses.

    Once we calm the nervous system with a physical pause and some breathing, and we use the emotional pause to connect with how we feel, which is also the state where we can connect better with others, we can have the discerning perspective we need to look at the challenges and problems with care instead of fear. The question here becomes: What can I learn from this, and what do I need so that I can steer towards what’s possible and a solution that creates the impact and results I’m hoping for?

    I compare this to driving down the road, and you see a pothole. You need to know it’s there and be aware of it, but you need to look past it in the direction you want to go to avoid getting stuck in it. The way our mind works, when we are fear-driven we spend most of the day in the pothole focusing on what’s not working, fixing the wrong problem, and worrying about what we cannot control, instead of solving the right problem, which is to get unstuck and finding a solution.

    The mental pause is also where we pause together as a team and identify the problem, but instead of asking how did we get here, getting lost in the pothole of blame and shame for the entire meeting, we ask how we can get to where we are supposed to go, instead spending our time exchanging ideas and making decisions.