In the ever-expanding and fast-paced business world, the demands on leaders’ shoulders have never been higher. Amidst this landscape, mental health often takes a backseat, which can stunt productivity at work and spread into other areas of life.
Mental well-being is crucial for business leaders, especially those in stressful positions. However, it can be difficult to find methods of stress relief that are helpful, productive and office-friendly.
Meditation — the act of observing inner thoughts without reaction — and mindfulness have been steadily growing in popularity for the past decade, as many people, including health professionals, are beginning to understand that it cultivates a healthier life physically and mentally.
Andrea Yount, owner of Awaken Self-Care of Piggott, was one of the people who saw the positive impacts of mindfulness and became inspired to teach others. She’s been practicing meditation, specifically through yoga, for over 14 years.
Yount emphasizes the value of meditation for those with stressful jobs or past trauma.
“Yoga and meditation get you out of action mode and put you into observation mode,” Yount said. “These practices can help you see yourself, your life [and] your stress from a different perspective, giving you the ability to make better decisions, but also to allow hard feelings to roll through you without allowing them to take over.”
Meditation does not have to be the stereotype of sitting down and closing your eyes. Breathwork can actually be done from behind a desk whenever a quiet moment appears.
Learning how to use breathing properly “definitely translates over into thinking before you react in the real world. Stressful jobs can make us very reactionary,” Yount said. “Yoga and meditation both help us to be more aware of how we are feeling in the moment.”
If the need arises to take a moment while at the office, meditation can be as simple as grounding oneself through breathing, counting or the 5-4-3-2-1 method — looking around and finding five things to see, four things to touch, three things to hear, two things to smell and one thing to taste. These methods have been known to bust through symptoms of anxiety and stress.
It’s even possible to meditate during a stressful meeting or call by focusing on breathing or rubbing a piece of jewelry. Many people do this subconsciously, as it acts as a form of grounding.
Some of Yount’s favorite breathwork exercises are, “Inhale for four seconds. Hold for four seconds. Exhale for eight seconds. Repeat until you feel calmer,” or boxed breathing where one alternates inhaling and exhaling for four seconds each until they feel calmer.
Breathwork is an easy start to meditation, Yount explained, but there are always more exercises and forms to explore.
“Meditation is difficult for some and easier for others,” Yount said. “Those who have a harder time sitting still with their thoughts might prefer using yoga as a way to help get started into meditation.”
Good Sleep is Good Work
Another aspect of mental well-being that is often overlooked is the quality of sleep.
“Good sleep helps us function on all cylinders. If we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies, our brains can’t function to the best of their ability,” Yount explained. “Our mental health suffers drastically without enough sleep. We can’t focus, brain fog takes over and we are left to run on autopilot.”
That’s something Timothy R. Cook, diplomat of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, has seen many times throughout his career, especially in those with stressful jobs.
“Sleep loss can make it more difficult to maintain focus, especially on long tasks that require prolonged concentration,” Cook said. “Sleep deprivation can leave one irritable and vulnerable to stress. Emotions become amplified, leading to overreacting at inappropriate times. Stress and irritability during the workday can then carry over into one’s personal life, creating a vicious cycle between work and family life.”
Keep a Routine
Because of the degradation in productivity, sleep loss also leads to profit loss, Cook explained. It is estimated that fatigue contributes to reductions in productivity and motivation costing individual employers nearly $2,000 annually per employee. Fatigue at work costs companies in the U.S. approximately $136 billion a year, Cook said.
To combat this, sleep hygiene is of the utmost importance. One of the best things a person can do? Take the television out of the bedroom. Cook also emphasized having a comfortable bedroom environment, prioritizing a consistent sleep schedule and, most importantly, avoiding building up sleep debt throughout the week. Sleep debt is common among high-achieving individuals when they give up sleeping in favor of work or social activities—but it’s not possible to “catch up” on the weekend like people think, Cook said.
18-60 years — 7 or more hours
61-64 years — 7-9 hours
65 years and older — 7-8 hours
Cook emphasized that “there is no magic bullet” to sleeping well but that maintaining good sleep habits will help increase motivation, improve job performance and positively impact mental health.
“If you’re going to be a leader, you can’t have that sleep deprivation,” Cook said. “Have a commitment to good sleep every night.”
Meditative practices can also help with getting great sleep by clearing the mind.
“It helps stop all of those racing thoughts that often keep us up at night,” Yount said. “Calming practices like meditation or yoga before bed can calm the nervous system enough to have you physically and mentally prepared for sleep.”
Don’t Sleep on Seeking Help
Cook stresses that taking all the steps toward good sleep hygiene but still having poor sleep may call for a visit with a specialist. A job can definitely impact sleep but might not be the only underlying cause, he explained.
Mental health is a valuable asset that demands attention and care. It’s a stressful time for executives and employees alike, but there are tools to maintain a healthy lifestyle that will make it less trying for everyone.