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The Reality of Burnout and Mental Fitness Tips from Calm’s Chief Medical Officer

We partnered with the brilliant Chief Medical Officer at Calm, Dr. Omar Dawood, to have a critical discussion with our network of people leaders to discuss Mental Fitness in the workplace, why burnout occurs, and advice on how to make ourselves and our employees more resilient during times of stress.

We started the session with a 3-minute mindfulness exercise to get us ready to talk about mental resilience and Dr. Omar Dawood then provided the below insight:

  • Humans are wired to handle a small amount of stress, but the amount of time we have all endured during this pandemic is more than we can handle to perform at our peak: When sustained for too long of a time stress becomes debilitating, pre-pandemic, about 35% of Americans experienced chronic stress at work, now it’s more like 80 – 90%.
  • Every stressor has a recipe of ingredients, but there are ways to reframe our thinking:
    • Novelty – Approach the situation with curiosity
    • Unpredictability – Think about what pieces you are certain of
    • Threat to the ego – Think about how you have overcome situations in the past
    • Sense of control – Think about what you can control right now
  • Stress and anxiety have a clear link to sleep and have huge cost implications to businesses: When we don’t sleep properly our mind and body are both out of whack – we can become snippy, make poor decisions, and can don’t always communicate effectively – this all compounds and decreases our ability to handle stress and anxiety. Physically, our immune system weakens. $300B is lost annually by U.S. companies due to stress because of presenteeism, absenteeism, LT and ST disability.

Omar then defined mental fitness and provided advice on how to build resilience:

Mental fitness means developing a high level of concentration, focus, self-awareness, and resilience to be able to perform at one’s best through the highs and lows of personal/professional life. There will always be stress in life (not as much as we have all been going through during the pandemic), the mind is a muscle that we have to train, and every day we need to try to take a small step toward building a foundation for resilience.

Strategies for building resilience:

  • Putting sleep and mental health at the top of the priority list – Some tips to do this are to reduce screen time 90 minutes before bed, dim the lights an hour before bed, use the Calm app to play relaxing music, do a stretch, or meditation session.
  • Press pause to practice mindfulness – Take a few moments throughout the day to stop and just breathe, even if it’s one minute. Eventually, you will see a positive outcome and want to build on that ritual.
  • Creating a beginning and end to your day – For those who have been WFH due to the pandemic, it’s easy to feel that there are no boundaries between work and non-work life. Build in beginning and end of day routines to simulate arriving and leaving an office. Find comfort in things you are certain of in this uncertain environment, such as knowing that you are getting up in the morning and having breakfast.
  • Immerse yourself in nature – This helps to refocus and calm your mind.
  • Bring movement into your day – Exercise acts as a stress reliever where you create that mind/body connection.
  • Connect with others – Make an effort to talk to people at work and in your personal life and show kindness. For example, practice wishing your colleagues well by saying “Have a great day,” this sounds so simple but it makes you feel good, others feel supported and it can have a viral effect.

We ended our workshop with a thoughtful Q&A session where it was clear people leaders across large and small organizations across all types of industries are experiencing the same challenges:

  • How to get buy in from leadership for mindfulness programs like Calm to prevent/treat burnout? Omar explained that the first step is to present the reality of the organization and its employees which can be done by conducting an employee survey and presenting the facts about burnout. Then also speaking to how mental health programs like Calm can improve productivity and presenteeism and reduce absenteeism. Omar and his team can provide resources to help with this conversation.
  • What steps can people leaders/managers take to reinforce mental health in the workplace? Normalizing mental behavioral health is the first step and starting a dialogue around it, for example, having a leader in the organization demonstrate vulnerability to create an environment where people feel comfortable to talk about stress/anxiety.
  • What signs should managers look for to recognize stress from an employee and recommendations on how to approach or talk to employees about dealing with stress? It can be hard to recognize, but if for example, an employee is having a tough time prioritizing or is having conflict with others, it may not always be what it seems, there can be underlying stress factors contributing. It’s best to simply just ask how someone is doing and building it into 1:1 meetings or in general.
  • How can managers help make employees feel that the work day is over and set boundaries?
    • Use the draft function in email – Provide rules on when emails are sent and management needs to lead by example. Instead of sending something at 2 am because it’s convenient for you, draft the email and send it at a normal hour in the morning.
    • Try “No Zoom Days” – The team at Calm did this and it was incredibly impactful to unplug and focus on actual work.
    • Reinforce PTO – Even if you can’t go anywhere, being able to step away is important.
    • Build in lunch breaks and block time for yourself – Encourage your employees to eat and pause throughout the day.

The Point:
We are all going through unprecedented stress throughout this pandemic, it’s more important than ever for us to take small steps every day to better our own well-being so we can better our employees and workplace. It all starts with a solid sleep foundation and committing to improving your mental fitness using the tips provided to be more resilient in times of stress.

Check out Calm for Business as a tool to improve your company’s mental wellbeing (Landing Point has been using Calm and we are loving it!).



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