Managing Mental Health: Senior Female Leaders Share Their Wisdom

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Jess Clifton
Head of Brand and Marketing Advisory

Mental health awareness with female leader headshots around the title

With no shortage of talent around the world, largely working from home, Media.Monks offers employees a variety of ERGs and opportunities to learn, connect with each other in meaningful ways, and support our teams—but there’s always more we can do. So a few months ago, Media.Monks Co-Founder Lanya Zambrano, Senior Director of Global DEI & Culture Kamron Hack and I came together to discuss how we could bring women together in a different format—no makeup, hairbrushing or workwear required. With the ambition to support employees around the world, Women Connect was unveiled.

Women Connect, a bi-weekly series of mentor discussions hosted on Clubhouse and open to the public, is focused squarely on bringing female leaders together to share stories, learnings, inspiration and advice. Sessions have covered topics ranging from extending DE&I beyond HR and handling difficult conversations to navigating your career as a new parent—and so much more. Our intention is to provide women—both Media.Monks employees and the broader community of women across the globe—the opportunity to connect, convene and converse about topics that are top of mind.

In honor of normalizing the conversation around mental health as we approach World Mental Health Day, our global network of amazing, accomplished Media.Monks and S4Capital female leaders have come together to listen and learn from each other in a series of transparent and completely candid conversations about how to combat burnout and recognize when it’s time for a break. The result? Healing. Acceptance. Acknowledgement that feelings are okay. 

Here are a few highlights from those sessions.

Burnout Is Real

It’s difficult to imagine, but there was a time when we could leave our home or office and truly check out—to have lunch with a friend, attend the kiddo’s soccer match or just enjoy a few minutes of daydreaming during a commute home from the office. Today we work remotely from the kitchen counter, return emails from the grocery store, Slack to our heart’s content from literally anywhere, and participate in (or even run) conference calls from our cars. We can be reached, distracted or entertained at any time—and everywhere—with a difficult-to-ignore tweet, whistle or bell that affords us freedom to move about our lives while keeping everything closely within reach, literally at our fingertips.

But this “freedom” comes with a price—a blurring of the lines between time on and time off—and many of us are finding there’s barely time to catch our breath in the tsunami of it all. Translation: burnout. In fact, a report issued by website job listing service Indeed found that employees of all ages and types are experiencing the impact of stress, fatigue, and mental health challenges. More than half (52%) of the Indeed survey respondents felt burned out, and more than two-thirds (67%) believed the feeling worsened over the course of the pandemic. Meanwhile nearly three million women have left the U.S. workforce because of the pandemic, many of them quitting from a lack of child care options. So where to go from here?

Stop Living Like You're on Fire

Professor, researcher and author Brené Brown has famously said that a priest once told her, “If you don't want to burn out, stop living like you're on fire.” Truer words have never been spoken—the problem is, it can be difficult to get there. Many attribute today’s level of burnout to the new set of challenges brought on by work-from-home isolation and compounded by the need to connect digitally. But perhaps the pandemic merely accelerated where we’ve been heading for some time: a stressed out, always on, 24/7 culture. Here are some tips from our female leaders that can help in avoiding burnout.

  • Be realistic about deadlines. Think through and understand how much time and effort something will take. And then raise your hand when you (or a team member) need help.
  • Lean into your team. Sometimes we feel the need to join all of the meetings we’re invited to or be copied on every email, but it’s important to learn to rely on the rest of the organization/team and allow them to step up in areas they can.
  • Calendar breathing room. Block time off your calendar to catch up or simply take a breather. One strategy is to tag an extra five to fifteen minutes onto the end of each meeting as a buffer for meeting follow up (e.g. calendar items, map out to do’s, send out emails or just prepare for your next meeting). And, as a manager, if you feel someone on your team is burning out—telltale signs are slow response times, being late to meetings, or camera off during virtual meetings—block an hour or two on their calendar for a surprise break. 
  • Ruthlessly prioritize. Do you absolutely need to be on that call? Can someone else on your team handle it? Enough said. 
  • When taking time off, delegate authority. The only thing worse than not taking time off, is recovering from time off. Anticipating the dreaded pile up of work can not only erode your ability to relax, oftentimes it means you have to work double time when you return. Instead, have someone (or a team of people) cover for you who can make decisions and handle at least part of your workload while you’re gone so things can continue smoothly in your absence and through your return.
  • Operate assuming that everyone is experiencing some level of burnout. Sometimes we feel ambivalent, sometimes we feel great and inspired. It can vary day by day. If you manage a team, create space for everyone (including yourself!) to consider how they feel and what they can handle. 

Implement Micro-Moments of Renewal

Being busy is often worn as a badge of honor that we’re working or living at our fullest potential. There can be a (misguided) sense of accomplishment at being able to manage more and more—cluttered calendars and inboxes leading to endless scrolling are symptoms of taking on too much. And while taking time off is good to do when you can, you can’t expect to take a week off and recoup everything that’s been drained from you over time. The solution? Weave micro-moments of renewal into your daily routine. Here are some suggestions on how.

  • Make time for morning self reflection. Taking 15 minutes to get centered, clear your head and prioritize for the day can make a huge difference in how things go. 
  • Schedule ritual breaks. Take time and space to get up from nonstop meetings: make a cup of tea, walk to the window for a look outside, take in a breath of fresh air from the porch. In this way, moments of pause become more ritualistic and force of habit. 
  • Force your brain to disconnect. Go for a walk and listen to something that will preoccupy your mind, if just for a few minutes—a podcast or audiobook—to disengage.
  • Just breathe. It’s amazing what a few deep breaths can do for your body and mind.There are a number of apps available that will remind you to focus on breathing throughout the day.
  • Take “you” time when you need it. There are some days when life overflows into your work headspace and you may just need an unplanned break. If you’re a manager, normalize taking time off by letting your team know it’s okay to call out sad or stressed when needed. 

If Nothing Else, Practice the Art of Subtraction

Leonardo da Vinci said, “A poet knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” We rarely get praised for less, but what if that could be reframed around an appreciation of what less reveals? Ideas, more of ourselves, desires, connections? Take a moment to think about one meaningful outcome you could hope for if you practiced the art of subtraction… and then close your eyes and breathe. 

In the end, the key is to begin. Try one thing to implement this week. Make it a habit. I think you’ll be surprised to find that some of the smallest adjustments can have the most significant impact. 

 

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    Special thanks to the incredible women who joined us to contribute to this wealth of knowledge on mental health:

    • Lanya Zambrano, Co-Founder of Media.Monks
    • Amy Finn, VP, Brand and Creative Strategy
    • Jordan Cuddy, Partner, Chief Client Officer
    • Val Nguyen, Chief Strategy Officer  
    • Catherine Henry, SVP Growth
    • Deborah Heslip, EVP Account
    • Linda O'Connor, VP, Group Account Director
    • Farana Albert, Senior HR Business Partner
    • Luciana Vaz Haguiara, Executive Creative Director
    • Maridette De Guzman, Managing Director, San Francisco
    • Matty Candelario, SVP Group Account Director
    • Sasha Schmitz, Managing Director, EMEA

     

    Each month our Media.Monks and S4Capital senior women lead conversations in Clubhouse across a variety of learning topics in sessions that are open to the public. Get on Clubhouse and join us for some real talk you can't find anywhere else!

    See you soon!

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