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AFP 2022 Blog


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We Need to Take a Strategic Approach to Mental Health

Mar 18, 2022

By now, the importance of good mental health in the workplace is (hopefully) obvious to us all. Good mental health allows us to do our best work, which means innovation, creativity and high levels of productivity. And it’s not something that only affects a few of us: it affects us all — everyone from the top decision-makers of an organization to the bottom.

When Lisa Belanger, AFP 2022 Wellness Keynote speaker, talks about mental health, she’s not talking about mental illness — something we too often get wrong in our thinking and discussions about mental health. What she’s talking about is the psychology, behavioral science, and neuroscience that empower us to take control of our behaviors, and the daily practices that can help foster optimal conditions for thinking clearly, making better decisions, being more productive, building resilience and having more energy.

The people have spoken

Ninety-one percent of respondents in the Mind Share Partners’ 2021 Mental Health at Work Report believe that a company’s culture should support mental health. In fact, Millennials and GenZers are walking the talk right out the door: 68% of Millennials and 81% of GenZers have quit over mental health reasons. Those are incredibly high numbers for anyone to disagree that mental health support has become a business imperative.

And it’s not just the worker bees who are reporting issues. The Mind Share Partners’ report also showed that “C-level and executive respondents were now actually more likely than others to report at least one mental health symptom.” Leaders are far from immune from the effects of poor mental health, something we saw play out in technicolor in the past two years.

There are also DEI implications. In addition to younger workers, LGBTQ+, Black and Latinx workers are “significantly more likely to experience mental health symptoms” than their peers, according to the Mind Share Partners’ report. Even worse, all were more likely to leave than to believe their company would do anything to support them.

The science behind it

We’ve all heard the science behind chronic stress. In short, it’s bad. While stress is an inevitable part of life, chronic stress increases the release of cortisol, and that can impair brain function by disrupting synapse regulation, which results in antisocial behavior. It can also kill brain cells and even shrink the prefrontal cortex — the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning.

There are a whole host of other factors involved in mental health besides stress. Many are up to us to handle in terms of our lifestyles, but there are equally as many that are affected by our workplace and culture. For example, did you know that multitasking can cause your brain to rewire, which leads to fractured thinking, lack of concentration and decision fatigue? As it turns out, your brain likes to focus.

Research tells us that “microbreaks” throughout the workday — around five minutes at a time — mitigate brain and decision fatigue. You can achieve these microbreaks through stretching, walking around the block, having a snack, or just looking out the window (not at your phone).

According to Bryan Robinson, PhD, “Novelty promotes adaptive learning by resetting key brain circuits and enhances your ability to update new ideas into neurological frameworks.” That’s all science-speak for your brain really likes it when you try new things. Monotony is a brain killer.

Here’s one you can probably feel in your whole body: Our brains like optimism. When we are exposed to chronic pessimism, our telomeres are shortened, i.e., damaged. Shortened telomeres make us more apt to declining health and a shorter life. On the flip side, people who are optimistic are more likely to retain their memories as they age, and they’re more likely to climb the career ladder farther and faster.

How we can do better

We all want good brain health. Good brain health means being productive, creative and innovative. It means climbing that career ladder all the way to the top. It means a high quality of life and greater connection to ourselves, our loved ones, and the world around us.

That said, how can we do better? We start by being proactive and acknowledging — and openly talking about — mental health and the fact that it affects every single one of us. Mental health is your emotional, psychological and social well-being, and without that, what are we?

While the finer points of how we go about caring for our mental health depends on the individual, there are certain aspects we know are key including exercise, nutritious food, optimal sleep, social connections and time in nature. Beyond that, there are ways of managing our behaviors and flexing our mental strength that can go a long way toward improving our mental health in and out of the office.

Not sure where to start? Join Dr. Belanger at AFP 2022 where she’ll share the most effective ways to manage short-term and long-term stress and provide practical exercises and strategies that require little time but offer significant gains in mental strength.

Save $725 on registration when you sign up by June 3