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Why mental health matters for business leaders

08 Mar 2023

Insight and advice for SME leaders on why prioritising their mental health is an essential leadership strategy

Of all the ripple effects from the pandemic, the impact on our mental health has been one of the most far-reaching. And business leaders have not been immune from the so-called ‘second, silent pandemic’. They’ve seen the effects not just as employers supporting employees through the crisis, but as human beings who’ve been pushed harder than ever to steady the ship through the storm.

In fact, Bupa’s Executive Wellbeing Index, which surveyed business leaders across Europe and further afield across the globe, uncovered that three quarters of business leaders have experienced poor mental health as a result of the pandemic.

Self-care for self-starters

Being the boss comes with many responsibilities - it can feel hard to prioritise your own wellbeing when you’re pulled in many directions. However, ignoring your own mental health is a false economy. We’re instructed during pre-flight safety briefings to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you can help anyone else, and this analogy is used by mental health professionals to explain the importance of self-care. We can’t help others if we’re not mentally strong enough to help ourselves.

So, what are some key self-care tips for business leaders?

Prioritise sleep

The link between good quality sleep and mental wellness is well-established so prioritising regular bedtimes and good sleep hygiene is essential. For example, ensure you wake up and go to bed at roughly the same time each day, and ty to keep screens out of the bedroom. Headspace has a list of sleep hygiene tips alongside relaxing meditations to help you mentally prepare for a good night’s sleep.

Make time for exercise

According to a Harvard study just 15 minutes of running or an hour of walking a day reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. Studies have demonstrated the powerful effect of exercise on anxiety and low mood, with endorphin release enhancing wellbeing.

Combining exercise with being outside in nature reduces anger and depression while improving mood. Whether a morning walk or lunchtime jog, exercise is vital for mental wellbeing.

Explore mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of connecting with the present moment, or as Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says: "Mindfulness is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment - it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives."

Studies show that practising mindfulness – even for just a few minutes a day - can help alleviate stress by improving emotion regulation, leading to a better mood and heightened resilience to stress.

Check out Mindful’s tips for meditating and mindfulness to help reduce anxiety or explore apps such as Headspace to help start your journey.

Jot it down

Writing down your thoughts and emotions with regular journaling has been proven to enhance wellbeing. The process gives you the time and space to reflect - benefits can be felt even if done for just a few minutes daily. Here are some great tips on starting a journal and journaling prompts to get you started.

Find a tribe

For some business owners the saying ‘it’s lonely at the top’ may feel all too real. Loneliness is a real issue for entrepreneurs - studies show that feeling alone has a huge impact on mental health.

Sharing with others in a similar position may help alleviate the feelings of loneliness and provide a vital support system. Peer support groups exist across Europe, bringing people together in safe spaces to offer each other support.

Take off the mask

More than half of business leaders say in their position it’s hard to talk about mental health. However, as Matthew Cooper, co-Founder of Earnup says: “No one should feel shame about discussing their mental health issues or seeking the support needed to live safely and joyfully.

When feeling overwhelmed, maintaining a mask can exacerbate the problem.

As Mediacom’s EMEA CEO, Josh Krichefski found when opening up to employees about his mental health story, ‘pretending to be someone else is draining and harmful to your wellbeing’.

Don’t delay asking for support

While self-care is crucial, it’s also important to seek help from a professional such as your GP if you’re worried about your mental health or the possibility of burnout. While it may seem like the easiest option to just ‘keep going’, investing time to look after your mental health will pay off with interest.

Looking for advice to help you create positive work places? Speak to one of  our Business Advisors by phone.

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