Many months into the COVID-19 crisis, uncertainty looms over us like a thick sheet of smoke and uncertainty pervades. We’ve taken safety measures, attempted to boost our immune system, and binged all the articles on how to stay healthy amid the virus. It’s fair to say we’ve spent the bulk of the year fretting (with good reason) about our physical health.
But as a leader, I want to talk about something equally important: Maintaining mental well-being.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it; my own sense of security has often felt threatened these past months. I’ve juggled more hats than I ever thought possible; and like everyone else, I struggle with knowing how to deal with chronic uncertainty. As someone used to making year-long plans in advance, losing a sense of control is something I grapple with on a daily basis.
At the same time, I’m also CEO of a company, Jotform, with over 250 employees. A big part of my job involves being a role model to my team. And that means recognizing the emotional impact of these times—not brushing it under the rug.
Back in May, the World Health Organization warned of “a massive increase in mental health conditions in the coming months,” caused by distress and isolation. We need more leaders who will address these mental health concerns within their companies.
As coauthors Kelly Greenwood and Natasha Krol write for Harvard Business Review, “Being honest about your mental health struggles as a leader opens the door for employees to feel comfortable talking with you about…challenges of their own.” In speaking up, managers are cultivating a leadership style that breeds trust and improves employee performance.
I’ve found that being transparent is the only way we can gain any sort of clarity, which is why I’d like to share what I’ve learned from navigating my own fears. Below are three simple strategies that allow me to be more present for my team and help rise above uncertainty.
Avoid getting hijacked by bad news
I will be the first to admit that I’ve often fallen into “doomscrolling,” or the tendency to scroll through bad news no matter how disheartening or depressing it is. In the first few months of this pandemic, like most people, I would read one story after another without stopping. I always kept my phone nearby, feeling I needed to be in the loop. This, of course, later led to a worry-spiral that became increasingly hard to manage.
I noticed my sleeping and appetite were off. This isn’t surprising, according to psychiatrist Dr. Pavan Madan. In an article for Today, he explained that “being constantly showered with fear-inducing content can lead to a variety of anxiety issues that can cause physical and mental discomfort.”
After wrestling with a few bouts of insomnia, I now make it a point to not “feed the fears” by giving myself an allotted time of 15 to 20 minutes each day to consume news. I’ve also made it a point to turn my phone off at night so that I’m not tempted to “doom scroll” first thing in the morning.
Calm your buzzing mind
As entrepreneurs, we’re accustomed to living in the hustle, which often leads to exhaustion and burnout. That’s why I’m a big proponent of developing a culture of mindfulness at work. Even as everything around us seems to shift beyond our control, we can still bring our attention back to the present to minimize stress. After working from home with my company, I realized that while so much is uncertain, managing my emotions would help me be a better leader to both my family and my team.
In her book Radical Compassion, Meditation teacher Tara Brach guides a short meditation called “RAIN,” to cope in moments of high anxiety, which I now regularly practice and encourage my team to try.
- Recognize the fear when it comes up. Try to acknowledge whether it’s work or home-related.
- Allow it to coexist within you. Don’t try to fix, control, or judge the fear.
- Investigate it. Brach recommends focusing in on the body and determine where the fear is coming from.
- Nurture the feeling.“You might just put your hand on your heart and offer a kind or soothing message to yourself,” says Brach. “You can say to the fear, ‘Thank you for trying to protect me; it’s okay.'”
Realize we’re all connected to the greater good
A large part of mental health struggles right now is the feeling of being isolated from one another. Even as we log into Zoom meetings or text throughout the day, the state of chronic fear we’re living makes us feel more alone than ever. But as Brach says, “The single most important thing that can happen right now in this pandemic is that we feel our collectivity, that we’re really here to help each other move through this.”
As leaders, we need to create more opportunities for conversations which can lead to and facilitate connection. We can start by sharing our own struggles and intentionally checking in with our team.
Mindfulness isn’t just a way to improve our own mental well-being, it also allows us to cultivate a greater good by sharing our inner calm and strength .
Aytekin Tank is the founder of JotForm, a popular online form builder. Established in 2006, JotForm allows customizable data collection for enhanced lead generation, survey distribution, payment collections, and more.