Self-Leadership and Mental Health
Mental Health Awareness Month isn’t just for psychologists and counselors. It’s a month for all of us to ask ourselves how we are doing mentally, emotionally, and relationally. It’s good to pause and ask ourselves such questions regularly, because the hardest person to lead is ourselves.
The natural pull of responsible leaders is to constantly be asking what the organization needs, what the staff need, what each team member needs, and so on. The needs and opportunities never go away, and if we aren’t intentional about self-leadership, we will expend every ounce of energy on others and have nothing left for ourselves.
For example, just take a look at a typical work day. We wake up and immediately start thinking about all that needs to happen over the next 18 hours. If we have kids at home, we are on duty the second we wake up. We help them get ready for the day, hurry to ready ourselves, and then we are off to the races of appointments, meetings, emails, lunch meetings, phone calls, busy work, more meetings, grocery stops, cooking, eating at rapid speeds, cleaning, washing a load of clothes, homework helping, helping kids get ready for the next day, squeezing a little more work in, watching a Netflix episode while also working, getting ready for bed, and crashing for five hours…only to repeat the same thing the next day.
We keep this up, living for that “replenishing” vacation in a few months that sounds so good but never seems to fully replenish us.
We read about or hear people talk about quiet and calm mornings, digital-free days, hour-long yoga or
gym routines, weekly sabbath rest days, personal retreats, sessions of silence and meditation, even
daily routines of journaling. As we hear about these, we think, ”I need to do some of that stuff…
“Someday” might be over the next summer, or after the kids hit a certain age, or after work slows down. And yet we know, deep down, that things will likely never slow down, because we are achievers
who are somewhat addicted to activity and productivity. “Someday” is likely a mythical ideal that
keeps moving further away as we go through seasons and years.
I am a believer in incremental improvement, not monumental shifts. Of course, in cases of dire
emergencies, we may make monumental shifts, but emergencies only happen to a small percentage
of us, so we should all consider incremental improvements in leading ourselves.
Here are a few steps you can take to invest in self-leadership and your mental health:
1. Check in with yourself.
Starting with 10 minutes of solitude and silence can be a great centering exercise. Taking a few
minutes to identify what we are feeling is a great step in making sure we are intentionally processing what is going on in our lives.
Physical activity is a great practice for our mental and emotional well-being. Walking for 10-30 minutes will immediately prove beneficial. We don’t have start training for a marathon to get some helpful
physical exercise. Remember, it’s about creating momentum incrementally, not setting personal
best records or life-time achievements.
3. Take a digital break.
Social media and digital breaks can be surprisingly helpful. Some sociologists estimate that people look at
their phones over 700 times a day. That would be every two minutes over a 24-hour
period. Again, incremental steps are good, so try taking a 15–30 minute break from social media and your phone each day as a starting point. Who knows—you may build up to an entire sabbath day with no digital interaction.
4. Get sleep.
Enough said. Just get adequate sleep (around 7 hours a night for most people).
5. Push for connection with a live person.
Whether it's by phone, Zoom, Skype, or even better, in person, take the initiative. We are made for connection with others.
6. Eat to fuel your body.
Most of us have some sort of unique relationship with food. It can be our comfort, our joy,
our enemy, our punishment, and the list goes on. The consequences of an unhealthy relationship
with food are significant. Being either underweight or overweight has negative impacts on our
mental health. If you struggle here, join millions of us who do too and seek some counsel and help. Your body
and your mind will thank you.
7. Have courageous conversations.
Don't try to do things on your own when struggles start to appear.
Anxiety and depression are at all-time highs right now, and suffering alone only makes things worse. I
just rescheduled a personal counseling appointment for myself due to some conflicts, but note that I didn’t “cancel” it. Courageous conversations will help you rest better, cope better, and contribute better. If you think you have no one who cares or no one who will help, call our office and start with a pastor. We care
and we can help.
I hope that this Mental Health Awareness Month will grow to become a “Mental Health Awareness Year” as you make some incremental shifts toward becoming a more healthy, self-led person.