I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression since I was a teenager. I’ve had to learn how to navigate managing my mental health while also navigating school, marriage, kids, work, friends, and life in general. To many who work with me, I am an energetic, perky, outgoing Manager of Customer Success who leads a team of high performing, incredibly talented Customer Success Managers at Coda. That’s, true—I am that person. But, what many don’t see is that I am also the person who turns off her camera to cry uncontrollably without any real warning. I’m the person who’s late to a call because I am doing deep breathing to try to gain control over my anxiety. I’m the person who sometimes struggles to just get through the day. I am both the energetic manager and the person suffering from mental ill-health.
, I regularly deal with some form of mental illness that can range from me feeling a little down and out to a full blown mental breakdown. One of the challenges in having a mental illness as opposed to a physical illness, is that on top of the difficult stigma it carries, it’s not always as visible to others. When doing your job is challenging because of your illness, others aren’t always able to see that and can misjudge your performance. This makes it difficult to ask for help or to talk about mental health openly.
It takes a lot of courage to tell people that you’re suffering from a mental illness. But in doing just that, we start to break the stigma and make mental illness just as common as physical illness. This is on all of us to do, whether you are a manager, a coworker, a CEO, or someone suffering from mental illness.
How do we start breaking down the stigma?
We start to talk about it just like we talk about a cold. Have you noticed that people will share in email/slack that they’re down with the flu or a cold without any hesitation? How many times do you see people say, I’m out today because my anxiety has got the worst of me? If the answer is rarely/never you should start talking about mental/behavioral health more.
As a leader, when I’m struggling with my anxiety/depression, I communicate it to my team. I let them know that I’m taking a day to work on my mental health. I let them know during a meeting that I’m a little disorganized today because my anxiety is high. I ask for help when I’m overwhelmed and feel depression coming in. When leaders openly share about their experience, they make space for their team to do the same.
Provide your team and colleagues with options for how they can communicate about their challenges, needs, or requests. Not everyone feels comfortable saying it out loud or on a channel with their team or going to their boss. If you feel comfortable talking about your own struggles, let others know so that they know who their safe people are and can come to you via email, phone, slack, whatever to just talk or ask for help.
The effects of the mental health stigma are large an often lead to people suffering in silence. For far too long, that stigma made me feel like I was weak and damaged because I have depression and anxiety. That stigma made me think that others would judge me, look down on me, and treat me differently at work. However, I’m happy to say that every time I open up about my depression and anxiety, I’m met with support and appreciation from everyone I work with. So while managing my symptoms will always be a constant part of my life, I don’t have the added stress of being scared and suffering in silence.
Strategies to help navigate anxiety and depression
If you’re struggling with anxiety and/depression, I highly recommend seeking professional help. Mental health is complex and getting the opinion from a trained professional will help you determine the right path forward. While I’m no medical expert, here are some strategies that have helped me to cope with my symptoms and struggles with depression and anxiety:
🧘♀️ Start your day with meditation. As little as 10 min can help you manage anxiety and stress throughout the day (in addition to a variety of other
🧊 If you’re on a call and you can’t drop, turn off your camera and get some ice cubes to hold in your hands. This will take your body out of fight or flight mode, as your body is now forced to focus on coping with pain (ice) vs. panic.
”, which I actually learned about through my kids school. You essentially hold one hand out and use the pointer finger of the other to trace each finger. On the the upward motion to trace your finger you breathe in and on the downward motion of your finger you breathe out.
🏃♀️Get 15-30 minutes of exercise. Some days this can feel really difficult to fit in but any amount of exercise will help you manage your stress better. Don’t overthink it— go for a walk/run, ride your bike, go for a hike, hit the gym, or dance for 30 min in your living room.
👭 Find your person. Humans are wired for connection. Find someone at work or outside of work that you can talk to and get support from.
✌️Take time off. It’s important to take time away from work and to rest and reset for both your mental and physical health.
May is Mental Health Awareness month. I encourage everyone to do their part to create a healthy work environment. Be kind, show empathy, reject the stigma and start making mental health a topic of conversation.