At IMS, our team is our most treasured asset. In support of these dedicated professionals and our commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB), IMS honored Mental Health Awareness Month with several thought-provoking and interactive learning opportunities. These included virtual book club gatherings and breathwork/meditation sessions.
“Yes, You Can Talk About Mental Health at Work (Here’s Why and How to Do It Really Well)” by Melissa Doman, M.A., was our book club selection for its focus on shifting attitudes about emotional health in a professional setting. The author joined us for three meaningful discussions. Melissa is an organizational psychologist, former clinical mental health therapist, and “mental health at work” specialist who helps companies, leaders, and individuals have practical and constructive conversations about mental health in the workplace. In her book’s introductory accolades, it is referred to as “a timely and powerful resource” for those seeking to “truly impact their teams at a deeper level with authenticity, empathy, and genuine care for their mental well-being.” We could not agree more.
We were also honored to be joined by Tania Kenney, a certified breathwork and meditation coach, who guided the IMS team through an introduction to breathwork, custom meditation, and “Conscious Connected” breathwork lesson. Tania studied with Eckhart Tolle in his School of Awakening and with the spiritual teachers Jeffrey Allen, Deborah King, and Michael B. Beckwith. Tania has been an active meditator for over a decade and is on a quest to help others towards healing and awakening through the power of breathwork. Her practice focuses on the power of the breath to heal trauma, clear emotional blocks, and reduce negative emotions like anxiety, depression, fear, stress, and anger.
During the events with Melissa and Tania, the IMS team learned why mental health matters at work, how to best broach the subject with ourselves and others, and how to focus on emotional wellbeing in and out of the workplace.
Why Mental Health Matters at Work
Melissa opened the first book club session by discussing the importance of mental well-being in the workplace, and why it is so crucial to normalize conversations about emotional health. One of our biggest takeaways is that we are people first and employees second. Given the fact that our home is now our workplace (at least some of the time) it is virtually impossible for one side not to affect the other. Work/life balance has become work/life integration, and we can give ourselves permission to de-compartmentalize the two.
We also discussed how bringing our personal life to work does not inherently reduce our ability to perform our duties. In fact, being our “true selves” can do just the opposite—sharing our individuality and diverse experiences leads to greater creativity, collaboration, and success. To be alive is to encounter stress. Holding it inside doesn’t just affect the individual, it can impact overall team performance and even company culture and values. At IMS, it is okay to be open with ourselves and others.
How to Talk About Mental Health at Work
Of course, it can be uncomfortable to talk about emotional and personal issues at work. An important first step in opening the door for these types of discussions is to identify (and possibly challenge) our own perceptions of mental health. We have to ask ourselves: “Do I have any personal experiences that could affect my opinions? Do I consider all mental health issues to be negative? Am I able to separate the illness/disorder/situation from the person?” It is all about awareness at the beginning.
As with any sensitive topic, it is best to come prepared to a conversation about mental health. In subsequent book club gatherings with Melissa, she emphasized the significance of leading with curiosity and avoiding assumptions. Talking about mental health is a two-way street, so it is important to find out what the other person needs before offering advice or jumping to a solution. “Toxic positivity” is a real barrier to meaningful, productive discussions about emotional well-being.
“Toxic positivity encourages you to take a positive outlook on a bad situation or experience all the time, regardless of the experience. It calls you to ‘always choose happiness’ or ‘look for the positives.’” —Melissa Doman (From “Yes, You Can Talk About Mental Health at Work”)
Sometimes listening is enough—it feels good to have our emotions validated. Anyone can relate to “I’m sorry that happened; how are you feeling?” On the other hand, sometimes we need to ask more questions and “pick up the breadcrumbs” to get to the root of what is going on. Regardless of the situation, it is wise to communicate with intention. Words have power; how we use them matters. And even if we don’t know what to say, we still have the responsibility to create space for those conversations.
Ultimately, the best way for us to talk about mental health at work is to normalize our shared experiences and emotions.
How to Improve Mental Health at Work & Reduce Stress
There is a reason humans respond to a range of emotions with specific physiological responses (such as crying) and it is important to understand how mental and physical health are connected. When we view them holistically and recognize which stressors trigger certain responses, it can become easier to feel and discuss so-called “negative” emotions—even at work. And when we do experience those feelings, we can be better prepared to work through them in a healthy way.
In today’s remote/virtual/hybrid environment (which Melissa referred to as “a ‘technically’ unnatural and adapted form of filtered communication”) it can certainly be more difficult to have personal conversations. Still, it is more important than ever. During our book club meetings, we talked about ways to enhance connection in a Zoom world where multi-tasking is almost expected. Essentially, it boils down to being present and mindful in a naturally distracting setting. So, how do we do that? (Hint: it starts with our “do not disturb” settings! And sometimes it is okay to say “no” …)
In addition to practicing active listening and being conscious of body language and eye contact, we can increase mindfulness—and reduce stress—with intentional physical and mental exercises.
When guiding us through the mindfulness exercise of “Conscious Connected” breathwork techniques, Tania Kenney shared that 70% of detoxification happens through exhalation; improper breathing can actually increase stress levels and have negative health effects on our sleep, heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, posture, immune response, energy, and memory. Since shallow breathing uses only the top part of your lungs, it strains the lungs while taxing the heart and overusing neck and shoulder muscles. Essentially, it puts our bodies in constant fight-or-flight mode.
Proper breathing involves deep breaths that utilize the diaphragm and cause the belly to rise. The good news is that once we start to breathe well, the benefits to our system are immediate. Not only does it help with the functions mentioned above, but it also helps us become more relaxed and calm. As Tania said, it is “a powerful and safe way to infuse the body with oxygen and energy, recharging our own (often depleted) systems to work to their healing capacity.”
In both the guided breathwork and meditation sessions, we were empowered to generate our own healing energy. We also learned how “Conscious Connected” breathing (a cyclical process through the belly, chest, and mouth) can elevate the benefits even further, helping us focus and move past internal “noise” to achieve emotional and physical relief.
Caring For Our Team
We are so thankful to our insightful guests, Melissa and Tania, and the IMS DEIB Committee for their efforts in coordinating these events for Mental Health Awareness Month. We are also grateful for the opportunity to provide a safe space in which to discuss the valuable topic of mental health.
These lessons are especially important in high-stress, high-stakes industries (like law, finance, and healthcare) where showing emotion or taking time for yourself can be frowned upon. But, as one book club attendee put it, “To be your true self, you need true time to yourself.” Don’t underestimate the benefits of a “brain break,” even if it is just for 30 minutes. A slow breathing exercise or short meditation can do wonders for creativity and focus.
Remember, it is important to put things in perspective and find a good balance between work and home—no matter if they are in the same location. People tend to equate “hardworking” with “overworking,” but we cannot take care of others if we do not first take care of ourselves. An emotionally open team with a healthy work/life integration will provide the best level of client service.
“I’m saying yes to me so I can be a better employee and human. Having a safe space at work for that is a beautiful thing.” —IMS Book Club Member
“Try to give yourself minutes when you can, because it’s a mess out there.” —Melissa Doman
“Clearing and cleaning your mind of the day-to-day clutter is one of the most valuable experiences we can award to ourselves. It takes nothing more than finding the time and simply paying attention.” —Tania Kenney