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Mental health and why it is important for an inclusive and diverse workplace

Tania Shershin | Vice President, Growth Marketing

As many have pointed out, COVID-19 is accelerating existing trends – namely the digital transformation of businesses. Sadly, however, it’s also exacerbating things like racial and socioeconomic inequality and a decline in our mental health.

Our new circumstances have created more urgency for businesses to respond with renewed focus on inclusion and diversity. As many businesses and leaders have committed to becoming anti-racist, we must also explore how we can support the one-in-five adults in the U.S. who experience mental illness.

“To embrace diversity is to offer support to communities facing unfair stigmas, and one of the largest and least-discussed in the workplace are the millions struggling with mental health problems,” wrote Juan Siliezar for The Harvard Gazette.

Vulnerability and trust 

Earlier this year I experienced a tragedy – a second-trimester pregnancy loss. As I continue to grieve and deal with the effects of that trauma, I’ve realized that hiding my circumstances only makes things worse. As difficult as it is, I continue to share the story of my loss and the impact it had on my mental health. Colleagues and friends have opened up to me about similar loss in their lives and shared how they were able to make the time and space needed to heal.

I am not, however, advocating that people share more personal details than they are comfortable. Rather, it is important to advocate for yourself and take the steps necessary to ensure your mental health improves.

It’s also important for leaders to create a safe environment for employees – one free of judgment where people trust their colleagues are there to provide support and nothing else. What better way to do that than by demonstrating firsthand that mental health is a priority?

Collective trauma 

While my individual trauma was the reason I sought therapy, the added stress of COVID-19 has provided extra motivation to continue seeking help, though now I do so remotely. 

My therapist described the multiple layers of disruption created by the pandemic as collective trauma. Though everyone is experiencing varying degrees of impact from the uncertainty, the sadness and frustration are universal. 

Even amidst our collective trauma are feelings of isolation and loneliness, which only fuels anxiety, depression, panic and pain.

As Danielle Render Turmound said, “In a time of trauma, our nervous systems can become overwhelmed in trying to process the experience which can lead to unexpected and undesired difficulties… In recognizing how the COVID-19 pandemic can lead to individual and collective trauma, and the negative mental health effects people may face in response, it is important that we support ourselves and others throughout this time. Having a set plan for responding to mental health needs, just as one would have for protecting one’s medical health, is important.”

Tips for nurturing mental health

Recently, the Expedia Group family was fortunate to learn about mental wellness during a live conversation with Dr. Michael Gervais, performance psychologist and co-founder of Compete to Create.

Dr. Gervais works with some of the best athletes in the world in training their minds and he shared practical tips for training your mind during times of uncertainty. He first reminded us that uncertainty is how the world works; that the present moment is constantly unfolding and unpredictable. He spoke about the importance of training our minds in addition to training our bodies and craft. I loved his analogy of the brain as hardware, our mind as software, and the need for us to do upgrades as opposed to relying on the original programming provided by parents, religion, culture, etc. All we need to live a full and flourishing life is within us, and that we can make small changes (or software updates) to help access it. My biggest takeaway from Dr. Gervais’ session was his take on mindfulness and his practical recommendations on how to train our mind:

Mindfulness is part of the essential life skills – think well, move well, eat/hydrate well, and sleep well.

To think well, meditation helps to settle your internal system with deep breathing and sets the foundation for awareness. If full meditation is not in repertoire, try deep breathing. 

Another key to thinking well is optimism, which is at the center of mental agility. 

Journal your “3s” – observe three things and what made them special. 

Dr. Michael Gervais.png

Support others and chart your own path 

On good days and moments, I am extremely grateful for the health of my family, friends and community. I am grateful for my career at Expedia Group and the opportunity to care for myself. But there are bad days, too, as I curse the 2020 dumpster fire and become overly focused on how alone I am in dealing with both my individual trauma and this collective trauma. 

However, as I’m writing this, I absolutely know that is not really the case – I am not alone. I have support. Despite regularly going back and forth in my emotions and my ability to deal, I know therapy and my support system have helped.

Live Well NAMI.png

For those who are also struggling with their mental health, I won’t be prescriptive on things you should do; I only share my experience.

I hope that by talking openly about mental health we can reduce the stigma, support others and create truly inclusive workplaces. 

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