Our Breathing Space program features in AFR
Inject breathing space into the work day to relieve stress
Source: AFR – Friday, 25 Sep 2020 – Page 48
Not commuting, working from home and being deskbound for longer are contributing to the stress and burnout many executives now face.
But although many are experiencing higher levels of anxiety and depression, there are plenty of programs and actions that can help instill a sense of calm and ease even during this difficult time.
Dawn O’Neil , former chief executive of Lifeline Australia and Beyond Blue, is an ambassador for a new program called Breathing Space, which supports executives in their mental health.
Breathing Space is a learning and development program in which senior leaders wear a device for several days to track baseline data such as their pulse rate. This allows them to measure how well they manage their work, cope with stress and track their sleeping and rest patterns.
‘‘ It helps increase executives’ awareness of their own stresses, how they’re coping with them and what they can do to change behaviours to better cope with their work,’’ says O’Neil .
‘‘ It takes into account physical and mental health and delivers tailored tips around managing your particular workload, depending on your profession. This is because some professions are faced with difficult challenges compared to others. So the challenges school principals face are quite different to senior leaders in the police force or senior public servants.’’
Once the data has been collected, the program makes recommendations about how to manage stress, such as undertaking short or longer programs and implementing practical strategies. ‘‘ Users monitor their actions and record what’s working for them or not in a journal,’’ says O’Neil .
The program is especially timely given leaders are feeling high levels of mental stress and fatigue as a result of COVID-19 . ‘‘ People are working longer hours even though we’re commuting less. As a consequence, people feel more fatigued,’’ she says.
‘‘ We’ve shifted to this way of working without really thinking about it or tracking the time we’re spending working. This is a significant moment, because if we’re going to shift to working from home, we’ll see people experiencing higher levels of burnout.’’
This means we have to look at how we’re working to help reduce stress. ‘‘ We have to build more rest and short breaks into our working day if we’re not going to commute, to give our minds and bodies a break. Because a lot of the work people are doing now, especially in executive roles, is very intense. There’s a lot of pressure.’’
Beyond Blue also has an initiative called Heads Up, which offers resources to build mentally healthy workplaces.
Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harman says it’s up to executives to look after their own mental health so they can support their team.
‘‘ You can’t pour from an empty cup,’’ she says. ‘‘ To me, good leadership is also knowing when you need to put your hand up for help, letting people in and putting a plan in place to keep you mentally healthy.’’
Harman says leaders must put in place formal and informal support networks to help them cope during these difficult times.
‘‘ It can help to simply talk things through and debrief with trusted peers, mentors or friends and draw on business networks and industry associations. But it’s also a smart, sensible strategy to seek more formal support through a GP or mental health professional if things are weighing you down.’’
Ciara Lancaster, change capability coach and author of Reimagine Change, says because of fatigue, job burnout, financial insecurity and family issues, many executives are seeking out self-guided online programs for stress management, workplace mentoring or buddy systems for social connection.
‘‘ This is a positive step, as executives who are intentional about harnessing their energy to adapt to changed expectations will thrive. Leading yourself and others through a shortterm crisis is one thing; leading through a pandemic is quite another.
‘‘ This is life-disrupting change. This new experience is unique to each of us. Some will spiral into burnout, some will silently manage their stress, while others will strengthen their resilience.’’
Lancaster agrees it’s important to take active steps to reduce stress. ‘‘ If you relate to being stressed out of your mind, your body is likely to be in flight mode. You need to change your physiology by doing an activity that brings you a sense of peace.
‘‘ Take a 10-minute walk around the block to release the build-up of cortisol, soak in vitamin D from the sunlight and allow your mind to wander. It’s a good idea to schedule walking meetings to keep you moving, and a mid-week meeting-free day to reset.’’
If feeling burnout, now’s the time to act, she says. ‘‘ Be kind to yourself, be curious about what could better support your mental and emotional wellbeing and be clear on your goal to get back to your best again.’’
Copyright © 2020 The Australian Financial Review