At the start of May, in honour of Mental Health Awareness week, I was honoured to moderate a panel on managing stress and anxiety in the new normal we live in for the AFP GTC. On the panel was Dr. Katy Kamkar, Ph.D., C. Psych. Clinical Psychologist, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Chris Ide, VP Corporate and Community Partnerships at CAMH, and Jennifer Bernard, President and CEO, Women’s College Hospital Foundation. The panel was focused on providing actionable strategies that individuals and leaders could use to recognize, and manage, their own stress and anxiety as well as that of their team members. The panelists each brought such different perspectives and focus, and their insights were so valuable that I thought I would share a few of the takeaway tips here.

Dr. Kamkar started the discussion off by talking about normalizing thoughts and feelings and challenged us to catch our negative self-thoughts, which really resonated with me. How many times a day do we talk negatively to ourselves? I can envision many times throughout the day that I think negatively about myself – imagine if I said those things to someone, it would be emotional abuse! She talked about a baseline of what we can do. Sometimes you do better/more, other times it’s not 100%/less. But she said “Anything above zero counts” I loved that idea – a little bit is better than doing nothing at all – that can be applied in so many areas of our lives!

She also talked about the importance of hydration, which I talk about all the time! Keeping your body hydrated improves everything but it can actually have a positive effect on your mood and reduce anxiety and depression. She also recommended stretching regularly throughout the day, in fact, she suggested you stretch and move every hour as it helps with the flow of blood and oxygen throughout the body – so get stretching! Here are a few chair stretches I found for you to try while you work.

Jennifer talked about reducing the stress of her team and really focused on the importance of transparency and vulnerability as a leader – this was something I’ve touched on in some early blog’s but I can’t emphasize it enough. The entire panel spoke about the importance of, as a leader, being vulnerable enough to let people know that this is affecting you as well and, in doing so, leading by example. For example, if you want your team members to take breaks you should do so as well. If you are struggling or having a bad day, it’s okay to tell your team that, it will give them the confidence to bring issues forward when they are experiencing them.

Chris shared how he has been connecting with his team and ensuring that every virtual discussion he has with them is not just all business. I think that’s a really valid point, back when we could have in-person meetings we never only talked business. There would usually be some checking in at the start, connecting in the hallways, so we need to make time for the informal chats and catch-ups as part of our interacting.

Chris also shared a great resource: Workplace Mental Health Playbook for Business Leaders that CAMH has put out to help employers prioritize the mental health of their employees. The playbook contains 5 recommendations that Canadian Employers can implement with supporting case studies for each recommendation. It’s a great resource to help you get started if you’re not sure what to do or if you’re along the path but need some added direction.

Overall it was a great session, the big thing I wanted to bring to light here is that we need to openly talk about this more, everyone is suffering in their own way and as leaders we have an opportunity and a responsibility to open that conversation and keep the dialogue going.