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  • Melissa Sims

Are We OK?

Recently, Elmo went on X (formerly Twitter) to just “check in” with the masses. The response was overwhelmingly dismal. Over 200 million views and well over 20,000 responses showed that people were not, in fact, OK. The responses ranged from political trolling to true cries for help - so much so that the National Suicide Hotline stepped in, as well as many other mental health resource companies.

When we look at stats, things actually seem to be going ok. Violent crime is down in most parts of the country. The economy is faring very well at a national level (even though we aren’t seeing it in our bank accounts), unemployment is historically low, and the job outlook is good. So what is going on? 

The overwhelming perception is that people are not feeling safe, stable, or even hopeful about where things are headed, and perception is reality. Just the mere fact that people went on social media to air their issues to a pretend animal from our childhoods should say enough. Why was that a safe space? I think a lot of this boils down to what we are surrounding ourselves with on a daily basis, and how much of that information is either helping us or harming us. News and social media (I know I sound like a broken record) are a huge part of the blame. Drama sells, and chaos gets clicks. So that’s what the main focus seems to be. The headlines surrounding our recent storms are a great example. You would have thought we were being swallowed by a hurricane by the dramatic headlines. Very few people had damage, relative to the whole. It’s all about perception.

I know that there are plenty of people that are going through some very difficult times - be it finances, physical health, family trauma, etc. - but for an overwhelming majority, the problems are really more “out there” than they are in the immediate forefront. Politics? That’s more “out there.” The global crises like war and famine? Out there. Climate change? Out there. While these all have the potential to affect us in the future, if you take a step back and focus on right this very moment, is it affecting you? Right now? Probably not. 

I think the upside to the way people are feeling is that it shows us two things: we truly are all connected in our human experience, and that we really do have an immense amount of empathy. If we didn’t, why would we care about these big world issues? What’s important is that we put things in perspective. Am I incredibly frustrated with how the little guy (all of us, basically) keeps the country running, but the the guys running the country (like huge corporations and corrupt politicians) are effectively ruining it? Yes. I am pretty pissed off about it to be frank. And I do find myself reading the news in the morning and feeling a little bit helpless…and that’s when I know I need to put my “issues” into perspective. 

I am not able to make a huge impact on much, if I am being honest. I can’t change the political landscape unless I run for office. And that’s not happening. I can’t stop climate change on my own. I can’t stop corporations from taking advantage of society. But what I can do is make my own small impact that will directly affect my right here and right now. 

As leaders, you have the task of not only managing the operational aspects of your teams, but also with supporting your staff through waves of anxiety and overwhelm. Not to mention calming your own. The current landscape, with concerns about personal safety, economic instability, and the constant barrage of unsettling news, has only amplified these challenges. As leaders, it's imperative to cultivate an environment of calm and stability, even in the midst of turmoil. 

Here are some strategies to navigate these turbulent waters and foster resilience within your team:

Your first step is always you. You can’t help anyone feel calm, stable, and at least psychologically safe if you aren’t in a good place yourself. We don’t want you to fake it - your mental health matters too. So all of the below strategies also apply to YOU.

Encourage Mindfulness: Introduce mindfulness practices to your team to help them stay grounded and centered amidst chaos. Whether it's through meditation sessions, breathing exercises, or simply taking moments of quiet reflection, mindfulness can provide a reprieve from the constant stream of stressors and help individuals focus on the present moment.

Focus on What You Can Control: In times of uncertainty, it's easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of variables that are out of our control. As a leader, remind your team to shift their focus to what they can control—such as their actions, reactions, and mindset. Encourage them to channel their energy into productive endeavors and let go of the things beyond their influence.

Promote Open Communication: Create a safe space for your team to express their concerns and fears openly. Encourage transparent communication and foster a culture of support and empathy. By acknowledging and validating their emotions, you can help alleviate some of the anxiety and empower your team to navigate challenges collaboratively.

Lead by Example: As a leader, your attitude and demeanor set the tone for the entire organization. Model resilience, optimism, and adaptability in the face of adversity. Demonstrate healthy coping mechanisms and prioritize self-care to show your team that it's possible to thrive even in challenging times.

Make Small Positive Changes: Encourage your team to focus on making small, incremental changes to their daily routines that can boost their mood and overall well-being. Whether it's practicing gratitude, engaging in physical activity, or connecting with loved ones, these small acts of self-care can have a significant impact on mental health and resilience. Try doing an afternoon check in with “What was one thing that went right today?” This shifts the mood and focuses on the positive. 

Provide Resources and Support: Offer resources such as employee assistance programs, mental health resources, and stress management workshops to support your team's well-being. Consider implementing flexible work arrangements, wellness initiatives, and regular check-ins to ensure that your team feels supported and valued.

Maintain a Long-term Perspective: Remind your team that challenges are temporary and that they possess the resilience and strength to overcome them. Encourage a long-term perspective that focuses on growth, adaptation, and learning from adversity. This too, shall pass.

Leading your staff through their various mental and emotional challenges may not have been something in the job description when you took your position. But great leaders know that they are much more than a delegator. They are the rock for their staff, requiring a delicate balance of empathy, resilience, and proactive support. By fostering a culture of mindfulness, focusing on what's within our control, and making small positive changes, leaders can help their teams navigate challenges with grace and resilience. 


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