How Professionals Can Stay Mentally Healthy

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mental healthNot long ago a New York bakery owner, Renee Mancino, depressed about her current health situation and the prospect of losing her store over rent negotiations, shot herself in front of her husband and workers.

Then just last week, the co-founder of successful natural hair care products brand Miss Jessie’s Titi Branch died at age 45 of an apparent suicide. It has been reported she suffered from depression.

Some people think that once they are successful, their problems will go away. Not true. And also the stressful life of professionals can lead to mental troubles.

“The thought that people will be happy once they are successful is similar to the thought that money brings happiness,” notes stress reduction expert and coach Melissa Heisler. “Tying our joy and peace to something outside of us is harmful in many ways…success is something outside of us. Therefore we are moving our power from within to without. By tying our happiness to success we are reducing our inherent power.”

Adds licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology Dr. Ramani Durvasula, “In fact, this mindset is a real risk–because then when the successful person feels unhappy they can’t fathom the why of it, and won’t get help–instead often just working harder or lapsing into denial or unhealthy coping strategies.”

There are many issues professionals sometimes face. “Burn-out is a big one if they are doing, doing, doing and not taking care of themselves. Anxiety can present if they are worried about failing or not living up to others’ expectations,” says Megan Bearce, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of “Super Commuter Couples: Staying Together When a Job Keeps You Apart.” “I have worked with successful doctors and lawyers who struggle with depression and moodiness due to lack of job satisfaction. Or, they are disillusioned with the current realties of their work environment and given the time and money they have invested in those careers, they feel stuck and unsure of what to do.”

Stress is also a major problem.  “They usually face tremendous stress in the workplace–they may be required to work long hours, deal with very difficult people who make it harder to do their own jobs, and in economically tight times, they usually have to do more than required,” says licensed psychologist who works as an executive coach Dr. Anita Marchesani.

And stress can have long-ranging effects. “Prolonged, unmanaged/ignored stress leads to depression. This is the most common mental health problem in professionals and business owners,” says Dr. Marchesani.

Anxiety is also a problem. “Panic attacks can happen, but people feel ashamed about this, so they are reluctant to admit it,” explains Dr. Marchesani. “Because professionals are so dedicated to their field, they often dismiss or ignore the build-up of symptoms.”

Feeling isolated is a problem faced by many successful people. “It really can be lonely at the top,” says Dr. Colleen Mullen, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego. Her private practice “Coaching Through Chaos” is designed to meet the needs of executives, athletes, MD’s and other high achieving professionals. “A successful person can also deal with isolation in ways other people don’t due to everyone’s expectations on them – they usually keep their stressors to themselves, which can cause them to feel more isolated than, say, someone who works for them who may have a handful of co-workers to discuss their stressors with.”

Often times, professionals forget to take care of themselves. “Very often, they’ve worked so hard on building their business or getting the right promotions, they have neglected other components of their life: relationships, family and self-care,” says Dr. Mullen. “Other times, they did alright on the way up the success ladder, but don’t know how to nurture, maintain or grow from there. High levels of stress, fear of losing their success, maintaining the status quo and loneliness can result.”

If you are facing difficulties, seek out a professional as soon as possible. “Talk to a licensed mental health professional. The confidentiality of therapy can allow for open, non-judgmental conversations to explore what they are feeling and why,” says Bearce.

In addition to reaching out for help, Dr. Durvasula also recommends self-care. “I also strongly urge self-care–something that many workaholic professionals don’t do enough of – and this includes sleep, healthy diet, exercise, time with loved ones, meditation – lots of people talk a good game, but few people walk it. Least of all successful professionals.”

Learn to develop coping skills. “The behaviors that result in order to calm fears, anxiety or alleviate depression are referred to as coping skills. On a person’s best day, coping skills are healthy – they go for a walk or have dinner with a friend or practice a few minutes of daily mediation each morning to de-stress,” suggests Dr. Mullen.

She says exercise helps–even a little exercise. “Even if you took the stairs to the next floor to use the bathroom during your day at work, it would result in just a bit more of the stress energy being expelled, giving you more capacity to carry stress when it hits,” she says.

Meditate in the morning.  “Each morning, take five minutes to take a few deep breaths and think of something that will help you stay calm and focused during the day. ‘Today I will tend to my emotional needs’, or ‘Today I will make healthy choices’, or ‘Today I will find time for my wife (/girlfriend, husband/boyfriend, family, etc.),'” says Dr. Mullen. “As you adopt this, you will find that this thought becomes more and more connected to how you act during the day.”

Use your vacation time. It’s there because it’s important to take breaks. The world will go on. You don’t have to go somewhere on your break, but just taking the time off of work will help you replenish some of your emotional capacity,” says Dr. Mullen. “Sometimes, just planning 3 or 4 day weekends every other month becomes more rejuvenating than planning a two-week vacation every year. Try it! See what works for you.”

For a related article of workplace stress, CLICK HERE.