Reflections from Neelesh Patel, Net Friends President:
At Net Friends, we applaud the increasing number of mental health initiatives in the technology sector for moving beyond raising mental health awareness by normalizing workplace dialogue and developing tools to improve mental well-being:
- Lenovo challenges us to consider Work-Life Blend (over the traditional Work-Life Balance mindset) by creating a culture of open communication at work about personal life events and pressures, as remote work blurs the lines between our work and home life.
- Microsoft developed a social-emotional tracking tool for their Teams application, called Reflect, to help Educators better gauge online classroom experiences for remote learners.
- According to the WSJ, Apple "is reportedly working on ways to help detect and diagnose conditions such as depression, anxiety and cognitive decline using an iPhone.”
Lately, I’ve been reflecting with my Net Friends colleagues about what going beyond mental health awareness looks like as a company. Every October on World Mental Health Day, Net Friends participates in Walk for Hope to help raise support and funds for scientific mental health research. We love championing the efforts of organizations like the Foundation of Hope for organizing Walk for Hope and for fighting against the stigmas that stand in the way of long-lasting positive outcomes for mental illness recovery.
It should go without saying that showing up for mental health initiatives in our community is more than a one-time event. What does going beyond these annual walks and 5k races look like as a company? How can we individually grow our ability to better identify signs that our co-workers are struggling? At some point in the awareness journey, we must look inward and examine our own mental health needs, especially individuals in the IT industry.
There’s a heavy toll for the mental load, emotional labor, code switching, and invisible work that people in the IT industry carry every day. Normalizing mental health awareness, to me, means we accept how each of us is either at risk of developing symptoms or already have in some form. Going beyond awareness means we are willing to challenge the conditions that cause or exacerbate those symptoms.
At Net Friends, we talk a lot about lightening “mental loads” during company-wide meetings. I asked a few Net Friends to share practices that they find useful in their daily rituals to help them alleviate the burden on mental health caused by our daily commitments. I’d like to share a few tips that fellow Net Friends have intentionally put into practice to do just that.
Emily Dao-Forrester – Marketing Coordinator
On Morning & Evening Routines for Mindfulness
I start every morning by listening to a 5-minute daily motivation podcast called “Make Your Damn Bed” by Julie Merica, a Chicago-based comedian. Topics vary from practicing self-compassion to “embracing boredom” to breaking patterns that no longer serve you. The goal is to help you build momentum first thing after waking up as you start your morning routine. I like how it grounds me with a reflective prompt or an actionable idea before I even show up for my workday as a Net Friend.
When possible, I also like to do 5 minutes of Morning Pages (The Artist’s Way), a habitual tool that allows creatives to release “stream-of-consciousness” and lighten mental loads.
In the evenings, I try to unwind by reflecting via these four prompts stored in my iPhone Notes app: What drained me today? What gave me energy? What brought positivity or peace into my life? What am I grateful or proud of today? I make it a discipline to actually type out my answers to force concrete responses. This intention allows me to seek out similar positive opportunities in the days to follow.
Kyle George – Manager, Security Operations Center
On Human Connections While Working Remotely
I prioritize mental health, and health in general, in a couple different ways:
Weather permitting, I try to get a couple laps in around my yard each day. I use the time to free my mind of work by playing with my dogs or watching the plants, trees, birds and insects (butterflies, dragonflies).
During the workday, I try to make sure that I have verbal interaction with at least 1 team member per day. If I can get the interaction to be on video, that’s even better.
I think that listening to and seeing team members daily helps keep the personal touch in working together and keeps people from becoming detached. I also keep a “happy light” on my desk that mimics sunlight to enhance mood, energy, sleep & focus. Definitely recommend trying one out.
Brian Morris – Manager, Field Services
On Showing Up As The Best Version of Yourself
For me, the key is daily meditation. That is always my goal (not always achieved, but most days), because it’s my rock, and the foundation on which my senses of balance and well-being are based. Ten minutes at the beginning of my day to focus on the present and center myself is critical to lower the volume on mental noise generated by the literal firehose of information coming at me (and everyone).
Another crucial part of my routine is a 1.5 mile fast-paced walk with my dog in the early morning; exercise gets my body functioning at a higher level.
Between these two areas of focus on mind and body, I’m ready to be the best version of myself that I can be, which benefits all of my relationships, both professional and personal.
Holly Harris – Finance Director
On "Stopping to Smell the Roses"
For me, mental health balance with work has a lot to do with stress reduction. Working in a professional environment where I am trusted, and my work is valued, really helps my mental well-being and satisfaction with my work life. I also try to leave work at work and do things like no phone notifications after work hours.
In my personal life, it may seem cliché but “stop to smell the roses” is applicable. This means making a conscious effort to stop thinking about the barrage of things that I need to do, and instead, training focus in the moment to be on the activity at hand, whether it’s enjoying a picnic with my family or gazing at the stars during a nighttime walk.
Neelesh Patel – President
On Choosing Enough Sleep Every Time
For me, mental health balance begins with waking up early in the morning and either going for a run or High Intensity Interval Training, and sometimes both. This gives me an opportunity to think through some of the concerns I have had about the day or any lingering negative thoughts from the previous day.
Exercise also floods me with endorphins that typically carry me through the most stressful and trying situations with the most positive perspective possible.
I also have a few different breathing exercises that I work through depending on whether I am dealing with stress, general tiredness, or nervousness. Lastly, I try and go to bed early to ensure my mind and body have had an opportunity to recover and recharge. If I had to pick one of the three things I just identified, I would pick getting more sleep every time.
John Snyder – CEO
On Celebrating Your "Highlight of the Day"
I’m a lists guy, so I am always generating more To-Do's than I could possibly get to. But I always zero in on a single item on the list and highlight it. I make sure this is a priority task and that it is achievable and impactful. Then, so long as I get this one thing done, the day is always a smashing success!
Big or small, my highlight is sometimes a task I enjoy doing, and other times, it may be something I dread, but I know checking it off will be gratifying. My highlights range from personal to professional commitments, based on what I think requires my attention that day.
By moving my one “highlight of the day” across the finish line, I am able to celebrate that day with a sense of accomplishment. Some days, my highlight isn't a task at all, but rather a human connection I want to prioritize in that moment, because I value the relationship and know my intentional words or actions will help express that best.
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