Mental Health Awareness Month Tips You Can Use

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but for many of us, the pandemic has brought mental health into focus. 

23andMe wants to raise awareness about the issue, and give our employees some tools they can use to cope in these trying times. We also want to share some of what we’re doing with those outside the company. First we just need to recognize that these are trying times. 

Beyond COVID-19, political upheaval, war, economic uncertainty, and other stressors have compounded to create a mental health crisis. This crisis has hit some of us harder than others. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported a 25 percent increase in anxiety and depression worldwide.  In December of 2021, in a rare advisory, the U.S. Surgeon General warned that young people were in the midst of an unprecedented mental health crisis

Working parents are also feeling mentally stressed; more than 66 percent reported that they felt “burned out,” according to a recent study by researchers at Ohio State University. And not that you need more confirmation, but a study last year by the Society for Human Resource Management found that almost half of all working people were burned out or emotionally drained.

Addressing the issue starts with simple awareness that we have a problem. Indeed, mental health issues — depression, anxiety, and stress — were all issues before the pandemic but COVID-19 focused our attention.

“It’s too bad it took a pandemic to do that,” said Dr. Vidya Krishnan, the Chief Psychiatrist and Medical Director for the Children’s Health Council and a program called RISE that is focused on helping teens in mental health crises.

The comment came up during an internal company-wide meeting at 23andMe, which is part of a series of talks and presentations meant to help raise awareness and give employees tools to help themselves and others struggling with their own mental health challenges.

23andMe is committed to helping its employees identify strategies for overcoming some of these challenges. Some of this involves simply providing space and permission to talk about it, but we’re also offering tips for reducing stress. 

For Mental Health Awareness Month, 23andMe held a live stream on May 26th with special guest speakers who covered topics as wide-ranging as making healthy feel-good snacks, or tips on breathing and meditation to reduce your stress each day. 

Here are some of the resources and additional information from those sessions. And you can check out the full stream here.

Striking a Balance Between Work and Life 

Psychologist and author, Dr. Lauren Cook, was joined by Joey Price, a leadership coach and the CEO of Jumpstart HR, who together shared mental health resources to help you avoid burnout and find balance. 

How to approach your day:

During the discussion, Dr. Cook referenced Hal Elrod’s book The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM) and discussed the need to set yourself up for success at the start of each day. It could be something as simple as getting up early and being productive, or just taking your time and watching TV in the morning. The key is being kind and giving yourself grace in the morning 

Adding on to Dr. Cook’s advice, Joey touches on how to take the same approach for the rest of your day. 

“Know your work style and when you have your peaks and rushes of energy during the day,” he said, adding, that you should try to tackle tasks during those times. 

It’s also important to communicate this with your supervisor and team members so they know what works best for you.

Meeting and optimizing your time:

The segment then goes into advice about meetings and optimizing everyone’s time. Joey’s advice is to over-communicate by attaching an agenda and keeping it time-bound. He also says it’s important to have boundaries with meetings. Figure out when you say no when you say yes to meetings, and when you say yes how to ask for a hard stop, or even ask ahead of time if you need to prepare anything to be ready for the meeting. Have those tools in your toolkit to be a better attendee and get more out of any meeting.

Dr. Cook’s big takeaway is to give yourself space between meetings, for meeting planners in particular. People need time between their meetings. Then, for people who are being invited to meetings, make sure you stay engaged. If, after a few meetings, you still find yourself asking if you really need to be there, it’s probably time to talk to your supervisor about it. 

Final advice:

Dr. Cook says everyone needs to start practicing what’s called “monotasking,” or focusing on one task at a time. The more you can be present for what’s happening right now, the better it’s going to be for your mental health, especially as we’re seeing such a correlation between multi-tasking and burnout.

Joey’s final message: get outside, connect with nature, and even bring nature inside. It’s good for your mental health.

How to connect with them:

Dr. Lauren Cook: Website, The Boardroom Brain Podcast, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn

Joey Price: Jumpstart HR, While We Were Working Podcast, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn 

Remember to Breathe

Yoga and meditation instructor, writer, and licensed Clinical Marriage Family Therapist, Kelly Blaser, shared wellness and breathing exercises you can easily include in your work day. 

What to do when you don’t have much time:

Kelly discussed what she calls “ninja mindfulness” – something you can do on the fly that allows you to integrate little moments of practice throughout your day. 

You might even need a mindset shift if you think you don’t have time to do meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises during your day. A practice of five to ten minutes a day, even just for a month, will radically shift how you experience your life. And if you don’t have time for that, even the little things you can do to shift your attention will help. For example, when you walk during the day be aware of the way your foot strikes the ground, think about your kinship with the planet. Bring in that kind of awareness and pair it with something you’re already doing. 

Breathing exercises:

  1. Physiological sigh: Two inhalations through the nose and one long exhalation through the nose or mouth.
  2. Breath retention and “box breathing”: Inhale to a count of 4, hold to a count of 4, exhale to a count of 4, and hold for a count of 4. Then go through it again.
  3. Envision a point that’s at the base of your thoracic cavity, on top of the diaphragm. And then another point that’s two fist lengths above your head. As you inhale, you imagine energy flowing down from the upper point all the way to the base of the heart, then hold. As you exhale, imagine energy flowing back up to top, and then hold. If it’s difficult to picture energy flowing, just imagine you’re moving your awareness. 

How to connect with Kelly:

Website, Instagram, LinkedIn

Feel-good Foods

23andMe’s Chef Clinton, and Janice Motha show you how to make feel-good snacks and drinks that can give you a mental boost during your workday

How to spruce up your water:

  • Saffron honey water: To make a gallon, boil some water, add about a tablespoon of saffron, and a half a cup of organic honey. Then dump it over ice. 
  • Basil and Meyer lemon: Roll the basil in your hands and dump it in the water
  • A few other ingredient ideas: ginger and lime or mint and berries

Afternoon “pick me up” snack ideas:

  • Make your own granola. One recipe is to mix almonds, pecans, walnuts, and slightly hydrated raisins, with some honey and roast it. 
  • Take the granola, hydrate it in yogurt, and make it into balls. Then dip it in dark chocolate
  • Dark chocolate and raspberries

We can’t make the stress go away, but we hope that one or all of these sessions might help you turn down the stress meter and get you through your day a little easier.