Employers should take a stand for mental health 

Mental Health Awareness Month was first observed in the United States in May 1949 and founded by the Mental Health America Organization to raise awareness and shine a light on the trauma and societal impact that mental illness can have on the physical, emotional and mental well-being of children, families and communities as a whole. 

The Hawkeye State is a leader in mental health advocacy with the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative and Make it OK campaign. All year, the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative supports efforts to ensure every Iowan can live their healthiest life and show the rest of the nation the road to wellness. 

By engaging worksites, organizations, communities, schools, retail food, institutions and individuals, the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative creates awareness and brings solutions to improve the overall health of the Iowa population. 

The need is plenty. Worldwide and right here in the Corridor, burnout is a constant threat to the well-being of people at all levels of business. 

Burnout does not happen overnight. It’s a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion that creeps into our lives from excessive and prolonged stress. 

Hindsight is 20/20, and it’s better to address burnout before it happens. Somatic awareness is a widely unknown but proactive approach anyone can take to protect their mental health and stay out of the jaws of chronic, harmful stress.

Listen to your body

When we repeatedly ignore what our body tells us, we create the conditions for a perfect stress storm. Somatic awareness is awareness of the physical sensations that coincide with stressful situations. This awareness is the first step toward managing the fight-flight-freeze response and protecting our mental health by building our capacity to handle emotions that arise in difficult situations. 

Emotions are essential data, not meant to be ignored. They significantly influence our behavior and rational thinking. And in an uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, we can’t afford to ignore, control, or stuff our emotions. 

Humans are wired to survive. Because of this, we can find ourselves oriented to threats or curiosity at any point throughout our day. Threat drastically narrows our capacity to make the right decision at the right time and move forward in a precise, efficient and informed direction, resulting in undue stress and fractured well-being.

Conversely, curiosity fosters the mental soundness and contentment that initiates the ideal conditions for a culture of psychological safety and high performance to take root and grow. 

It begins at the top, with leaders setting the tone by learning to manage their fight-flight-freeze response. The Three Pillars of Somatic Awareness is a great place for leaders to make an impact on their overall health and that of the people they lead. 

Three Pillars of Somatic Awareness 

Notice: Pay attention to your physical sensations. If your heart begins to pound, there’s a pit in your stomach, or your shoulders are up to your ears, stop and notice.

Name: Name the emotion that you’re feeling. Science has found this simple act to provide an important bridge between the emotional and cognitive parts of our brains that help us stay calm and solve pressing problems.

Neutralize: Stress is the result of a dysregulated nervous system. By noticing and naming, we open the door to assessing the situation, regulating our nervous system and returning to clear thinking. 

Increasing awareness of the importance of mental health and wellness to people’s overall health and reducing the stigma associated with living with mental or behavioral health issues is something everyone can participate in. The healthier we are individually, the healthier we are collectively. 

Take a stand for mental health not just today but every day.

Jennifer Zach is an executive coach and founder of Zach Coaching, LLC. On May 11, she is hosting a free Iowa Healthiest State Initiative Endorsed webinar. Her website is jennifer-zach.com.