In this episode of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast, Bryghtpath Principal & Chief Executive Bryan Strawser discusses mental health as a Business Continuity, Crisis Management, and Corporate Security Professional.
Topics discussed in this episode include stress and anxiety, the impact of the pandemic on business continuity and crisis management professionals, how to find help in an emergency, and where to go to talk about the last several months.
Related Episodes & Blog Posts
- Blog Post: Four steps you can take today to improve your personal preparedness
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- Episode #105: Taking care of yourself during a crisis
Hello, and welcome to the Managing Uncertainty podcast. This is Bryan Strawser Principal and Chief Executive here at Bryghtpath. And, in this week’s episode, I want to talk a little bit about mental health. Mental health for you as a business continuity and crisis management, corporate security, professional, and everything that we’ve been through over the last 18 to 20 months as we’ve guided our organizations, our clients, our families through this global pandemic that has driven almost everything that we’ve had to deal with over the last almost two years now.
And, I approach this from the standpoint that I don’t have all the answers. I’m not asking for help here or crying out for help. I’m not trying to be brave or anything like that as I talk about mental health and these challenges we’re faced with, with our own resiliency, with our own challenges. As we think about what we’ve all been through in the last 20 months or so with this pandemic and the role that we’ve had to play as business continuity and crisis management and security professionals.
But, I do think that we need to do a better job as an industry, as individuals, as people normalizing talking about struggles like this. Struggles that we have as we work through challenging situations. Struggles that we have, we may have, with depression or anxiety, both of which are issues I’ve been faced with in my teenage years and adult life. But, also just the stress that we face in these situations that we have to deal with. In my own career, I have dealt with all of the issues related to managing crisis situations where lives were at stake. I have lost fellow employees in shootings and violent crime. My team, when I worked in a Fortune 30 company, regularly dealt with homicides and suicides of their fellow workers. We managed and helped to manage situations where an employee had killed another employee. Sometimes people that we knew and had interactions with.
And, all of the stress that is created in that and all of the trauma that impacts us. And, I think that all of those are things we should acknowledge, but then we look at what we’ve all dealt with in the last two years dealing with the pandemic. Where whether we’ve had support within our organizations or not, whether we’ve had resources, maybe not even the resources that we need within our companies to have dealt with the myriad of issues that we’ve been faced with over the last year and a half, as we’ve dealt with the pandemic.
Our companies looked to us, the business continuity crisis management and security professional to help lead the organization through something that we, although we may have had pandemic plans. And, we may have lived through H1N1 in 2009, 2010, 2011, but we never expected to see a pandemic like this in our lifetimes. So, I think there’s a lot that we’ve been through and I don’t think we do a very good job talking about this as an industry. I’m one of the authors and podcast hosts that I really appreciate is a leader named David C. Baker, who just recently wrote about mental health and his own struggles with his mental health during his professional career, both personally and professionally.
And I think part of what he wrote really resonated with me that as leaders, he says, he thinks that mental health struggles can be real challenging for us because of what leadership requires. Because of what we’re expected to do in terms of managing these business disruptions and crisis situations and violent acts that fall into our world. Our area of responsibility. That people look to us within our organizations and in our communities for leadership. And, they want to follow our lead in these situations. And, that many of us think that confusion or struggle or admitting that some situations are more difficult than others can seem like a weakness. In some paranoid moments, David writes, “You may even fear that your struggles can be used against you to discount or undermine your role within your organization or as people’s perception of you as a leader.”
And I think all of that is true. I think these are all things that we think about and we struggle with, as we look at these situations. And, we don’t do a good job and particularly in this country and the United States about openly talking about normalizing, talking about struggles like this. I know growing up, I grew up in a small town in rural Indiana with a population of about 2,400 folks. My entire county had 18,000 people. It was my dad’s hometown, and that’s where my parents wanted to raise the children. It was the kind of place you hear about where you don’t lock your doors. Now, we locked our doors because we were not dumb, but it was that kind of community where people helped each other and you didn’t lock your doors.
And, it’s a kind of idyllic thing we talk about in movies with the house, the white picket fence, and all those things that kind of go with that kind of metaphor of growing up in a small town. But, my hometown was definitely not a place where you talked about your challenges with mental health. And, I was someone who has depression that runs in their family. And, I went through about a major depression, my senior year of high school that remains one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to manage in my life. I required counseling. I required medication and all of that helped me. And, it helped give me the set of skills I needed to avoid falling into that again for the rest of my life, at least to date.
But, I’ve struggled in situations where I have felt, I’ve been anxious. I have felt stress. I have felt overwhelmed about the things in front of me because of the things that… Not just because of how I’m wired biologically, but also because of the things you have to deal with in your career as a business continuity crisis management security professional. I mean, the pandemic itself has been a challenge for a lot of us to think through. And, to deal with and to be as we used to call it in my old life “Onstage as a leader” for months and months and months where folks look to you to have the answer. Folks, look to you, to help lead your organization through all of the challenges we’ve been faced with to date in the pandemic.
Each of us has handled the stress of the pandemic in our own way and each of us is wired differently. Some endure stress quite easily, some handle it in different ways. We all process stress in different ways and that’s perfectly normal. And we each handle challenging situations in different ways. And, probably no two of us really process that alike. But, fear and anxiety with COVID have played a pretty significant part in our mental health. And, it would probably would play a significant part on our mental health, even if we weren’t in the industry and hold the roles that we do, given everything going on in the world right now.
I recorded a podcast episode of Managing Uncertainty a little over a year ago on July 22nd if my records are correct. And I’m reminded that I saw a post that day on social media, on Facebook, from a friend of mine, who’s one of the most rock-solid, confident, carefree individuals. Who’s in a great relationship, a long-term marriage with great children and both of them work full-time, they weren’t impacted by the pandemic except in the area of stress and mental health. And what I saw today, when I saw what they wrote a year ago, it concerned me a bit. We were only five months into the pandemic at the time, there was no end in sight. The vaccinations, many of us thought they were a pipe dream although now we know there was a significant scientific process being made.
There were constant changes and social distancing and mask mandates and not knowing what school’s going to look like in the fall for your kids. Not knowing when we’re going to return to the office in some places. It created a whole different level of stress and fear and anxiety in individuals. And, here we are almost a year later and we still feel, I think at times, overwhelmed by all of this. We’re looking at the Delta variant of COVID. We’re facing vaccine hesitancy. Many of our businesses are back in their office. Many large businesses are headed down a path to be back in the office or just have returned to the office more recently.
We’ve had to take action. We took actions during the pandemic that isolated us from others. We had to social distance. We had to shelter in place. We had periods where we were told that we should stay at home and some of those restrictions were lifted. And then came back. If you’re an extrovert, you were in the worst isolation and loneliness of your life, in some cases. That I heard from my friends and that increases stress and anxiety. And, even if we all agree, all of those things were the right things to do to reduce the spread of COVID, to get our hands on the pandemic that can still create stress and anxiety for many of us.
And, finding ways to cope with that stress in a healthy way can make you and the people you care about and your local community and your team at work stronger. So, when we think about stress in the pandemic, things, we look for changes in sleep and eating patterns, difficulty sleeping, difficulty, concentrating, fear, and worry about your own health or the health of your loved ones. The health of your friends, financial situation, jobs, support services that you rely upon. You might feel like chronic health conditions that you’ve been dealing with in your life suddenly feel worse. That mental health conditions that you’ve been challenged by in your life, could feel worse. You may see an increase in tobacco or alcohol use or even drugs that might not be legal in the place that you live.
So, these are some of the things that get caused by stress, in a pandemic or stress on the job that we’ve all been faced with over the last several months, the most important thing I want to remind everybody with all of this and all the stress we’re faced with, is that if you’re in a crisis, a mental health crisis or you feel like you’re in a crisis, and you’re thinking about harming yourself or harming somebody else, there’s a lot of places you can turn to. And, it’s important that you find someone to talk with right away in that situation. If you’re feeling like that, now or the future, I want you to get help. You can go to an emergency room or a clinic. You can talk with your family or your doctor or a counselor. If you’ve seen a mental health professional, that is the best thing that you can do.
If you can’t do that, there’s a number of other places that you can go. You can talk to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. That number is (800) 273-TALK or (800) 273-8255. You can call the Disaster Distress helpline if you want to try something that’s maybe a little more all hazards in nature. That number is (800) 985-5990 here in the US. If you’re a veteran of the US Armed Forces, there’s a Veterans Crisis line at (800) 273-TALK. That’s the same number as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline but they’ll get you to someone on the phone who understands the specific needs of veterans and that can be something unique that you may be working through.
If none of these are something you can do, then call a friend. Call a family member. Talk with your spouse or a partner or a loved one and tell them what’s going on and tell them that you need help. And, let them take you to a place where you can get that help. If nothing else, you can call me. My office number is (612) 235-6435. Now, if you hit the number for emergency for I’m having a crisis right now, when the automated pickup thing picks up, it’ll go to our on-call voicemail. And, one of our employees, well, either I’ll pick it up or one of my folks will let me know, and I’d be happy to talk with you if you listen to this podcast. And, I don’t care what time of day it is, call me. I’m not a mental health professional, but I’ve been there. I will be your friend and I will help you.
But, if you’re in a crisis and you’re feeling like you’re at your wits end and you’re thinking of harming yourself or another, then I want you to do something about that right away. I do not want you to wait. I want you to call and get immediate help. Now, I want to talk about what you can do when you’re not in that crisis situation. And, one thing I want to, as I emphasized that part of my intent in doing this podcast episode is to make it okay to have these conversations. And, I think we should talk more about these things as an industry, particularly coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I think we have to do a better job of acknowledging that this is a challenge for us. That business continuity and security and crisis management professionals, that this is a challenge. And, that it’s okay to talk about those things. I think it’s important to acknowledge that we all react differently to stress, to stressful situations and how you react and respond to that stress can depend upon your background, your level of social support, how you were brought up. Your financial situation, your health, your emotional background, the community you live in and a lot of other factors.
And, there’s things that have happened because of what’s gone on with COVID and how steps that we had to take, isolated a lot of us from those support networks, that connectivity we have with friends and coworkers. There’s a number of groups that might respond more strongly to the stress and that includes folks that are at higher risk for illness, people who have underlying medical conditions. For example, my mother has a number of underlying medical conditions and she’s in her seventies. So, she’s been in a higher risk group that has required her to take other steps to protect herself during the pandemic. And trust me, my mother is a retired public health nurse. This would have been her thing to deal with this pandemic. She would have gone back and volunteered to help with testing and with vaccination, but she didn’t and couldn’t because of the risk factors that she has present in her life.
And that’s okay. But, it adds stress and it changes how she sees the risk of COVID and has impacted decisions she’s made over the last year and a half. Children and teenagers deal with this differently because they don’t have the developed coping mechanisms that adults do. People who are caring for family members or loved ones have other stressors that are going on as we have worked through the pandemic. In all of this, we want to make sure, I think we all want to make sure we can take care of our friends and family. And, we see that as something that helps relieve our own stress. We all also want to do well in the work that we do at work. Our need, our companies need, our clients need to depend upon us and we want to deliver upon that dependency. We want to be able to lead our organizations through and out of this pandemic. But, we also want to make sure, I want to make sure that you’re balancing all of that with care for yourself. That you’re thinking about self care and that you’re okay taking the time to do that.
Helping others cope with their stress, helping provide social support and checking in with them that can help your community be stronger. That can help your company and your coworkers be stronger. But, you also want to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself as you do so. You can still make contact and care for their mental health. You can do phone calls and video chat and visit with people now we’ve been vaccinated. You can use FaceTime and Google Hangouts and Zoom or other tools. That can help you and your friends feel more socially connected, less lonely and less isolated.
Definitely think about how you continue to take care of your own emotional health. So, here’s some things to think about. One is to look at how you take care of your own body. Now, I’ve been horrible at this for years. 60 days ago, as I’m recording this, I was diagnosed as if I needed more stress in the middle of pandemic, with type two diabetes. And as I worked with my care team, primary care doctor, a dietician, a diabetes educator, a endocrinologist, and ultimately a hematologist, just to throw more fun into the mix. My endocrinologist said it best that, “Bryan, you have an interconnected series of health issues. All of which you’re familiar with now. High blood pressure, you got bad issues with triglycerides and cholesterol. You don’t eat well. You don’t exercise. And, the end result of that is you have type two diabetes and you are obese. All of your challenges are linked to the fact that you’re obese. And, by solving that issue, you will drastically improve the other medical issues and improve your outcomes. So that needs to be your focus.”
And, he was right. And I’ve done those things over the last 60 days I can’t tell you how much that has helped my mental health as well. I feel better. I feel stronger. I know that I’m taking the right actions and that has improved my stress. So, these are things I’ve done to help take care of myself over the last few months and doing so has greatly improved my own mental health and outlook on things. But, during all these times where we… I’m sorry, I lost my spot here. As much as you can, as you work through self care, you want to avoid alcohol and tobacco, and obviously other illicit drugs that might be available in your area. Having rest and good sleep and physical strength helps you deal better with stress and work. And so these are areas I would encourage you to think about. They help you build a good emotional resilience.
The second is to connect with others, connect with your friends, with your coworkers. Share your concerns, and be open with how you’re feeling in terms of stress and anxiety and mental health with your friends and family, with your loved ones. Use those healthy relationships and anchors that are out there for you that can help you. And really, I was thinking about this a lot in terms of just anchors. Your anchors are the people you trust the most. People you love because their family or their close friends or their coworkers that you’ve really bonded and connected with. These are important places to stay connected. It helps feed that social requirement for interaction that’s so critical to your emotional health.
But, also think about how you take breaks and make time to unwind, reminding yourself that stress will fade in time. Take deeper breaths, do some things you enjoy. That might be reading or playing video games or spending time with your children or your nieces and nephews. Whatever that hobby is that helps you feel rejuvenated and relaxed and gets you away from work away from thinking about the pandemic is a good break. So, stay informed.
For some folks, and I’m one of those, if I feel like I’m missing information, I get stressed or nervous. Two months ago, when I was going through my physical diagnosis, my diabetes diagnosis, one of the things I had highlighted for my doctor was stress. That I feel like I didn’t have all the coping mechanisms I needed to deal with stress. And we got on a topic of hobbies, my doctor asked me, “What are some things that relax you?” And, I talked about reading, and I talked about I’d recently been trying meditation and he goes, “Well, tell me about your work day. What do you do over lunch? Do you take some time and get away from work? Or what do you do?”
And, I really didn’t. I ate lunch at my desk and I just continued doing it. And he goes, “Well, reading is something that relaxes you. So take an hour for lunch, eat your meal, and then sit in your office and read for 30 minutes because you would be surprised how much that resets your mood and helps strengthen you for an afternoon of work and helps reduce the amount of stress that you’re feeling.” And you know what? That guy was right. I’ve started reading over lunch and taking a little bit longer of a lunchtime. I’ve blocked lunch so that I don’t have meetings during that time. It has helped a ton. It has helped a ton in terms of just what my stress is like from day to day.
So lastly, don’t be afraid to seek help. Don’t be afraid to talk about the stress and the struggles and the anxiety of the last 20 months. If you’re stressed out, you’re emotional challenge your faced with, and you feel that for more than a few days or a few weeks, then I would encourage you to seek help. I would encourage you to talk with at a minimum, a friend or a family member about getting professional help. Or talk with a coworker. Maybe you’re religious, and you’re a member of a church. You can talk to your clergy to a pastor, a minister or deacon. I’m Catholic, so deacons and priests are the people that we go and talk with about such things.
You can talk with a mental health counselor. You can go see your doctor. You can get a referral to a mental health professional. There’s a lot of routes that you can go to seek that help and to build the emotional resilience that you will need to continue to lead your organization through what I hope is the end of this pandemic. But, we don’t talk about this enough. And, I think it’s important to try and have more of these kinds of conversations about how we all cope with and deal with stress and how we can get help when it starts to feel overwhelming.
And again, if you’re in crisis, I want you to get help right away. Go to an emergency room or clinic. Talk to your doctor. Get help from a mental health or medical professional. Talk to a family member or a friend call. One of the hotlines we talked about. Or call me, I’ll be your friend. Even if I don’t know you. We’re in the same industry, we’re facing the same challenges. I will listen. (612) 235-6435.
I know this is a little different episode for us, we haven’t talked about this in almost a year, but David C. Baker’s newsletter this week really highlighted this. And, I think it’s important to acknowledge that this is something we could be better at. I know we’re not really talking about companies in this episode and we didn’t talk about building a stronger, more resilient enterprise, but I think it’s important right now for each of us to take a moment and take stock of our mental and emotional health and makes sure that we’re taking some time for self-care. And, that we’re supporting each other for all the things we’ve been through over the last 20 months with the pandemic so that we can all be here for our companies, for our family, for our friends, for our loved ones, our local community.
That’s it for this edition of the Managing Uncertainty podcast. We’ll be back next week with another new episode. Be well.