Navigating Mental Health and Work/Life Balance Today

Three ways I've managed a changing landscape

With new technology, the way people work has evolved, and "work-life balance" has taken on a new meaning. As hours are more flexible and more work is done remotely, the balance of work and life is constantly ebbing and flowing. Just as work life bleeds into personal life, along comes the inclusion of one's personal life into their work life, warts and all. 

For those struggling with or working on their mental health, this new enmeshment of work life and personal life can be daunting, and even embarrassing, but it doesn't need to be. While there is still a lot of work to be done to remove the stigma associated with mental health issues, there are ways to make it less stressful and more manageable in our day-to-day lives.

Here are some ways I've learned to positively navigate my mental health journey and my work life: 

Turn your struggles into your strengths, but don't forget to take care of yourself. 

My anxiety and need for order have actually served me well as a project manager, which has definitely helped my career: I leave no stone unturned, and checking things off my never-ending to-do list is super satisfying. However, that can be taken too far and add to the struggle, so there must be a balance. Taking the time to recharge and take care of yourself is of the utmost importance. 

Find something that works for you personally to replenish, no matter what it is! I've had bouts of mindfulness where I was dedicated to meditation. Lately, I've been more into my own brand of mindlessness, meaning doing something that takes little to no thought or planning—watching the Real Housewives of Whatever City, spending time alone, listening to true-crime podcasts, and acupuncture. This is working for me now, but I'm also constantly trying new things. Gardening, getting back into reading, and more exercise are on my list. 

A podcast episode of "Death, Sex and Money" has always stuck with me. Ellen Burstyn talks about how she has "should-less days" where she has nothing to do. She says, "I have wiring in my brain that calls me lazy if I'm not doing something. I haven't been able to get rid of it. But what I can do is put in another wiring. I can put in should-less days so when that voice goes off and says you're being lazy, I turn to the other wiring in my brain that says, no, this is a should-less day, and I'm doing what I want." 

My take on that: Give yourself a break and do whatever the f#$k you want sometimes. In my experience, should-less days have been a game changer. 

Be open about it, but only if you feel comfortable.

I've been very open about my struggles with anxiety and depression because I've worked hard on it most of my life. I'm proud of the progress I've made and want to encourage people not to be ashamed of it. However, not everybody is at that stage in their journey, and that's totally OK. Just know that you're not alone on an island! I'm often surprised by how many people pop up and share their own experiences when I start talking about going to a therapy appointment. A lot more people are in the same (or similar) boat than you think. 

When I have my monthly one-on-one meetings with my team, I like to spend half the session catching up on how work is going and the second half catching up on how they are doing in their personal lives, but only if they want to share, of course. Our personal lives affect our work lives (more than we'd like sometimes), and knowing how their lives are going helps me better understand where they're coming from. 

Go see a therapist already! 

Therapy isn't just for people going through trauma or relationship problems. Our life experiences and how we deal with them are subjective, meaning everybody has something they're dealing with (big or small). No matter what's going on, it helps to hash it out with a professional who can help you see things from a different perspective. Even if there isn't a problem to overcome, it's always good to have a person with whom you can be 100 percent candid about anything.

Therapy can also be coaching. For me, not only has therapy helped with my personal life, but it's also helped immensely with my professional life. My therapist has helped me set career goals, get a better understanding of human behavior (i.e., my colleagues), prep for the tough talks you have to have sometimes when you're leading a team, and lastly, find more balance in work and life. I look forward to his sound advice and often wish he were talking to me through an earpiece, coaching me throughout the day. A girl can dream. 

That said, I want to emphasize that not all mental health professionals are created equal. Just because they have the qualification doesn't mean they'll be a great fit for you or are even that "qualified." If you're not jibing with somebody, don't fret, there are plenty more fish in that therapy sea. Also, don't disregard a therapist who doesn't "seem" like they'd be a fit. As a young mixed-race woman, I thought I needed a younger female therapist who could relate to me, but my older white male therapist (no judgment, Mike, you're the best!) has been the best fit because his experience is unparalleled and his no-nonsense advice has been life-changing. 

Everyone's experience navigating their own mental health is unique. Just remember, it doesn't always have to be a dealbreaker when trying to be a good employee and having a flourishing career. Start with the basics—give yourself a bit more attention and self-care, understand you're not alone in this, and seek professional help. Then, continuously build on that with whatever works with you. 

I say it's a mental health journey because I don't feel like there's a conclusion or a cure. And as hard as it may be sometimes, try to enjoy the ride where you can.

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Iman Forde
Iman Forde is director of project management at The Many (the agency formerly known as Mistress).