9 ways HR leaders can tend to their own emotional wellness

These past months have presented us with many difficult challenges that weigh on our hearts, test our patience and heighten our awareness of the shared reality that surrounds us. This includes the senseless loss of Black lives, including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks, among others. These events are compounded by the global health crisis that is disproportionally affecting communities of color and leading many to experience a jarring sense of trauma and fatigue.

See also: 15 must-read stories about mental health for HR executives

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Anne Oxrider

With responsibility for Bank of America’s wellness programs for our 212,000 employees around the world, I’m especially conscious of the need for emotional support right now. I’ve listened as our colleagues share their grief and trauma in response to centuries-long oppression, all of whom are already under the intense pressure of remote work or essential business. I personally transitioned to a home workspace in March with my husband and three teenage daughters–two of whom we’ve just moved into a college setting, adding unique family stress and anxiety–and have realized a need to be more patient and forgiving. With multiple humanitarian crises upon us, it’s most critical to take care of yourself, so you can effectively care for others–this is especially true for HR leaders, who are often tasked with supporting the emotional and mental health needs of their workforce. But finding the space and courage to tend to your emotional wellness can be difficult.

I thought I’d share some tips and tricks I have been using to cope, which are helping me to look after myself–and, I hope, make me a better wife, mom, supporter and teammate.

Coping mechanisms to manage stress

  • Recognize that resisting or avoiding stress tends to make it grow.
  • Talk to someone you trust about what you’re experiencing. We all need coaches and external perspectives to help us process feelings.
  • Count to 10 slowly and repeat, while taking deep breaths.
  • If you can, get outside or do an indoor physical activity like yoga. My daughter is a certified teacher so the whole family is working on our chaturanga.
  • Be present. Wasting time ruminating over an email, an exchange with a colleague or an assignment you wish you had done better will only impact your ability to move forward and will create a domino effect of having to catch back up later. You can’t change the past, but you can influence the future–and your state of mind plays a huge part in that.

Resources to support your emotional wellness

  • Confidential counseling: Everyone needs someone to talk to, whether you’re struggling with the day to day of your new normal or navigating a major life event. Just as many jobs have moved to a virtual state, so has access to care, so tap online access to therapists, counselors and psychologists. At Bank of America, for example, we expanded many of our resources to be accessible in a remote setting, including Teladoc® with online access to free behavioral health consultations, and our Employee Assistance Program, offering confidential counseling 24/7 to help our teammates manage stress. Mental healthcare is available in many forms–we create an environment where we encourage teammates to leverage the resources available to them.

See also: Want to improve employee stress? Look at coaching, development

    • Connections with colleagues: Remember, your colleagues are also coping with emotions in reaction to current events. Physical distance, trauma and crisis fatigue mean you need to be more deliberate in your connections, creating space for open dialogue. Engage in courageous conversations with your teammates; use part of meeting times for personal check-ins to share how you’re feeling or ways in which you’re coping, perhaps aided by company-provided benefits like we do at the bank, such as child- or elder-care support, or paid personal days. Your employer may have programs already in place to encourage these discussions, for example, through established employee networks that bring together teammates who are facing similar life experiences, whether united by parenthood, ethnicity, disability or other factors. Camaraderie can be healing.
    • Personalized guidance and training: Engaging learning courses can assist in juggling the blurred line of personal and professional life. At Bank of America, we’ve rolled out resiliency training in partnership with Thrive Global. Thrive also offers a wealth of insightful articles in its daily email alert that many of my colleagues and friends subscribe to. These types of virtual resources can be just the reminder we need about caring for ourselves and others during these complex times. I just recently received a message about setting boundaries to avoid burnout; it could not have come at a more perfect time.
    • Mindfulness and meditation: There are an abundance of apps and online tools to guide you in practicing positive emotional health. I particularly like myStrength, a mindfulness app offering personalized activities to support emotional wellness, which we’ve offered to teammates at no cost. Allowing yourself a few minutes each day to simply breathe is imperative. As the saying goes, “You can’t pour from an empty pot.” Schedule a few moments to focus on your mindfulness, honoring that time like you would a business or medical appointment. This is one of the hardest things for me, with my mind racing through work, family, household and civic advocacy responsibilities. But I know taking breaks just to breathe and decompress can greatly reduce feelings of anxiety and being overwhelmed. I’m working on it and encourage you to as well.
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Right now, we are all managing seismic shifts in our daily lives, emphasizing a need to embrace emotional wellness as a top priority in our lives, raising it to the level of physical and financial wellness. Finding solace in community, practicing mindfulness and simply asking for help when you need it can change your relationship with work and life for the better. The resources are out there; feel empowered to take the first–and second, and third–steps to ensure you are prioritizing your emotional wellness.


Anne Oxrider
Anne Oxrider
Anne Oxrider is head of wellness programs at Bank of America.