The era of ‘hustle culture’, born out of millennial angst, may have fizzled out just as it has become a widely accepted buzzword. Popularized by influencers and propagated by social media, this ‘hustle culture’ set a precedent no one could, or ever should, meet. This may come as no surprise to those who have experienced burnout. As The New York Times said, the working millennials’ obsession “with striving” was never meant to last.
The effect of burnout is a phenomenon Arianna Huffington knows all too well. In 2007 she experienced exhaustion so extreme she collapsed and broke her cheekbone. The collapse was the culmination of her years of overwork — she had founded The Huffington Post two years prior to her ‘breaking point’. The event incited her eventual break from The Huffington Post and fueled the launch of Thrive Global a digital wellness platform aimed to help companies and communities to improve their well-being and performance and “unlock their greatest potential”.
In honor of World Mental Health Day Ladders sat down with Huffington to lend her intel on all matters related to workplace stress coping mechanisms, and how she combats the stigma surrounding the prioritization of mental welfare.
How do we reach a state of “ataraxia” — the place of imperturbability — in our everyday lives, and in the workplace?
“Whether it’s at work or in some other aspect of our lives, we can’t eliminate stress, but we can learn to manage it. To do this, and to reach that state of “ataraxia,” we first need to know ourselves — our sources of stress, how we respond, and what helps us to recharge.
And that’s what’s at the core of Thriving Mind, which we’ve just launched in partnership with Stanford Medicine. We’re drawing on Stanford Medicine’s cutting-edge science to give individuals and companies the knowledge and the tools to spot the warning signs of negative stress early, and to take action in ways that truly add value to their lives.”
What are your coping mechanisms for dealing with stress in the workplace?
“Some of my go-to strategies are walking meetings, conscious breathing or meditation, and finding a way to connect with someone else — whether it’s a conversation with a co-worker or a call to one of my daughters. For me, the key is knowing that all it takes is a minute to recharge and reset myself if I’m feeling stressed.
But just as important: we can go upstream to minimize stress before it hits us and becomes unmanageable. So when I wake up in the morning, instead of starting the day by looking at my phone, I take a minute to breathe deeply and set my intentions for the day. And when night comes around, I make sleep an absolute priority. When I get the sleep I need, I’m far better able to deal with any stress and setbacks I encounter. As I like to say, a good day starts the night before.”
What kind of relationship should we have with technology as it relates to mental health and quality of sleep?
We’re never going to banish technology from our lives. Nor should we want to. But what we can do is get the best out of technology. And we can do this by setting boundaries with technology, so we are in control of our devices — and not vice versa.
Everyone will have their own preferred way to improve their sleep and support their mental health, but for me, it’s this: Every night, about 30 minutes before bed, I gently escort my devices out of my bedroom. This way I’m not tempted to reach for my phone in the middle of the night, or as soon as I wake up in the morning. Disconnecting from the digital world helps me sleep better, deeply recharge and reconnect to my wisdom and creativity.
Is there an ‘ideal’ amount of sleep or does this figure vary based on the individual?
Now and then we hear someone brag that they can function just as well on four or five hours, but the truth is that less than 1-1.5 percent of the population has a genetic mutation that makes this possible. The vast majority of us require between 7-9 hours of sleep to be completely recharged — where you are in that spectrum is individual.
How would you suggest dealing with the stigma associated with taking a mental health day in our “always-on” culture?
“If we break a leg or get the flu, we don’t question the need for a sick day, but we still have a way to go when it comes to prioritizing mental health and understanding the importance of recharging. One effective way for leaders and companies to break the stigma and support their people is to open up the conversation around mental health. After all, many of us face mental health challenges, or will at some point in our lives. More than 300 million people struggle with depression, making it the world’s leading cause of disability.
Then, leaders can turn those conversations into actual policies that help people recharge and prioritize their mental health. At Thrive, we have Thrive Days: if someone has to work extra hard to meet a deadline or ship a product, they can take Thrive Days (additional paid time off) to quickly recharge and reset.”
What do you predict for the future of mental health acceptance in the workplace? Do you believe that the hustle culture is waning?
“I’m incredibly optimistic. First, because the conversation about mental health at work is rapidly moving from the margins to the mainstream. And second, businesses are waking up to the incredible benefits of supporting their people and helping them go upstream to improve their mental health.
With hustle culture, we might actually be turning the corner. Our culture of burnout is deeply rooted, but it now has few public defenders. Take Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit, who has become one of the more outspoken voices of change. “You have this culture of posturing,” he has said, “this culture that glorifies the most absurd things and ignores things like self-care, and ignores things like therapy, and ignores things like actually taking care of yourself as a physical being for the sake of work at all costs. It’s a toxic problem.”
“In the future — and for the most forward-thinking companies, that future is already here — prioritizing people’s mental health and giving them the permission and tools to recharge will be key for attracting and retaining top talent and gaining a competitive advantage.”