I think it is ideal to hire an in-house Wellness Coach to send a message to your employees that a) their mental wellness is a priority and b) we all need support with our mental wellness. The Wellness Coach oversees checking in with employees to ensure they are practicing self-care and managing stress with wellness tools. This might look like a monthly 30 minute check-in with each employee to help them establish a healthy morning routine or teach them how to meditate so that they are happier, more at ease and more productive throughout the day.
As a part of my series about the “5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing Megan Swan.
Megan Swan is from Calgary, Alberta where she grew up hiking and skiing in the Canadian Rockies, she currently resides in Mexico where she lives happily with her husband, two beautiful boys, and two dogs. She is an online Wellness & Mindset Coach with more than a decade of experience in the wellness industry, she now specializes in detoxification, plant-based living, mindful practices, stress management, yoga and meditation.
She is passionate about connecting with others worldwide to exchange ideas and practices in the world of wellness and online business. She has a strong sense that we are on the brink of a wellness revolution.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Sure, and thank you so much for inviting me to do this! For me coaching started when I hired a Health Coach. A friend of mine was studying to become one and asked me if I wanted to be one of her first clients. At the time my second child was still sleeping with us and I was never getting a good night’s sleep. I felt like I barely had enough energy to get through my days. I relied on a constant input of coffee, snacks and sweets for energy. I started to think I was never going to get to sleep like I used to so I was quite desperate to find an alternative perspective on how I could feel better. My health coach suggested that I get up 10 minutes earlier every day to do some self-care practices and quite frankly I thought she was nuts, I mean she was 10 years younger than I was and she didn’t have any children, but I agreed to try it for two weeks. Long story short this was the beginning of a domino effect of positive changes in my life. Just this small act of prioritizing my own self-care every morning before my kids woke up was life changing. This led to changes in my diet, cutting down on drinking, and eventually quitting all together. Soon after I decided this is what I wanted to do, to help other women get out of this energy slump so many of us adapt for the sake of our careers and/or for our kids. Within a few years I was practicing as a Health Coach and over the last two years I have honed in on my current specialization based on the system I developed to help support my clients.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Definitely. I think the most interesting story is always a transformation. The process I have been through to becoming a wellness coach has brought me through many transformations. I used to be a very skeptical person, but I see now that the negativity largely stems from what we consume. What we consume, in terms of everything: food, drink, narratives, media, images, communities, and experiences. When I started to shift all these things to more positive sources who I am shifted. So before I was one of the most skeptical people in a given room, and now I am probably one of the more open-minded and free-spirited people in the room. I now know that you cannot achieve what you cannot imagine. Our imagination is one of our superpowers as humans. Believing in the power of something such as mindset is a huge shift for me.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Having a rock-solid morning routine that is dedicated to self-care and allows you to start each day with intention is key. When I say self-care, that could consist of everything from Ayurvedic detoxification rituals, meditation, journaling, working out, drinking hot water with lemon, having a plant-based breakfast or whatever you personally need to feel supported. The game changer is getting up early enough and at the same time everyday so that you have time for this self-care without feeling rushed. Starting your day feeling rushed is a layer of stress that is pulling you down and affecting your physical and mental health in the long run.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
What a great question. I would say be clear that everyone’s physical health and mental wellness is a priority, not only because it supports the bottom line, but more so because we all want to work in an environment where we feel heard, seen and that our health and wellness matter. Just a few small shifts can really be life changing. A simple example is having a mental wellness event every week that allows everyone to get to know each other better outside of their work roles, maybe a bring your pet to work coffee hour, or painting a mural on an office wall. Finding ways to make everyone feel more connected.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
Attitude is a choice. Coming to learn and then really internalize that I am not my thoughts and therefore I can control my thoughts was pivotal — I credit meditation and mindful practices for helping me get there. It is a practice to identify what triggers you into your negative thought patterns and then to practice talking yourself out of them. The moment I truly realized that it is a choice how you show up, how you react, and how you interpret any given situation it changed what I saw as possible in my life. Meditation has granted me the ‘pause’ before I speak or react to a given situation, but the discipline of training for a marathon taught me the real power of controlling your thoughts. If you dwell on your discomfort it increases. If you dwell on how amazing you are going to feel when you reach your goal that day, that week, or on race day — that positive thinking can get you anywhere you want to go.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. In recent years many companies have begun offering mental health programs for their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, we would love to hear about five steps or initiatives that companies have taken to help improve or optimize their employees mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?
Yes, I would love to, I am so inspired that you are focusing on this topic because I truly believe we are in the midst of deep transition in our society towards seeing the true power of health, wellness and mindset.
First, I think it is ideal to hire an in-house Wellness Coach to send a message to your employees that a) their mental wellness is a priority and b) we all need support with our mental wellness. The Wellness Coach oversees checking in with employees to ensure they are practicing self-care and managing stress with wellness tools. This might look like a monthly 30 minute check-in with each employee to help them establish a healthy morning routine or teach them how to meditate so that they are happier, more at ease and more productive throughout the day.
Second, ensuring that there are healthy options such as fresh fruit available at the office, or providing a healthy meal planning service as part of the company’s wellness program is essential to elevating the energy in the office. I see that those companies that set the standard on clean eating in the office place are supporting their employees to make better choices for themselves and designing the work environment to support healthy habits. This clean eating policy applies to what is available at the office, at work events and should take into consideration a stance on the consumption of alcohol not being conducive to a productive, creative and connected work environment.
Third, hosting a mandatory wellness event at least once a month such as a guided meditation, a Zumba class or a yoga happy hour brings everyone together, lightens the mood, and demonstrates that the company is committed to the mental wellness of its employees.
Fourth, increasingly it has become necessary, especially in light of the pandemic with so many of us working from home, that companies are respecting the employees’ need for digital boundaries or buffers. This might look like a more relaxed response time to email so that it does not interfere with their sleep cycle. For example, no company email between 8 pm and 8 am. If this is a clear message coming from the company it is so much more powerful and builds employee trust and loyalty. If this is not something your company is providing I highly recommend you create this digital boundary for yourself, bookending your days with a digital buffer — not only for the break from screens but also a break from being ‘on’ all the time. Our nervous system does not differentiate the stress of a lion chasing us versus the stress of an email we just read before bed that we forgot to respond to. Get in the habit of protecting your rest and restore cycle from this burst of stress hormones before bed or waking up to it.
Lastly, companies that are requiring employees take a 20 minutes movement session daily to get their blood flowing, to spark creative thinking, and to allow a window of time to decompress, are ahead of the game. This little habit is such a game changer in terms of overall health and mental wellness. When you have to pencil in a 20 minute walk around the block or HIIT exercise routine daily during work hours you are receiving a clear message from the company that movement is energizing and supports creativity so much so that it is an valuable investment the company is willing to make.
These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they are not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?
Well I think the first step in raising awareness is bring it out into the open. The more you talk about it, the more people feel comfortable sharing what they are going through, it is not abnormal to need support. We have to get past thinking that it is a taboo subject. I mean the US population has never been more medicated and also never more afflicted by mental illness. I personally believe our industrialized food systems have a lot to do with it which is why clean eating is so essential, so one strategy is to really educate your employees on how much their diet affects their energy, mood, concentration and motivation. Set a high standard and stick to it. Another aspect we can build more awareness of is how important movement is to our brains, not just our bodies. Our sedentary lifestyle is literally extinguishing our creativity. Our minds think best when we are moving because our bodies are designed to be moving throughout the day. Trends like desks on treadmills and stand-up desks are one way to go, or as I suggested before just making a 20 minute movement break mandatory. Hiring a Wellness Coach also sends a clear message, “we all need support with our mental wellness.”
From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues? Can you explain?
First off we can support each other by acknowledging that it is not abnormal to feel stressed, depressed or anxious at times. It is in part our collective narrative that having strong emotions is abnormal and requires medication. Of course there are situations that are more severe than others, but we as a society are not very good at processing loss and death because we don’t allow ourselves to express our emotions out in the open. We are all feeling stressed, at times depressed, and at times anxious — it is more a question to what degree. So right there, off the bat if we could stop trying to pretend that we haven’t all been affected by world events, and the speed at which society demands we run at, I think it would be very helpful. Giving ourselves the space and time to process our emotions without feeling it is abnormal is a layer of pressure we can lift off each other.
Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies you would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?
Healthy habits are one of my favorite topics. What is essential here is the pace at which we try to shift our habits. In order to be sustainable the shift should be small and gradual. Our habits are so ingrained in us, they in fact make us who we are — our identity is based on what we do everyday, our habits. So in order to make lasting changes it requires a shift in mindset or another way of saying this it requires a shift in our identity.
For example, if I deeply believe and embrace the statement “I am a coffee lover”, well it is going to be very difficult to convince me that I should reevaluate my relationship with coffee even though it is causing me stomach issues and interfering with my ability to sleep. Step one is not trying to drink less coffee, because self-control is a short term solution. Step one is deciding that maybe I don’t need to drink it daily, actually reframing my identity as a person who lives for coffee to one that enjoys a cup once in a while. From there it is a process of cutting back by a cup a day, then a few cups a week, maybe only on the weekend until you find a balance that works for you in terms of overall health and wellness.
The best strategy is a long-term approach that is gradual, sustainable and works to shift the design of our environment and shift our identity around the bad habits. The more we can focus our attention on the rewards of the healthy habit and down side of the bad habit the easier the shift becomes. As with any real plan, if it is written down it is much more likely to be executed. You need to get out of ‘planning’ mode and into ‘action’ mode or you will never see results. It is the positive results and the shift in your overall energy and mental wellness that keep you going until this new habit becomes a part of who you are and forms a new identity.
Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? We’d love to hear about all of them. How have they impacted your own life?
Yes! I meditate 20 minutes every morning. It has made me a better person and most certainly a more patient and present mother. I also practice yoga and breath work when I can, but it is not currently a part of my daily practice. I love journaling as well — I think writing down our intentions and what we are grateful for is a very powerful exercise. These practices have helped me shift my mindset from scarcity to abundance.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
Really it is so hard to pick just one, but one that does come to mind that is particularly relevant to this topic is Lost Connections by Johann Hari. I was listening to it as I was in the last month of training to run my first half-marathon, when I was on my honeymoon in Fiji. My husband and I have been together for 11 years but we just got married a few years ago. Anyway, the whole book was very impactful but it is summed up perfectly by this quote, “The opposite of addiction isn’t being sober, it is connection.”
At this time in my life I had only been sober for a little less than a year — and this stood out to me as such an important point in that oftentimes we don’t even realize that this is what is increasingly lacking in modern society. As he points out in the book our lives are more and more insular; we don’t know all our neighbors, we live with only our nuclear family, and we are applauded for being independent in everything we do. However as humans we are animals that require and thrive in a community. The whole ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ idea. I mean I live in a city where I can’t even let my son bike to the park a block from my house without an adult. This is a dramatically different world than the one I grew up in.
My point is that this loss of trust in strangers and connection to the community is now even impacting our connection with ourselves and our ability to trust that we know what is best for ourselves. Society’s narrative leads us to medicate either with prescription drugs or socially acceptable vices such as alcohol, shopping or zoning out streaming shows. None of these things help us get to the root of the problem and usually cause a slew of unwanted new problems. We need to get out of this ‘quick fix’ cycle and tune into our hearts and not be afraid to say, I need someone to listen and tell me I’m not alone, reaffirm that we are in this together.
In turn, bringing more awareness to mental wellness into the workspace could be best initiated from this starting point — how can I make my employee’s feel more connected? To each other and to themselves?
Small trivial shifts can have a big impact in the long run.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Well I would never take credit for starting it but I see that many smaller movements under the umbrella of wellness have been growing underground for years such as a return to organic farming, plant-based living, non-toxic living, meditation, mindfulness, high endurance sporting events, sound baths, forest bathing, sensory deprivation tanks, distance reiki, and so many more. I see that this collective is a Wellness Revolution that is starting, where we are returning to our roots in some respects, but also leveraging technology to bring new waves of wellness to the masses. Wellness in the workplace is the next wave of the future precisely because it positively impacts the bottom line. When your employees feel that their wellness matters, they take better care of themselves which makes them more productive, content and creative. This generates greater employee retention and saves the company money in the long run in terms of training hours, sick leave, and work efficiency.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
Please reach out to me on Instagram @meganswanwellness or via my website, www.meganswanwellness.com
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
Again, it has been a pleasure, thank you so kindly for the opportunity to share my ideas.