We need to stop fear-bating. Most people really do not want to know what is going on with someone facing mental health issues because of all of the fears and stigmas that surround the topic. Fear makes people do mean things like shutting people out who need us most. Taking the time to learn about mental wellness issues and diagnoses is a great way to change the tide of stigma. With knowledge, there is less room for fear to thrive. A great example is the HIV epidemic. Once people understood how it was spread, the fear of it lessened as we now focus on prevention.
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 Sabriya Dobbins.
Sabriya Dobbins graduated from North Carolina State University with dual Bachelor’s degrees in Animal Science and Social Work. After experiencing her own difficult mental health battles, she created Project Passport with the dream of providing a transformational and experiential mental empowerment retreat experience that focused primarily on solutions to help people improve their overall mental wellbeing and daily happiness. She also wanted to create dynamic retreat spaces for people to challenge the status quo of mental health and to achieve personal development. With certifications in areas like CBT, REBT, Mindfulness, Positive Psychology, and Life Purpose Coaching, she helps individuals reach their greater capacities and pushes them to pursue their goals and aspirations through her unconventional, hands-on experiences. Now a Master’s candidate in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, she is more determined than ever to change our views on managing mental health to see it as an exciting journey and not a burden. Learn more: project-passport.com
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?
I entered my career path honestly out of frustration and in a somewhat accident. You see, throughout my college career, I experienced high levels of anxiety and depression for most of the time. I was the girl that at face value, had it all together but inside I was dying constantly. Some days I did not even feel like I was worth waking up. I was constantly feeling like I could never do anything right anytime I made a mistake. I was convinced that I was socially awkward being that I felt like I always said the wrong thing. Frankly it ruined my mental health with panic attacks and nervous breakdowns hitting me at random times in life. These experiences even followed me into my short but successful real estate career after graduation. I graduated with a 4.0 and I was quickly making the most money I had ever seen in my life, yet I was miserable. I remember hitting my breaking point, going to counseling and telling my counselor how I could not control my emotions.
Fast-forward to a year later in 2019, I was quitting a new job in higher ed and moving to Belize with my fiancé who received a cool opportunity out there. While I was there, I had to deal with myself as I was stuck in an apartment all day with no car and barely any internet quality or tv. I read books. I really dug into what I needed in life and realized that there needed to be a sacred space for solution-based, experiential mental wellbeing practices. While counseling was great, everyone did not feel comfortable seeking it. Terrified but more excited than ever, I launched my company in a dirty Belize apartment with the goal of creating a hands-on wellness experience that allowed people to take control of the process of their wellbeing.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
One of the most interesting stories that has happened to me is realizing that I actually have something that is worth listening to in regards to mental health. I remember feeling so insecure early in the journey and being so nervous about the things I put out into the world about mental health. Who am I to give advice? What do I know? Why would anyone care what I have to say? Those were questions that would rack through my brain on the daily. One day I received a phone call from a woman who had been reading my blogs. She faced severe depression and said that she just felt so much power and energy to get up and get out of bed from reading my stories and tips. She said that they inspired her so much that she spent one night reading all 20 something blogs! That meant everything to me. It let me know that even though I was early in the journey and that I was starting off small in this industry, what I did meant something to someone and that was all that mattered.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
I would highly suggest building boundaries of separation in between meetings, work, and personal life. One thing that I refuse to do if I can help it is let someone else schedule a meeting for me. I prefer to send them the calendar invite because then I can tighten the meeting time frame to what makes sense to me. People will take a 1+ hour meeting with you if you give them the opportunity and that can be detrimental to your time. It really helps with avoiding long days on Zoom or phone meetings, which takes away from the raw work that needs to be done. If you do not avoid this, burnout is imminent.
I also have a set time that I refuse to respond to emails and calls. I may quickly peek at emails to make sure nothing is on fire, but I “star” them to remind myself to deal with them the next day otherwise. If you are off, then you are OFF; therefore, that means leaving work phones at home and closing the work laptop unless it is an emergency. The wellness industry is about serving other people by helping them become well, yet you have to serve yourself first to be effective in your work. Boundaries in my opinion are the sole culprit of burnout.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Freaking let your team fly! Yes, let them FLY and they will thrive. So many companies suffocate the purpose and creativity from team members and then wonder why they lose their best people. If you allow your team members to truly create and innovate by opening a space for experimentation and sharing ideas, you would be surprised on how much they have to offer. My team helps shape who we are as a company every single day. Each of them has a hand in the mold of the company and know their unique fingerprint on us has an impact. It is important that companies often hold meetings that allow for the sharing of creative ideas from team members with no judgement.
Purpose is one of the most crucial aspects of our mental health. If a person does not see purpose in their lives, then they often experience anxiety, depression, and hopelessness. It is important to create a workplace that allows team members to connect the dots of their own purpose and the work they do to the values and purpose of the company. Companies should be sure to have this discussion in interviews to ensure an overlap exists between both parties.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
My all-time favorite quote that I always refer to is: “It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.” I am not sure who said it, but it has kept me going even in my darkest times. I have always been a creative dreamer with a heart dripping of empathy. I can quickly go into a difficult space when I fail or if I receive negative feedback. I have learned that failure is an imminent part of the journey in serving people as life is truly experimental in nature. People you trust can be the ones who put you down most and it will be one of the hardest things you can ever experience. I remember when I planned to launch my first ever conference event through my company, someone I trusted completely discouraged my idea and made it seem like no one would show up. I was devastated and throughout the planning I kept saying, “It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.” The “when” did come as the event was wildly successful with over 40 attendees!
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?
One thing that I know companies have been doing for mental health is inserting “fun” into the day. This is done by adding physical and virtual games or competitions between team members and attending events like escape rooms together. This type of initiative is focused on self-care and stress relief through the concept of play. Google installing slides is a great example of adding fun into the workplace.
Another initiative is more access to EAP benefits. Companies already often invest into these programs but most times the team members do not utilize them. In fact, many studies are saying that less than 10% of employees use their Employee Assistance Program benefits, which are designed to help with many areas including mental health. Health fair initiatives by the EAP partners and companies are being put into place where team members get to go out and meet the partner health and wellbeing companies there to serve them through the EAP.
Companies are bringing internal mental health professionals into teams to help employees in crisis or conflict and when they are needed right on-site. This is a newer initiative that expands EAP to be even more accessible. Companies like Mars report to have a trained professional on site who can help employees needing help right then and there.
Online Slack channels and talk groups for employees have been growing rapidly within companies. These channels allow employees to form affinity groups to discuss their mental health concerns in a “safe space” and to connect with their peers. This is common in many tech companies like IBM where team members can form connected communities in areas which they identify in such as race, gender, and other important identities.
Finally, companies are having open discussions, trainings, and conversations with partner mental health organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) where they are able to allow for focus groups and open dialogue between team members. This is also a highly educational opportunity for team members to learn how to better care for others with mental health issues and themselves. One company I know that has done this is Red Hat (now acquired) in their partnerships with local NAMI chapters to discuss mental health in the workplace.
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?
I am a highly action-oriented person and most company leaders are too. I believe many leaders really want to help their teams in the mental wellness space but just are not sure how to do it. They often tiptoe around the issue, which is more detrimental than helpful. I think that companies often times invest in passive opportunities for team members to organize their own mental health initiatives or to seek out help, but they are not dropping support into the lap of employees. Many employees are ashamed to use EAP services to get help or do not want to be seen talking to the on-site therapist. The Slack and online channels are often not truly private in our digital world and all of the initiatives I mentioned put most of the responsibility on the struggling employee, who may not take on the opportunity to get support. Employers are now in fact investing in wellness (as it is becoming a competitive hiring edge), the issue is that they are not investing in the right type of wellness to confirm the importance of the mental health topic and that proves to be effective for employees.
I think experiential wellness retreats are one of the most effective things that companies can hold because all employees are often times required to attend them and retreats are more desirable experiences. These retreats allow company leaders to gain the pulse of their company so they can be more aware of what employees are saying about their own mental health experiences. The best way to gain awareness is to let the team members speak for themselves. Allowing for small breakouts within teams along with safe open group conversations are effective in breaking the ice. In addition, retreats that I hold with companies are hands-on and activity based which take the pressures of “doing wellness right” off people. With a retreat, many people have the expectation to “get well” because of the name, therefore it is a softer way to support mental health. With Covid-19, my company was able to create highly dynamic virtual retreats with up to 20+ activities focused on supporting employee mental wellbeing.
Another strategy companies should undergo is getting the team outdoors and active more often by building walking meetings into work. Allowing for life check-ins during these casual walking meetings are another way to gain some awareness on employee mental wellness. Nature has been proven to support mental health. In my opinion, most meetings, especially virtually should become walking meetings where team members can listen in and one person can be the designated note taker. This is not only great for mental fitness but for physical fitness too. Overall, the most effective way to build awareness of the importance of mental health within companies is giving the employees the space to share their truths. Many leaders just do not know what is going on inside their teams, hence they cannot stop the bleeding in productivity and accuracy.
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?
The number one thing we can ever do for others as people is to listen with attention and empathy. People are often always paying attention to the next thing and focused on their own paths but the most beautiful gift you can give another human being is your time and compassion for their experiences. Just listen to those who are struggling! At the end of the day, we are all human before anything else. We need to start acting like it more!
As a society, we need to give more grace. We are so quick to condemn a person, especially those with mental health issues, without fully knowing the full story behind their choices. We alienate people physically and virtually. It is dangerous and leads to horrible things like suicide. We need to spend more time understanding the thoughts and beliefs of others before assuming they are not worthy of love and compassion. Forgiveness is powerful as it is healing within the person and allows people who have made mistakes a chance to redeem themselves.
Finally, we need to stop fear-bating. Most people really do not want to know what is going on with someone facing mental health issues because of all of the fears and stigmas that surround the topic. Fear makes people do mean things like shutting people out who need us most. Taking the time to learn about mental wellness issues and diagnoses is a great way to change the tide of stigma. With knowledge, there is less room for fear to thrive. A great example is the HIV epidemic. Once people understood how it was spread, the fear of it lessened as we now focus on prevention.
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?
I think a habit is only as good as it is important to you. If someone said to you that they would give you one million dollars if you do not eat donuts for a year (and you love donuts), I am 99% sure you are about to avoid any routes that ever pass a Krispy Kreme again. If someone said, you will hang with your favorite celebrity in the world for a whole week if you get to work on time for the next 2 months, I bet you would wake up 3 hours before work just to make sure you are there on time. The best strategy is to take yourself seriously. You ARE that million dollars and you ARE your own celebrity. You being alive is your greatest asset because that means you can still doing amazing work. I think working on adopting a more appreciative mindset of your existence and the importance of caring for your existence is the single most effective strategy there is. People can do anything with their mind that they want to do. We push ourselves to get things we want from others all of the time and we need to give ourselves the same respect.
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?
Meditation and prayer combined in the mornings has changed the game for me. I struggle in being one of those “breathing people” because half of the time I cannot breathe when I think too hard about it! But separating myself from the entire world and meditating by focusing on my higher power and the energies within me is everything. It takes me a while to clear all of the thoughts and distractions in my mind and to just focus in on the moment but when I do get there, it is like a world of creativity and ideas open. I begin to see my future vividly and I am able to feel the energy of hope bubble inside. I feel so much more peace about the day to come and remembering that I do not need to take life so seriously because my dreams are already done. They are guaranteed to happen. The best way to achieve this is to find a silent closet somewhere in your house and to sit in it. You must then focus your energies and mind on the answers and peace that you seek. You will find what you seek.
Another thing I do is question myself when I am feeling the negative thoughts coming in: “Sabriya, what happened? What is bothering you? What is wrong?” Often times our minds are buzzing around and the anxiety is like a ton of flies. Sometimes I realized that I am irritated all day from a call I had with someone and I had let them get under my skin. When I can finally call out my stressor, it loses power because I was able to identify what it is and what I want to do about it. This is a very common mind-calming practice that I teach others all of the time!
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
This is quite a crazy story as I do use my spiritual beliefs to keep me grounded. I believe that is a very important factor to many people in their mental health journey. I was in a lot of emotional turmoil on what to do with my life’s work during the pandemic and it was hurting my wellbeing. One night, I had a dream that I was approached by the Angel of Death. I promise you this is not a joke. I really think she came to me in real life as she asked me something along the lines of if I wanted to stay on this earth or if I wanted to leave. She was a beautiful woman with so much trust and love surrounding her. I was not afraid, but I honestly considered both options. I even giggled a bit as I asked her if I would go to Heaven if I came with her. We both agreed I had more work to do and that I had a purpose to fulfill so I stayed. I was really in shock when I woke up.
A few weeks later, no joke, I was reading the book called: When God Steps in, Miracles Happen by Neale Walsch. A random Facebook friend recommended I read it. Each chapter had different true miracle stories based on spiritual experiences. The chapter I read involved a woman going through a crisis due to her newborn being in the ICU and she falls asleep and guess who visits her? The ANGEL OF DEATH! She describes the SAME woman I saw in my dream and the Angel of Death asked her the SAME question she asked me! Fortunately, the woman decided to stay on earth like me. After that experience, I knew my story was real and that I had work to do as I am here for a reason. I could not give up and I have to keep helping others find their own path to wellbeing no matter what.
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. 🙂
I just want people to feel like mental health and personal development work can be like going to Disney World! We have made mental health feel so clinical and personal development seem so dauting that it has become more of a chore rather than something to be personalized and enjoyed. I want to normalize experimentation on what works for your mental health and I want people to stop feeling like they need to fit in a set of perfect guidelines to get perfect results. No perfect guidelines exist and that is why every wellness professional has clients who feel they did not benefit from them along with clients who love them. There is not one mental health modality that works for all people, therefore I would want to stop that limited mindset in order to enter a personalized and experiential mental wellness movement.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
The best way to follow what I am up to is on our website at project-passport.com and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and IG at @projectpassportllc
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!