…Shutting off emails. Unless there is a specific and important reason to, I don’t look at emails after 9 pm. This is because if something comes in after that time, that cannot be sorted out until the morning, it will just be on my mind and I will be less likely to get good quality rest.
As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to normalize the focus on mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Sarah Deane. She is the Founder of EffectUX and the creator of EMQ — a research-based system that rapidly and accurately pinpoints de-energizing behaviors and transforms them into positively energizing habits through unique assessment, informative content, coaching, and behavior modification. Sarah uses her background in A.I., experience design, and human behavior to help brands deliver positive customer and employee experiences, and to cultivate behaviors for emotional, mental, and behavioral wellbeing, producing higher levels of satisfaction, engagement, and productivity. She has been recognized across the industry, winning The Human Resources Today MVP Awards in the Leadership Development, Analytics, and “What’s Next in HR” categories, authored The Wellness Formula and has been featured at conferences and events such as SXSW, America’s Women Leadership Conference and Executive Presence for Women at Stanford as well as platforms such as the Huffington Post, CIO Magazine, Next Concept HR Magazine, Business News Daily, Training Industry, Thrive Global, Business2Community and more.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
At EffectUX, we had been using our data modeling methodology to help people and organizations achieve their transformative goals in the spaces of customer experience, leadership development, and workplace culture. Then, a couple of years ago, we started noticing that more and more people seemed to be stressed out, overwhelmed, or experiencing negative emotions. You could see it. You could see it in how people were speaking, the snappiness of their responses, the distracted looks on their faces, and the hopeless tones in their voices.
While physical health is pretty widely accepted in terms of fitness and nutrition, for mental and emotional health, it was not the same. While there are applications for meditation, or scaling access to therapists, we were still seeing concerning numbers of stress, anxiety, depression, and overwhelm. It was clear there was space for change, specifically in helping people understand what is negatively impacting them, making sensitive topics easier to speak about and to expedite the time it takes to understand the critical characteristics or behaviors blocking a person.
This led us to our mission to make feeling good accessible, approachable, and achievable. We set off on a path to find out and create a model that defined what was needed for people to perform and feel their best throughout their day. After extensive research, which spanned neuroscience, psychology, mindfulness and more, and data modeling across hundreds upon hundreds of data sources, we discovered 74 critical behaviors and processes of thought, which formed the basis of the EMQ system.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
While there are several reasons I am sure, education, history, and fear all play a role.
There is a general lack of education and awareness on the topic. It is not like you attend mental wellbeing classes the same as math, science, or history. Therefore, we tend to grow up with the topic being something “different”, something not talked about, and something that is uncomfortable.
Historically, mental health issues have been portrayed as having something “wrong”. Often, with someone with mental health issues, being characterized as crazy or weird. This can create the bar of what people tend to measure mental health against being completely, overly dramatized. On the same note, treatments for mental health issues are portrayed as awful buildings of flickering lights, where people are drugged up and walking around like zombies. With that as the perception, is it any wonder people do not want to open up about how they feel!
Building on this discomfort is fear. Because it doesn’t fit our schema of how things should be, it is easy to be scared of it. With this underlying perception, if someone is experiencing symptoms or feels as though something is off, it is easy for them to be scared to talk to someone or tell anyone. Instead, they are stuck worrying about the label that they will be given and thinking, “what will my co-workers think of me?” “Will this impact my career or life in the future?” “What will my family think?”
The truth is, that many people can hugely benefit from help for their mental wellbeing. Including proactive support in building the mental muscles and competencies for emotional, mental, and behavioral health. When we think of mental and emotional wellbeing as feeling good, feeling our best, being able to cope with the normal stressors of life, being able to handle challenging situations and being productive — who doesn’t want more of that?
Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?
We are flipping the script. Instead of waiting for a trigger, we are being proactive. From our data model, we know the 74 attributes of EMQ will keep people feeling positively energized and productive, so we focus on equipping people with these capabilities so that they can combat things like stress, lingering negative emotions, or feelings of stagnation. As I mentioned, our core mission is to make feeling good approachable, achievable, and accessible.
The conversations needed can be tough, touch on sensitive topics and take people back in time to uncomfortable moments in life. By using data to clearly show people how they are doing and why they may be feeling a certain way, it opens the door to more meaningful discussions without so much defensiveness or resistance. With their reports, people can simply see where they are glowing red or green and how intensely — helping them to understand their behaviors and how all the pieces fit together. Just like you would work on your leadership skills, or any other professional or personal growth, we created a development experience for mental and emotional wellbeing competencies that feels natural and comfortable.
Often, people cannot see a better future, or they feel stuck in their negative emotions or situations. Or, if they have started the journey in talking to someone, often it can take time to find the right person or see tangible progress. Just like losing weight, if you feel a change is impossible for you, or are trying and not seeing results, it is easy to get disheartened or abandon the process. To help reverse the perception that change is impossible or takes too long, the results of the assessment immediately provides a roadmap for change. Not just resulting in numbers, but clearly showing what a person needs to start, stop, and continue doing, which provides the cornerstone for the change process. This breaks down behavior and mindset change or modification into attainable steps. By focusing on the right steps, straight away, our customers and clients see positive impact within weeks, instilling a sense of progression, achievement, and providing motivation to keep going.
And lastly, we combine tools with the human touch to make it accessible. People may desire change but feel that the actions they need to take are impossible for lack of time, money or another situational factor. A one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t work. By using the assessment upfront, we create personalized plans from which people can be guided through their development at their own pace, or access people to help them, whichever is right for their situation. We have also purposefully designed the development framework to optimize the time commitment required so that the activities, exercises, and monitoring can easily fit into people’s real lives. Because we believe that everybody should have the opportunity to feel their best.
Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?
Quite simply, it was seeing what was going on in the world. I strongly felt that we just can’t carry on this way. Seeing the impact of stress, depression or anxiety, leading to behaviors such as aggression and less tolerance, it was clear something had to change. I wanted to be more than an observer. I wanted to be a part of creating a positive impact. We already had a methodology proven to expedite the pace of positive change in other domains, so it was a natural fit to apply it to this space.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
I think personally it is important to check in with yourself and how you are feeling. Just start exploring what’s going on when you feel different emotions. Getting comfortable with asking yourself questions like, “what is making me feel this way or react this way?” makes it easier to have conversations with others, makes it easier to seek information and reduces the fear of such questions. If you see someone in your life who seems consistently sad, angry or overwhelmed, it is important to have the conversation. Ask them how they are doing, how they are feeling and open the door for them to talk to you. It is important you approach them in a way that is loving, respectful, and mindful of how they like to communicate. Keeping to open questions that explores what is troubling them, and ways in which you can help, either by simply listening or perhaps connecting them with the support or help they need.
If someone doesn’t have the capacity to open up, then let them know that you are there for them. Perhaps share stories from your own experiences, feelings, and life that can bring them greater comfort in being vulnerable with you in their times of need. It is also important to embrace empathy and respond with compassion. This means not trying to fix them, listening without judgment and not forcing solutions on them. It is also not assuming what they are feeling but letting them know it’s ok that they are feeling that way. When you see someone suffering, take a moment to shift perspective and think about that person and what they are going through. This can help us respond from a place of compassion, rather than fear.
With education, we need to start earlier. By starting the conversations and awareness earlier, people will grow up with comfort in the subject and it won’t be seen as this big, scary, taboo topic. As organizations, we need to create safe spaces in the workplace, where people feel comfortable to ask questions and seek information. We need to create cultures where nurturing your mind and soul are supported and threaded through the very DNA of organizations.
We also need to stop being reactive. Often, it is not until something goes wrong that people get help or people have the conversation. If we focus on equipping people with the skills and capabilities to take care of their mental and emotional wellbeing proactively, such as stress management and resiliency, we can stop the further development of some of the issues we are seeing.
What are the 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
1: Shutting off emails. Unless there is a specific and important reason to, I don’t look at emails after 9 pm. This is because if something comes in after that time, that cannot be sorted out until the morning, it will just be on my mind and I will be less likely to get good quality rest.
2: Practicing gratitude. Every day, just for a couple of minutes, I reflect on what I am thankful for. It sets perspective and puts me in a positive headspace.
3: Trying to get movement into the day and make healthy choices. This simply feels good. I am all about the life hacks, fitting things into my day in easy ways that work for my lifestyle. For example, combining a walk with a call or to catch up with someone. I try and make healthy choices most of the time, but, I also have what I feel like when I want something like fries — as this brings me joy. The key for me is 80–20 as much as possible, but not putting too much pressure on it.
4: Being aware of how people make me feel. We all know the drainers, people who can leave us feeling exhausted or negatively. For me, I manage my interactions with them. If I have a choice, then I choose not to be around people like that. If I don’t have a choice, then I make sure that I plan for it. For example, planning something positively energizing after seeing them.
5: Helping others. I make time to help others if I can. Whether this is giving some feedback, connecting people, or those 5-minute favors. However, I am also careful to have boundaries as it is important to use time and energy wisely.
6: Hanging around people, or spending time doing things, that make me feel good. This could be time with family, time with just me and my thoughts, or simply watching a show. I make sure I fit some time every day — even if it’s just 10 minutes and even if it means getting up 10 minutes earlier just to have some peace and quiet. This gives me something to savor or look forward to, which can have a huge positive impact.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
I love reading a variety of content in the domain. Whether it is inspirational stories, handy tips, or informative research findings. I have many go to resources, but some of my favorites are Thrive Global, Ladders, and Tiny Buddha.