“Take care of yourself during this time.” Suzanne Sibilla and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Take care of yourself during this time. It can be challenging to support a friend who is depressed, anxious, or has mental issues; you need to make sure that you’re taken care of before you can assist another person. Get the proper rest, eat healthy, and stay physically active to stay healthy and well during […]

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Take care of yourself during this time. It can be challenging to support a friend who is depressed, anxious, or has mental issues; you need to make sure that you’re taken care of before you can assist another person. Get the proper rest, eat healthy, and stay physically active to stay healthy and well during this time.

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 Suzanne Sibilla.

Suzanne owns her own Leadership and Employee Development company, Sibilla & Associates. The company’s mission is to transform mid-to-senior level leaders and employees to be productive, engaged, and empowered in their organization. Suzanne has over 20+ years of experience as a leader, trainer, coach, and Licensed Marriage Family Therapist.

Suzanne is a bestselling author, Pivot YOU! 6 Powerful Steps to Thriving in Uncertain Times. Master Your Mindset and Achieve Your Goals. She coached over 200 executives and professionals in the United States, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore with a 95% client satisfaction rating.

Past clients include: Lam Research, WebMD, Pri-Med/Hill Physicians, Omada Health, Kaiser Permanente, Saint Mary’s College, Right Management, KLA-Tencor, Hewlett-Packard, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Suzanne has been a featured guest on Mornings on Two and expert for numerous articles from Fast Company, WebMD, and International podcasts.

Suzanne is happily married for over 20 years and they have a middle-school aged son. She enjoys being with family, traveling, writing, theater, swimming, cycling, and the outdoors.

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?

Thank you for interviewing me, publishing my story, and giving me the opportunity to provide mental health and wellness advice to businesses. I started my career as a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist counseling children, adolescents, couples, and families in hospitals and private practice settings. I was a therapist for the first ten years of my career. I enjoyed the work. However, I wanted to counsel or coach highly ‘functional’ rather than extremely dysfunctional clients. I was also getting burned out by seeing clients who didn’t really want to change or would rather complain about their life versus taking actions to change their life.

I had a colleague who was a psychologist, coach, and worked in organizations. At the time, I was also a Stress Management Consultant with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (F.E.M.A.) coaching the employees who were dealing with the victims of natural disasters such as the Texas floods, Florida hurricanes, California earthquakes, and the Oklahoma City Bombing. The F.E.M.A. employees would receive a call 24 -48 hours in advance and be out at the natural disaster site for 8 weeks — 6 months. They were under a lot of stress. I saw firsthand how coaching and training employees during times of stress and uncertainty was a valuable skill. It was then that I decided to go into being a corporate trainer and coach.

Within 6 months, I transitioned into a corporate environment as a Senior Trainer at a high-tech company. From there, I was promoted into leadership roles. I’ve held full-time positions as a Director, Senior Manager, and Senior Trainer at high-tech and health care organizations. I’ve led the design, development, and implementation of three different training and organizational change departments with over 4,500 employees and a 95% client satisfaction rating.

About 14 years ago, my husband and I wanted to start a family and it was during this time that I decided to venture out on my own and start my own Leadership and Employee Development Company, Sibilla & Associates. Our mission is to transform mid-to-senior level leaders and employees to be productive, engaged, and empowered in their organizations. I thoroughly enjoy the work I do and the clients I serve.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I’ve had a number of interesting stories in my career. The one that sticks out for me and was pivotal to my career was when I worked at Healtheon (which later merged with WebMD). It was the early 2000’s when web-based companies in Silicon Valley were just beginning. It was a fast-paced adrenaline-filled adventure!

I was the Manager for the Technical and Employee Development Training/Organizational Change Department. At the time, I was reporting to the V.P. of Engineering and was the 250th or something employee that Healtheon hired. In my first month of employment, I was flying back and forth to Atlanta, Georgia for meetings and training sessions. On one of my trips, I was walking around the gift shop in the airport looking for a book to read on the plane trip back home to California. I’m standing and staring at all the books on the New York Times bestseller shelf when I see this bold-lettered title that catches my eye, The New New Thing. I thought the title looked intriguing. So, I read the back and inside cover to find out more about the book. I was totally amazed and shocked when I read the cover. It was about Silicon Valley and Jim Clark, the founder of Healtheon and my entire team. Needless to say, I ended up buying the book and finished reading it on my plane ride home. I couldn’t believe I was working at the company where the book originated and that my manager and team were talked about in the book. We were making history! I was so excited to be a part of a company whose mission was to transform the healthcare industry to internet efficiencies. It was one of the most amazing times in my career.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

I’ve found in all my professional and personal experiences that it’s critical to take care of oneself and take time away or unplug from electronic devices to relax, unwind, and rejuvenate to avoid burnout. It also helps to do some sort of physical activity. I enjoy bike riding, swimming, hiking, walking, meditation, and find that it helps me mentally and emotionally when I workout physically. I recommend to do an activity that you enjoy and unplug from the electronic devices for a few hours. I also highly recommend deep breathing relaxation techniques, meditation, and keeping a gratitude journal. You’ll be amazed how you can shift your thinking and avoid burnout by focusing on what you’re grateful for in your life.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

I advise leaders to create a compelling vision of the future and openly communicate to their employees. The leaders set the tone and culture of a company. Employees will be more productive and fully engaged in your organization and work culture when they feel that their leader and the organization truly values them, respects their contribution, communicates openly, and engages them in a compelling future. A fantastic work culture is one that provide a sense of autonomy coupled with collaborative teamwork and an environment where employees can bring their “best self” to an organization. I’m grateful to have been a part of an organization where this was the case. I’ve seen it firsthand the importance of dynamic, energetic, and progressive leaders who create a fantastic work culture by setting a compelling vision of the future, holding employees accountable, and working together for the common good of the organization, the customers, and the employees.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

I love the quote by Wayne Dyer, a world-renowned author and psychologist, “You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.” It’s so pertinent to what we’re experiencing in today’s world with the pandemic, riots, political unrest, fires/smoke, hurricanes and the uncertainty that exists in our world today. We may not be able to control the external events that are occurring. We can control our internal thoughts, reactions, emotions, and results. I know this quote impacted me so much this year in 2020.

Initially, when the quarantine occurred in March 17, 2020, I was feeling anxious, fearful, and uncertain about my future. I’ve read a number of Wayne Dyer and Tony Robbins books about shifting my mindset, reframing my reality, controlling my internal perceptions, and dialogue. I’ve applied the tools and techniques to my own life with immense success. After shifting my mindset and reframing my reality, I wrote a bestselling book about my experiences, Pivot YOU! 6 Powerful Steps to Thriving in Uncertain Times. Master Your Mindset and Achieve Your Goals. I’ve experienced a tremendous amount of growth and opportunity. It really does work!

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?

I’ve been hired by companies and their Employee Assistance Programs (EAP’s) to conduct training sessions for employees focused on the following initiatives to help improve overall mental health and wellness.

Employee Assistance Programs (E.A.P’s): Many companies have employee assistance programs which is a healthcare benefit for their employees. E.A.P’s have licensed counselors on-board that can provide counseling services by phone or Facetime/Zoom. Counselors can assist employees with various problems from relationships, childcare, elder care, financial, health/wellness, domestic violence, depression, anxiety, drug/alcohol abuse, and co-worker/manager issues. E.A.P’s also provide local resources for employees to help them manage any of these issues. I consulted with a high-tech company where the H.R. manager told me that the E.A.P. program was so beneficial to the organization and the employees. They used the E.A.P. for childcare service providers and eldercare resources. It’s an excellent benefit for employees and it helps the organizations ensure healthy and productive employees.

Mindfulness, Meditation, and Stress Reduction: I’ve heard of companies providing mindfulness, meditation, and stress reduction workshops via Zoom. These workshops are scheduled in the morning and afternoon. I’m working with companies providing workshops on stress reduction through shifting one’s mindset, reframing one’s reality, overcoming obstacles, and achieving professional and personal goals. I’ve received positive feedback from the senior leaders and managers at the organizations that it has helped their employees to be accountable for their own health and wellness. The leaders told me that they’ve seen a shift in their employees’ mindset and work performance.

Financial Workshops: Companies are providing financial “lunch and learn” workshops via Zoom for their employees on 401k, retirement planning, stock purchase planning, life insurance, estate planning, and managing finances during challenging times. I’ve heard from H.R. managers that these workshops have been extremely helpful for their employees especially during these challenging times. An H.R. colleague of mine informed me that they have financial workshops at her company and they’ve been very well attended with positive feedback and reviews.

Health and Wellness: Prior to the pandemic, a number of companies provided health care fairs and health screenings for health-related issues such as cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, and weight management. Now, with the pandemic, companies have hired external vendors to facilitate health and wellness virtual fairs. The virtual fairs or health care summits bring in subject matter experts to present topics ranging from healthy eating, weight loss, physical exercise, mindfulness, and stress reduction. It’s a huge hit with a number of companies. I’ve heard from my H.R. colleagues and senior leaders that the virtual health fairs have encouraged and supported their employees to take care of themselves during these challenging times.

Health and Wellness Challenges:

Companies have been using health apps to conduct fitness and wellness challenges. The challenges can last anywhere from 5–30 days. Each day, there’s a specific challenge such as walking up to 5,000 steps or healthy eating challenge such as avoid sugar for 5 days and drink 8 glasses of water during the day. It can be set up with individual employees or with teams. There are incentive prizes for the team with the most goals achieved during the challenge. Employees tend to love a challenge and it provides a great way to positively engage employees while they’re working from home or in the office. I find the health and wellness challenge to be an excellent way to bring teams together, reduce the level of stress, and encourage a healthy lifestyle.

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?

It’s critical that the top leaders within an organization support the mental wellness of employees by modeling what they want to see from their employees. Many employees are working from home right now and managers can support their team by promoting breaks during the day, physical exercise, meditation, and openly communicating with their team. Managers can ask their employees what are their biggest challenges and how they can assist with helping their employees to overcome those challenges. I’ve heard of managers doing scavenger hunts, virtual game days, coffee/tea time chats, Meditation Monday’s, and Friday Fun Days to keep their employees engaged, mentally, and emotionally healthy while working from home.

Employees can be accountable in their own mental health and wellness by taking breaks during the day and communicating to their manager if there is a problem and provide solutions to the problem. The majority of meetings right now are conducted via Zoom or online and managers/employees can make sure that meetings have a specific outcome with an agenda so as to have meetings that achieve an expected goal rather than meeting for meetings sake.

These strategies will assist the employees to stay mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy while also managing employee productivity.

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?

During this time with the pandemic, riots, political unrest, working from home, and distance learning; individuals may be feeling overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, and depressed. The level of uncertainty in our world may cause individuals to be at a breaking point. It’s important to take what a person is saying about their mental health seriously.

If the person is in a work environment, you can get the person the help they need by consulting with your Human Resources (H.R.) manager and/or Employee Assistance Program (E.A.P.) professional. They will have resources to provide the necessary help the individual needs.

These are signs to look for if a friend or individual is depressed:

-They are easily upset or irritable.

-They have trouble sleeping or sleep too much.

-They appear unfocused, forgetful, and difficulty concentrating on everyday tasks.

-They are listless with no energy.

-They appear to not care about personal hygiene

-They talk about death or suicide.

If a friend or individual is talking about feeling depressed and suicidal, it’s imperative to get the person the help they need by contacting the National Suicide Prevention Hotline Number at 1–800–273–8255 to reach a trained certified counselor that can help the individual through the crisis. If the individual says they have a plan, never keep it a secret. It’s their call for help. Immediately, get them the help they need.

These are ways you can support a friend or individual who feels depressed or anxious.

-Actively listen to them and be their sounding board. Many times, they may need someone to talk to, listen, and not judge them. Be there for them.

-Help your friend or individual get the necessary support they need. Offer to help with finding a trained counselor and helping with daily chores or activities.

-Take care of yourself during this time. It can be challenging to support a friend who is depressed, anxious, or has mental issues; you need to make sure that you’re taken care of before you can assist another person. Get the proper rest, eat healthy, and stay physically active to stay healthy and well during this time.

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?

Yes, healthy habits and healthy routines are vitally important for optimal health and wellness. I have a daily routine that keeps me energized and going strong mentally, emotionally, and physically throughout the day. I wake up at 6:30 am every day (even on the weekends), drink a glass of water, do 15–20 minutes of vigorous exercise, and follow with 10 minutes of meditation and a gratitude journal. After doing this routine, I eat a healthy breakfast of oatmeal with berries.

Let’s look at this daily routine and healthy habits and see why it works. It’s important to wake up and go to bed at the same time each day. Get 6–8 hours of sleep each night. You’ll be amazed how a good night’s sleep will help with your emotional and physical well-being. Upon waking up, drink a glass of 8 ounces (or more) of water. We tend to dehydrate at night so the water will keep us hydrated during the day. A daily routine of 15–20 minutes of vigorous exercise will waken up your mind and body and prepare you for the day ahead with energy. Energy is the lifeblood of our mind and body. The 10 minutes of meditation followed with a gratitude journal jump starts your day so that you’re in a positive frame of mind and ready to focus on your work. A healthy breakfast provides you the fuel you need to keep you energized.

You can start doing these habits one day at a time. Before you know it, these habits become part of your lifestyle and routine. You CAN do it! Go for it!

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, yes, and yes! As I mentioned earlier, I do a daily wake-up routine of meditation, deep breathing, and relaxation techniques. Anytime, I feel anxious, fearful, overwhelmed or any negative emotional state, I change my emotional state instantly with energetic physical activity. The burst of activities which require energy such as jumping up and down rapidly, inhaling and exhaling deeply, running quickly, or briskly walking will alter your mental, emotional, and physical state to be more positive.

I take a deep breath in and hold it for a count of two. 1…2. As I take a deep breath in, I think of a positive thought and say these words, “I AM…” (Fill in the blank with a positive uplifting word) I AM CONFIDENT! I AM STRONG! I AM HOPE! I AM LOVE! I exhale any negative thoughts. It may seem strange at first to say these words. Let go of any preconceived ideas or judgment about it and just repeat these words out loud. Fear is a debilitating state of emotion. It’s okay to feel fear but not allow yourself to be limited by it or overcome by the emotions that you become stuck or paralyzed by it. Replace your fear, anxiety, or stress with uplifting confidence, strength, love, and hope.

These techniques have greatly impacted my life by helping me to be calmer, confident, and energetic throughout the day. Try it and let me know how it works for you!

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

I love Tony Robbins books and seminars, Awaken the Giant Within and Unleash the Power Within.

I had attended Tony Robbins seminar, Unleash the Power Within and read his book, Awaken the Giant Within. I also had a Tony Robbins coach at the time since I was a Director of Training and Organizational Change at a Financial company 14 years ago. I was being ‘groomed’ to move up into the V.P. position. There was only 1 female E.V.P. in the entire company. My husband and I were struggling to start a family. Our time was limited since I was already 41 years old. It was now or never.

I recently received an ‘outstanding’ performance review with a 25% bonus. I told my manager, a female V.P. with no kids, that we were going through IVF treatments. I thought she was a friend of mine as well as my boss. In further conversations with her, she told me about another V.P. in the company that recently had a baby and how challenging it was for her to maintain her position in the company and balance her family.

About 3 weeks after telling my manager about IVF and starting a family, she called me into her office wanting to talk. I thought we were going to discuss our upcoming project. I walked into her office and she told me, “It isn’t working. I need you to be completely committed to the organization. You have one of two options, you can either quit or we’ll fire you. You’ll get one-month severance pay.”

I was shocked, stunned, and overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe what was happening. How could they want to fire me or ask me to quit especially when I received an outstanding performance review and a 25% bonus? I knew I had to DO something! I told my husband about everything. His initial response, “How can we afford IVF or raise a child without your income?” I immediately wrote an e-mail detailing the timeline of events and what occurred and how it was discriminating against women with families. I presented it to corporate counsel. Corporate counsel decided to pay me 6 months’ severance pay with healthcare and all my benefits continuing for an entire year.

Looking back on everything, it was the BEST thing that ever happened to me. In December of that year, I went through IVF, and January I was pregnant. We had our son in September 2007. I also launched my own business, Sibilla & Associates, leadership and employee development company. Since then, I’ve consulted with a number of mid-sized healthcare and high-tech organizations. I also coach emerging female leaders to stand up in their power, balance family life, and pivot towards their future.

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’ve started a movement called, Pivot YOU Thriving on Facebook and conduct workshops on Pivot YOU! 6 Powerful Steps to Thriving in Uncertain Times. Master Your Mindset and Achieve Your Goals. I’m also launching a Pivot YOU Entrepreneurs Leadership Summit to assist entrepreneurs in shifting their mindset, develop healthy habits, focus on communication and leadership skills so that they can become profitable while helping their communities.

I’m invested in helping people take care of themselves and shift their mindset from fear, anxiety, uncertainty to courage, strength, and abundance. I encourage, motivate, and hold people accountable to powerfully transform and PIVOT their life and THRIVE.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

My bestselling book, Pivot YOU! 6 Powerful Steps to Thriving in Uncertain Times. My book can be purchased on Amazon:

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08DL28784

My website: http://www.sibillatraining.com/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/suzanne-r-sibilla-b80229/

Pivot YOU Thriving Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2762006960703541

Email: suzanne.sibilla@gmail.com

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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