“Understand the “why” behind your habits.” Alejandra Matos and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Normalize conversations around mental health, whether it is with peers, workshops, mentorship, etc. It is essential to have a mental health department or program in a business. However, if it’s seen as something separate from the work culture, employees might not feel comfortable engaging with it. Suppose mental health is made a part of the […]

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Normalize conversations around mental health, whether it is with peers, workshops, mentorship, etc. It is essential to have a mental health department or program in a business. However, if it’s seen as something separate from the work culture, employees might not feel comfortable engaging with it. Suppose mental health is made a part of the work culture. In that case, employees and employers can normalize it and see it as an essential component of the company’s growth.

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 Alejandra Matos, M.A.

Alejandra Matos is a licensed psychotherapist in the Dominican Republic and an international coach. In her work, Alejandra supports individuals in their exploration of the patterns of relationships that they have, whether they are romantic, familial, friendships, or how they relate to their work. Through this process, she helps them strengthen and shift their narratives in a way that centers their worth identity and resilience. Alejandra is a Fulbright Alumni, with her Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Psychology from the City College of New York. You can find more about her work and resources on her webpage at resilienciavital.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?

Of course! For me, psychology was like that best friend in the movies with whom I didn’t realize that I was slowly falling in love with. Then, after some ups and downs, I finally understood how much it meant to me, and everything just clicked! My psychology and counseling career has given me the privilege of witnessing people’s stories of evolution, healing, and resilience while supporting their process.

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

You know, right now, I can’t recall the most interesting story regarding my career. I feel like I am consistently surrounding myself with interesting stories! Whether they are from my clients, colleagues or my personal experiences.

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

1) Search for support. The mental health industry can be lonely at times for a wide variety of reasons. However, it is essential to search for support from other individuals, within and outside our industry. This support can range from supervision to other entrepreneurs who can support us while growing in our practice.

2) Work with aligned clients. We cannot be the therapist, psychologist, or coach for everyone, which is a good thing! When we recognize that this doesn’t have to do with our worth or how “good” of a professional we are, we open ourselves to a practice that feels more balanced and authentic. Additionally, this helps us refer those who are not our aligned clients towards other professionals who can be a better fit and can best support their journey.

3) Prioritize self-care, big and small! Look for little pockets of wellness in your day, such as a moment to move your body, have a cup of tea, or journal. This self-care can also mean intentionally separating time so you can talk to loved ones about other things that are not therapy related. Setting down boundaries regarding work hours and when you get vacation time is also a powerful way to prioritize self-care.

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

1) Create a space in which employers and employees can have honest conversations. Trust and openness for feedback create a healthier work culture and increase productivity.

2) Bring in people who can help you identify, create, and sustain the work culture that you want. It’s okay not to know everything, and you also don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You can hire consultants, coaches, and therapists who can support you in creating a healthier work environment. This is also a fantastic opportunity to work with individuals from different backgrounds and identities and who are experts as to how to bring a lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion into the workspace.

3) Celebrate healthy boundaries. I’ve observed a common theme: how certain workspaces celebrate employees working overtime or never taking a sick day, or being always available. These reinforcements can transmit the messages that the successful employees put their personal needs aside for the sake of the company. However, we can shift the ways that employers and employees define and relate to productivity and success. We can do this by encouraging others to place their boundaries, use their sick days, normalize mental health days, and create a process in which well-being is the center of the choices we make.

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

There’s a Cheryl Strayed quote that says, “Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.” I remember this quote whenever I am feeling overwhelmed, or I am pushing myself too hard. I use this moment to remember that:

1) I need to be more gentle with myself.

2) That I am probably making things harder for me if I am being self-critical or diminishing my worth or my abilities.

3) That I have to let go of the illusion of control and remember that self-worth and outcome are not the same.

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?

Absolutely! I can share some specific and some general examples of how companies are striving towards making mental health a part of their work culture. Unilever has created programs that address both mental health protection and promotion from a holistic perspectiveThey have a bio-psycho-social model that looks to foster and preserve the wellbeing of their employees.Deloitte has created a program that focuses on mental health first aid and provides resources that foster resilience, work-life balance, and how to reach out for support.In a broader sense, when the pandemic started, Headspace and the State of New York came together to provide mindfulness resources for its residents. Although this is not an example of a business initiative, this shows how companies can partner with already existing resources to create accessible mental health opportunities for employers.Another example is that I’ve seen companies make workshops to improve communication, strengthen support among coworkers, and develop a better work-life balance. Lastly, I’ve seen companies create certain agreements with mental health sites to offer appropriate mental health interventions or support when the company has a particular need (for example, the loss of a coworker or a change in management that is generating anxiety).

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?

– Learn how to have effective and vulnerable conversations. From higher management to the interns. Everyone should learn how to voice their thoughts and needs while at the same time, creating an environment that fosters those conversations.

– Teach how to do proper time management and encourage rest. Many workspaces enable working overtime and even shame when employees take a break, even their full lunch hour. It is crucial to develop a space where self-care is encouraged and celebrated.

– Normalize conversations around mental health, whether it is with peers, workshops, mentorship, etc. It is essential to have a mental health department or program in a business. However, if it’s seen as something separate from the work culture, employees might not feel comfortable engaging with it. Suppose mental health is made a part of the work culture. In that case, employees and employers can normalize it and see it as an essential component of the company’s growth.

– Create a system of mentorship between employers and employees or between coworkers. The person who is designed as the mentor can receive training on how to talk about mental health with mentees. Additionally, they can learn how to do effective check-ins and feedback and support someone who’s struggling with mental health. This training can include how to support them when looking for resources and professional help. 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?

I will repeat myself with this first step. Still, I believe that having and normalizing conversations around mental health is always the first step. After that, we can take specific actions depending on what the other person is dealing with. These interventions can range from what to do if someone feels burned out or even what to do if someone feels suicidal. Additionally, it is essential to have accessible information regarding mental health services, whether they are free or paid. These services can include therapists, domestic violence hotlines, suicide hotlines, and support groups. In the workplace context, I believe that this information should be consistently updated and made accessible to employers, whether in a meeting, emails, or any other accessible platform. Lastly, we need to consistently educate ourselves around privilege and oppression systems that impact marginalized populations (women, LGBTQI+, BBIPOC, senior, non-able bodied, etc.). Individuals who are part of these populations do hold within them a lot of resilience. Still, they are also more at risk of experiencing mental health struggles due to the systems of oppression that consistently operate against them. This is why it’s essential that as individuals, as workplaces, and as a society, we always strive towards better mental health practices. And that these practices hold a multiculturally sensitive,intersectional, anti-racist, diversity, equity, and inclusion perspective.

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?

1) Understand the “why” behind your habits, current and future ones. We all have a reason for why we do the things we do, and when we can create shifts in our mindset, our actions can follow them. I would recommend that people ask themselves, “Why am I continuing to do this?” or “Why do I want to create this change?” and to go deep. There’s a difference between “I want to wake up earlier, so I can have more time and be productive” vs. “If I wake up earlier, I can gently start my day, and I deserve that compassion and care for myself.”

2) Explore the gains and losses of all your habits, even the unhealthy ones! We repeat what we benefit from, even if the wins are unconscious ones. For example, procrastinating on emailing a proposal might feel like an “unhealthy” behavior. However, the benefit could be not having to face disappointment if it is not accepted. Or maybe we are burned out, and we know that we will add more work on our plate by submitting the proposal. This can lead us to either work with our relationship to rejection or rethink our work schedule to get rest and properly show up to our projects. When we connect with our gains and losses, we can better understand what is happening and see what we need to shift.

3) Let go of perfectionism. When we want to implement new habits, we can focus too much on making them happen, with what frequency or quality. However, this can add an extra burden and a stronger feeling that the habit is a chore instead of a step towards our well-being. We have to learn to balance our commitment to change. And at the same time, recognizing that by showing up, even imperfectly, we are getting closer to our end goals and adapting the process to our needs.

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 do use grounding techniques to center myself. Sometimes it is connecting to my breathing or noticing how my feet feel against the ground. I also do some affirmations when I am feeling anxious, tense, or discouraged. I repeat to myself, “I am enough” “I am much more than my productivity”. I often tell myself, “I am doing the best I can, and that is enough.” I adapt my affirmations to the situation and to what I feel that I need to hear.

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

I am a bookworm, so I have many books that have changed how I see myself, the world, and my work! I will try to list some of my favorites, although I am sure many more will come up once this interview is over!

– Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. This book brought up the topic of vulnerability in a way that I had never heard before! Reading this book allowed me to have more open conversations with my coworkers and interns. It changed how I show up in my business by adding more empathy, compassion, and curiosity.

– How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. As a person, a brand, a business, and a mental health professional, I cannot separate who I am and how I show up in the world from the systems of privilege and oppression. This book allowed me to understand more about racism, how it shows up in our lives, and why we cannot hope not to be racists but to be actively anti-racist.

– That’s what she said, what men and women need about working together by Joanne Lipman. As a woman in business, I appreciated this book immensely! It provided data on how gender has played a role in how we do business. The book delivers data that shows that we still have a long way to go regarding gender equality in the business world, but that we are slowly progressing. Additional to providing the information, Lipman presents multiple suggestions on how to continue closing the gender gap in the workspaces.

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. 🙂

That is so kind of you to say! I had the resources I would love to create initiatives that center, celebrate, and provide awareness to individuals from marginalized populations. There are already unique and courageous individuals who are creating healthier and more equitable practices for workplaces. I would love to continue supporting the work that they do! Additionally, I would love to create an organization that could facilitate accessible mental health training and resources for small businesses and entrepreneurs. These trainings would provide information regarding mental health promotion and maintenance. They would also explore how identity plays a role in risks and resilience factors. Lastly, these trainings would support companies and business owners in increasing awareness regarding privileges and oppression experiences to create more inclusive workspaces and services.

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

They can find me on my website of resilienciavital.com. which is both in English and in Spanish. I can also be found on Instagram, my username is @resilienciavital

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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