“You can’t pour from an empty cup”, Claudia Minner and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Wellness Benefits/Incentives. There are programs companies can offer now that offer incentives when employees log certain wellness activities or participate in certain company-wide challenges. This is another fun way to get employees engaged in wellness, which ultimately improves mental health. It is also an opportunity to foster connections with other employees, from entry-level all the […]

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Wellness Benefits/Incentives. There are programs companies can offer now that offer incentives when employees log certain wellness activities or participate in certain company-wide challenges. This is another fun way to get employees engaged in wellness, which ultimately improves mental health. It is also an opportunity to foster connections with other employees, from entry-level all the way to the C-suite, through friendly competition and team building.

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 Claudia Minner LMFT.

Claudia Minner is a licensed therapist and certified executive coach based in Chicago, IL. She uses an integrative, strengths-based approach to help women successfully navigate entrepreneurship by maximizing their overall mental well-being. Through utilizing a systemic approach, Claudia helps women take their businesses to their next level of growth, build confidence, maintain healthier relationships, and experience less stress as they become fully aligned in success and happiness both personally and professionally.

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?

Ever since I can remember, I have had a passion for helping people, especially through use of powerful conversations and providing quality strategies. I started solely as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist; it was interesting to view people through the context of their relationships as I worked to problem-solve with them.

Within my caseload, I worked with several women who were either considering entrepreneurship or were fully engaged in it. They were experiencing stress, anxiety, and other issues in their personal lives. As they were hitting roadblocks in their personal lives, they told me that it was also affecting their professional performance and needed guidance. They would express to me that they felt like they had to make a choice: hiring a therapist to manage their personal issues or hiring an executive coach to manage their business issues. I soon realized how important it was to be able to challenge traditional executive coaching and mental health care to support professional women more holistically, especially since there is an almost constant pressure from both sides that can have a negative impact on business and life.

Entrepreneurs with better mental wellbeing generate more revenue, have more satisfactory relationships, have better work-life balance, are physically healthier, and report feeling happier. With that, I pursued a certificate in executive coaching so that I could offer a space that helps women better take care of business by taking care of the woman behind the business.

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

One of the most interesting stories that happened to me was my chance to see John Gottman, a psychological researcher who, I’d say, is essentially a marital guru, speak at an event. I attended a talk in which he and his wife were being interviewed on their new book, “Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love”.

They were speaking about a study they had conducted where they would observe couples in an apartment and code their behaviors with one another. They explained that one of their key takeaways was how one partner would react when the other partner expressed interest in something (“Oh! Look at that boat outside.”), indirectly seeking engagement from them. They noticed that the partner that had been engaged with would either ignore the partner, have a negative reaction, or turn towards the partner and share interest. Whatever behavior they tended to do would help the Gottmans assess the stability of the relationship.

I noticed that this “turning away” versus “turning towards” behavior was affecting a lot of leaders that were clients of mine. I realized that their tendency to do one or the other was isomorphic, in that it would show up similarly in their personal and professional lives. If they turned away when their spouse was bidding for engagement, I noticed that they might also turn away from their employees or other colleagues when they were bidding for engagement.

John Gottman and his wife signed my copy of their book and acknowledged me, which was a celebrity shock moment for me being in the psychology field. I reference his talk on turning towards versus away with my clients so that they can stay aware of genuinely engaging with others, personally and professionally, to foster strong, healthy connections.

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

It’s easy to feel burnout in our industry, especially from what’s known as “compassion fatigue”. My advice is to take care of yourself as you are taking care of others. I like to say that “you can’t pour from an empty cup”, so if you are not listening to your body, mind, and heart when the symptoms of burnout are arising, you will ultimately be doing a disservice to your clients, your inner circle, and yourself. It’s a tough task, perhaps even an impossible one, to do your best work when you are completely drained with no ability to recharge. Set boundaries, engage in self-care, be present for your most important relationships, and know your compassion limits from day to day.

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

I encourage all leaders to engage in a process called “Radical Self-Inquiry”, a.k.a. being deeply introspective to increase self-awareness, become more self-actualized, and unlock greater resiliency to create more adaptive workplaces. Questions like, “How am I feeling right now?”, “What kind of leader do I want to be?”, “What do I change to become who I want to be as a leader versus what I’m actually doing?”.

I also advise reflection on what you would be looking for in terms of work culture and leadership if you were an employee. What options would you like to have if you’re feeling stressed or stuck? What resources would you hope to be available to you? What incentives would compel you to stay at a company all the way to retirement?

By leveraging empathy with an uncomfortably high level of self-awareness in business, the opportunity to create a fantastic work culture presents itself (and it will show). The cultures that leaders create are a manifestation of how deeply they have explored and understand themselves, and, thus, understand others that work for them. If this has not been reconciled within, it can be difficult to get work culture into a fantastic and healthy place.

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

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”. Through my many years working with clients, I have heard several intimate stories about the goings-on of people’s personal lives. Some of the stories can seem unimaginable, especially coming from people that you may never expect. This influences my work in approaching everyone with kindness, because, as the quote says, everyone is experiencing challenges we might not be privy to.

When my husband and I were driving our newborn home from the hospital, we drove at a snail’s pace, and cars passed by honking in frustration. They were unaware that we were scared of giving our newborn whiplash from taking a turn too fast or accelerating too quickly. It made me think twice about this quote and honking at others if they seem to be driving too slow, because I don’t know what they’re going through.

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 believe that there are several initiatives that can unlock the ability to optimize employees’ mental wellness in the workplace. Here are five initiatives I suggest:

Incorporating “Mental Health” or “Wellness” days outside of given PTO/sick days

Perhaps there are a certain amount of PTO/sick days allotted, on top of bereavement and other circumstances for time off. Adding one or two “Mental Health” or “Wellness” days can take the pressure off cutting into sick days or vacation time, especially around the holidays. With enough busyness in the office already, taking the stress off planning when to use a paid day for mental health can be a welcomed relief. It also destigmatizes needing to ask for a day off to take care of oneself.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

There are many ERGs that can be implemented within companies to promote community, support, and connection both between colleagues and with senior-level management. The format of ERG’s typically calls for an executive sponsor, regular meetings, and a group theme (i.e. mental health, sex/gender, race, religion, sexual orientation), while maintaining confidentiality of what is talked about within the group. This promotes safety and acceptance in the workplace, and helps employees feel more connected, understood, validated, and supported. It is also a great space to collaborate on ideas that benefit the workplace culture with the direct ear of an executive sponsor, thus improving wellness.

Lunch and Learn Sessions

Lunch and Learn sessions hosted by guest speakers are a great way to provide educational opportunities for mental wellness and teach strategies for improving mental wellbeing from several different fields. The wellness sessions can range from mental health to physical health and beyond. It can also be fun to get creative with the guests you invite, which creates more engagement for your employees!

Wellness Benefits/Incentives

There are programs companies can offer now that offer incentives when employees log certain wellness activities or participate in certain company-wide challenges. This is another fun way to get employees engaged in wellness, which ultimately improves mental health. It is also an opportunity to foster connections with other employees, from entry-level all the way to the C-suite, through friendly competition and team building.

Access to resources such as providers, research articles, hotlines, and other support

I have seen that one of the most effective ways to destigmatize mental health in the workplace is by being open about how prevalent mental health issues are and promoting wellness by routinely offering resources to improve it. Human Resource departments can send out hotline information, government resources, workbook/workshop downloads, links to providers on the company’s insurance website, and more. Routinely sending these resources can provide support to an employee who may not have been able to find it themselves, and, also, feel in a safe space to seek support to better their mental wellness. If the company is not placing importance on providing mental wellness resources, employees may not feel as supported as they could be.

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 would first direct everyone to the research backing up the critical need for supporting the mental wellness of employees, not just in terms of promoting the health and care of others, but also having better performing businesses with less turnover. The World Health Organization suggests that one trillion dollars a year are lost in productivity due to anxiety and depression, in large part due to lack of attention given to mental wellness of employees in the workplace. Research also suggests that for every dollar put into mental health treatment, there is a four dollar return from improved health and productivity.

I suggest learning about mental health in the workplace, normalizing it within the workplace to lift stigma, and creating a safe space through which mental health can be discussed without repercussions (i.e. being laid off or passed for a promotion). This can be a topic routinely brought up in newsletters, quarterly meetings, and more.

Lastly, and arguably, most importantly, the more leaders can appropriately show that they are taking care of their mental wellness, the more employees will feel inclined to do so, too. In addition, it’s crucial to embrace when an employee requests a mental health day. The now viral exchange between an employee and her boss showcases this perfectly: when she said she would be taking a few days off to focus on her mental health, her boss replied personally thanking her for setting such a great example for the company.

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 would say that the first step is to become more authentic with how we check in on those close to us. I tend to notice that it is easy to miss when someone is struggling with stress, depressive symptoms, anxiety, and more because of the surface level conversations we are so used to having. For example, we usually start a conversation by saying, “How are you?” to which most respond, “I’m good, and you?” My “good” might be different than someone else’s “good”, and might not even be that good at all. How many times have you answered “I’m good”, but have actually been feeling something else completely?

I believe when we ask questions that go a little deeper, we can have real conversations that open up space for someone to reveal how they are truly feeling. Instead of “How are you?”, perhaps ask, “What have you been feeling this week?”, “How have you been navigating recently?”, or “What are you most looking forward to?” When we get creative in our questions, we can get a more personal response and be in a better position to support them or suggest more qualified resources for them.

Once we become more genuine when we ask others how they are doing, the more we show that we care, that we want to listen, and that we want to support them. These are conversations we aren’t programmed to have in our daily lives, especially when making small talk, and we need to challenge that to show up better as a community for others.

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?

In order to challenge poor habits, I believe it is critical to pinpoint the thoughts and feelings that are prompting a person to want to engage in that poor habit. Poor habits typically arise from negative emotions. Say I bite my nails (which, I did at one point in my life) — — perhaps I was thinking, “I’m not going to get everything done today”, and I was feeling anxious. This may have prompted me biting my nails to the nub. If I learn to recognize the poor habits that are associated with anxiety-provoking thoughts, I can take the first step in implementing a healthy habit. Once you can take a step back and realize the situation in which a poor habit usually occurs, I recommend doing the opposite of whatever your negative emotions are telling you to do, or choosing a more adaptive habit to replace it with.

In my example, the next time I am feeling anxious, I will choose to not bite my nails, but instead either close my eyes and take a few deep breaths or massage my hands. The more you implement these replacement habits, the more natural they will seem. It’s like telling you to cross your arms the opposite way, and doing it enough times until it becomes a new habit.

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?

Whenever I feel anxious, myself, I engage in “belly breathing.” Belly Breathing works by inflating your stomach like a balloon when you inhale and deflating it when you exhale. I typically place my hand on my stomach to keep me grounded and feel that I’m doing it correctly. Studies show that when you are feeling panic or other anxious symptoms, belly breathing sends signals to the brain to remain calm whereas shallow breathing (originating from the chest, leading to hyperventilation) can signal panic. I have also engaged in mindfulness exercises when I am not feeling present with myself. I’ve found that to be incredibly centering and calming. I recommend 5–10 minutes of mindfulness daily, even if it is just stopping to listen to the noises around you.

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

The book that really impacted me is “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” by Lori Gottlieb. She is also a therapist, and reading it unveiled a candid behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to be a therapist and human being with issues of her own. Her book challenged me in my own practice to leverage candor to humanize myself and collaborate with clients on a level playing field while guiding them towards achieving their personal and professional goals. This book showed that it’s okay to keep working on yourself and navigating your own life as you work to help others do the same. We are all on this wild ride together learning invaluable lessons every day.

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 recently read about “Radical Generosity”, which is rooted in the idea of being able to give more to others by way of enhancing our own gratitude. It may not be a movement I am “starting” per se, but it is one I want to perpetuate. I think there is an alignment between peace, success, and happiness that can come from practicing gratitude. If that results in being in a better place to give more to others, then everyone wins. One year I engaged in the “#100HappyDays” challenge, in which I documented what I was grateful for every day, whether big or small, for one hundred days. I encourage everyone to give it a try!

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

I send out a weekly newsletter with specially curated content filled with tips, strategies, and access to events that promote maintaining optimal mental wellbeing while growing a business (accessible from my website linked at the beginning of the article). I also actively post on LinkedIn and Instagram (@claudiaminnertherapy).

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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