Throughout Mental Health Month, we are focusing on ways to empower individuals to “light their way” to better mental health, happiness, and improved well-being. As part of this celebration, we are profiling “Mental Health Warriors,” individuals who have been outspoken in their advocacy and support for mental health issues. To kick this series off, we caught up with Huffington Post founder and Thrive Global founder and CEO, Arianna Huffington.
Talkspace: You’ve been vocal about your history with burnout and exhaustion and “the fall” that precipitated a complete life overhaul. Can you talk a bit about what the state of your mental health was like as you were approaching this crucial turning point?
Arianna Huffington: When I collapsed, I’d just come off a week of very little sleep – having taken my daughter on a college tour, during which I was staying up late every night working. But my mental state was – I thought – fine. I’d done plenty of weeks like this in the past and so to me this was just a slightly more extreme version of business as usual. But that’s what exhaustion and sleep deprivation do to you – one of the many aspects of your physical and mental health that gets impaired is your own judgment about the state of your physical and mental health. So just because you feel like you’re doing fine on four or five or even six hours of sleep per night, it doesn’t mean you are. The science that tells us otherwise is much more reliable.
TS: At any point did you seek out help before this moment? If not, what was keeping you from getting it?
AH: I didn’t – because I didn’t really know how much the infrastructure of my well-being was being compromised until it completely caved in. And that’s why I wrote my two books Thrive and The Sleep Revolution, and why I then founded Thrive Global – so that people can repair and fortify that infrastructure before they have a collapse, as I did.
TS: What do you wish more people know about mental wellness?
AH: How deeply interconnected it is to our overall wellness. Given what we’re now finding out from science about how deeply connected mental well-being and physical well-being are – it’s hard to even make the distinction between the two. For instance, sleep helps our immune system fight illness, and it also enhances decision-making, creativity, and focus. In other words, it impacts both physical and mental wellness. Disconnecting from technology allows us to have downtime and mentally recharge – and it can also help us sleep, which in turn has a whole host of downstream benefits. So it’s all interconnected, which means to enhance our physical or mental well-being, we have to think about every part of our lives.
But that doesn’t mean we should think of it as overwhelming – at Thrive Global we break everything down into “microsteps,” which are small, actionable changes you can incorporate into your daily life right away.
TS: You’re a big proponent of the idea of taking care of ourselves from a holistic standpoint––what does your day-to-day look like in terms of how you “practice what you preach?”
AH: A lot of it is about trying to be more mindful with my time, and that definitely involves being deliberate about technology – both in the morning and at night. So when I wake up, instead of starting the day by grabbing my phone, I take a few minutes to breathe deeply, be grateful, and set my intention for the day. Then I’ll try to do 20 or 30 minutes of meditation, and, depending on the day, I might fit some time in on my stationary bike or to do yoga most mornings. And then during the day, if I need to, I’ll find time for a nap.
Then at night, the first part of my bedtime ritual involves turning off all my electronic devices and gently escorting them out of my bedroom. Our phones are useful for many things, but as the repositories of our to-do lists, our anxieties and our worries, they’re definitely not sleep aids. Then I’ll do some reading – of real, physical books, that have nothing to do with work. And usually I’m able to do this in a way that allows me to get seven and-a-half to eight hours of sleep per night.
TS: As you meet with companies, politicians, and top CEO’s around the world, what is the biggest mental health issue that stands out? How do we take positive steps toward alleviating it?
AH: The one I hear about the most is just how stressed out and burned out people feel – including business executives, CEOs, and politicians. And that compromises mental health in a range of ways – in fact, in practically every way. And to take steps toward alleviating it, the first thing we have to do as a culture is change our mistaken beliefs that burnout is the price we have to pay for success, or that it’s the way to signal that you’re tough and disciplined and dedicated to your job.
The good news is that this change is beginning to happen. More and more CEOs, business leaders, politicians, and athletes are not only buying into the science that clearly shows that prioritizing well-being is, in fact, the way to perform better, they’re going public about it, and become new role models of success.