Let me ask you this. 

How are you cultivating the psychological health and safety of those within your community?

Most likely, you have a solid supply of sanitizer, dividers, branded masks, physical distancing signage and all the things recommended by the CDC to care for your members’ physical health and well-being. 

Yet, have you stopped to think, for a moment, about the emotional and neurobiological needs of your members? With over 41% of Americans reporting that they are struggling with their mental health since the onset of COVID-19, and a pre-existing statistic that 49% of entrepreneurs struggle with their personal mental health, it’s safe to say that many of your members will be in need of additional mental health support. 

In response to the collective trauma and uncertainty of these unprecedented times, many people, even those without pre-existing mental health conditions, will experience heightened states of arousal, which can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, decreased appetite, difficulty focusing and sleep disturbances and/or increased states of collapse, which leads to depression, isolating behaviors, avoidance, hopelessness and exhaustion. These states are not only an emotional response they are also a neurobiological response in which the nervous system becomes dysregulated. 

Dysregulation and trauma occurs when the body is exposed to repeated threats in which the person does not feel a return to safety. For example, when trying to cope with the fear of getting sick or with the fear of our loved ones getting sick, yet not having a clear understanding of how to avoid or prevent that threat. Or in the case of systemic racism and white body supremacy when Black, Indegenous, Latinx and People of Color, constantly exposed to the threat of societal violence and “othering” (separation from the group), are unable to experience safety, let alone an embodied sense of safety. And, in this current time, as we face the complex collective trauma of these particular intersections, mental health experts are now bracing for what Tom Insel, psychiatrist and previous Director of the National Institute of Mental Health has termed a “mental health tsunami”.

So, let me come back to my original question. How are you cultivating the psychological health and safety of those within your community?

As an entrepreneur and coworking founder, myself, with 22 years experience as a psychotherapist and trauma expert and having spent the past 12 years designing and operating a trauma-informed approach to coworking, I have been giving this question some serious thought. And, I, personally feel that we, the coworking thought leaders and founders are in a crucial position to be the ones to lead in this arena. Here’s my “where to start” recommendations, broken down into 4 key areas: leadership, awareness, culture and access. 

Conscious Leadership: Starts With You

First and foremost, you must take care of yourself. Yes, I will say it again. Take care of YOU because addressing mental health in your organization starts with your leadership.

As leaders, it is crucial to do the inner work first, so as to create the outer change we hope to see in our organizations and in our communities. Take time to pause often and slow down; practice self-compassion, spend time in nature, move your body, seek therapy and prioritize your self-care above anything else in your business right now. Really, it is your number one priority in this moment if you want to stay in for the long haul.

Once you have your daily self-care in place, the next step is to evaluate and increase your psychological capital so that you can positively influence the psychological capital of your team and members. What is your psychological capital (PsyCap), you might be wondering?  PsyCap is a term that emerged from research in the fields of positive psychology and organizational psychology to describe a set of resources that contribute to a person’s psychological capacity, leadership and well-being. The four key resources that contribute to your PsychCap are Hope, Resilience, Optimism and Self-Efficacy. Research shows that a leaders psychological capital can influence their entire organization, and in the case of coworking, your leadership can have a profound positive impact on the psychological capital of your team and your members as well as their impact on their team and clients. Therefore, the ripple effect of your conscious leadership can have a transformative effect in your coworking space and in your community. 

A Step You Can Take Today: Take 5-10 minutes to pause and scan through your mind and body. How is your body breathing? What are the sensations, images, thoughts and feelings that you are noticing? Inviting your mind to stay present, in the moment, notice what arises. Just pressing the pause button can do wonders for your mental and emotional capacity as a leader. 

Let’s Talk: Break The Stigma

To begin to increase awareness around mental health, we must simply begin the conversation. Speaking openly about the importance of mental health, using person centered language and modeling vulnerability can help combat the silence that often surrounds mental illness. Entrepreneurs are often fearful that their mental illness will be seen as a weakness. Starting the conversation models understanding and openness and is more likely to invite more candid conversations. Another great place to begin is by sharing information about the prevalence of mental health and the higher risks associated with entrepreneurship. Hosting events that encourage vulnerability and honesty about the fear of failure, anxiety and depression normalizes these experiences for members and can help break the silence. Also posting signage or sharing mental health advocacy and content on your website, social media and in your space can help destigmatize mental health and raise awareness about mental health as a priority. During these challenging times, entrepreneurs, more than ever, need to hear that their mental health matters and that they are not alone. 

A Step You Can Take Today: Check in with your community today and ask, “How is everyone?”. And embrace vulnerability by sharing with them your “pause practice” from the tip above, sharing your discoveries and encouraging them to do the same. Add a validating statement that the majority of people are struggling with mental health and share an article that speaks to the unique challenges that entrepreneurs face when it comes to their psychological health. 

Mental Health Forward: Culture of Well-being

Have you created a “mental health positive” culture? This refers to intentionally centering the health, well being and safety of your community members. A great place to start is by expressing this value in your mission statement. Make your commitment to their mental health a clear value statement and follow it up with actions that demonstrate this value. A few examples of actions are creating a Member Wall (virtual works, too!) which demonstrate a “sense of belonging” for your members with visual aids. Creating a space where people feel a sense of belonging increases their capacity to manage stress. Post other signage in your space or visuals on your website that reflects these values and shares important information about mental health. You can create your own or download a toolkit from Mental Health America. It’s important to understand that a culture that shines a light on connection, mental wellness and it’s member’s well-being sends a strong message of care and inclusivity. 

A Step You Can Take Today: Share a resource list for mental health directories, hotlines, telemental health and local organizations that your members can access or contact if needed. Or start planning a Mental Health Event (ex. panel with therapists, facilitated group conversation around this topic, hire a therapist to present on self-care and mental health tips and tools, and/or online mindfulness or trauma-informed yoga workshop). 

Co-equal: Mental Health Parity

Is your space accessible and welcoming to those living with mental illness, in recovery or going through a mental health challenge? Ensure that your membership policies and agreements support mental health parity, meaning that your expected code of conduct requires sensitivity, respect and accommodations for mental illness on par with physical needs. For example, ensure that you are able to offer mental health accommodations such as ability to bring their emotional support dog, flexible workspace options and quiet zones. If offering insurance plans to members, seek policies that have mental health parity, which provides coverage for both physical and mental illness. Be mindful to create a variety of workspace options that focus not only on the ergonomics of furniture but on mental health needs and nervous system regulation.

A Step You Can Take Today: Educate yourself on what it means to offer mental health accommodations in the workplace. You can find an overview from ADA National Network to help get you started. And, do a nervous system design audit of your space by scanning and walking through the physical space. How is the sound quality? Do you offer low-sensory areas, natural light or low light, plants, views of nature and opportunity for movement or to step into a private quiet area? If not, you can incorporate a few of those options to get you started.

The Time is Now

Never before has mental health awareness, prevention and care been more important than now, in the midst of collective trauma, racial tensions, economic uncertainty, a global pandemic and an underlying sense of a loss of safety.

There are a multitude of ways that you can center the mental health needs of your coworking community or organization, yet my hope is that by taking these 4 key areas into consideration and 4 suggested actions, you can start designing an inclusive mental health culture today. These explicit and implicit messages can send a strong message to your members and prospective members about the importance of their mental health at work and your willingness to prioritize it. And, most importantly, they provide a framework for cultivating the psychological safety of your community today and for the days to come.

And, remember, that you do not have to do this all on your own. If you need support in developing a mental health response, care and recovery plan, I am here to help. Please reach out to schedule a consultation with my mental health consulting company, Conscious Ambition, or if you are a female or femme-identified founder of a coworking business, please join our supportive membership platform, Women Who Cowork, to start connecting with peers and experts from around the globe that are also committed to creating “communities of care”.

Let’s co-create a future of work rooted in inclusivity and emotional and psychological safety for everyone. 

I’d love to connect so please follow me on Twitter, Instagram or visit my website for more mental wellness tips, inspiration and support.

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