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PTSD in Leaders Is Rising -- Here's What We Can Do About It

The pandemic and its aftermath have brought trauma to us all, and leaders are no exception. In a time when leaders are experiencing even more stressors than usual, acknowledging their mental wellbeing and doing our part to help them is crucial.

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Whether we would like to admit it or not, every single person on our planet is experiencing some form of trauma brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. How it shows up in some is virtually unnoticeable, while others are being pushed to the edge, with some falling off. Everyone is experiencing some sort of stress, and companies are starting to see energy levels and engagement drop among employees. 

The leaders of companies are no different. Leading people already comes with a hefty amount of responsibility, and now it includes caring for the health and safety of others at a level unimagined. The challenge for leaders is figuring out how to continue to be resilient while personally dealing with trauma. It’s an issue that hasn't been fully addressed. This is when we need leaders and employees who are not only more empathetic but also more in tune to the issues of mental health and wellness.

Leaders typically encourage their team members to take advantage of health and wellness initiatives but very rarely take it upon themselves to do the same, which is a bit concerning considering the tremendous amount of pressure these positions entail. Not only do leaders take on the onus of the organization in terms of shepherding growth and profitability, but they also have to ensure that everyone on their team is performing. Those stressors make acknowledgment of leaders’ mental health all the more critical.

Right now, it's not just about driving growth, revenue or profitability. Leaders are experiencing burnout and need to take care of themselves to continue being resilient and put forth the vision that will drive the company forward.

So, what should you expect, and how should you respond to signs of stress among your leaders?

Related: To Prevent Workplace Burnout, Ask These 3 Questions

1. Emotions will run high

It goes without saying that too much stress eventually leads to general fatigue, which makes it harder to think clearly and take decisive action and can even lead to moodiness. In a time when everything is incredibly uncertain and unpredictable, a leader still has to be able to make clear and actionable decisions. That’s the biggest challenge right now, because the reality is that’s not happening in a lot of organizations. Be on the lookout for leaders who are overly zealous and not being thoughtful of the circumstances they find themselves in. These are trying times we’re living through. We need to stop pretending it’s just business as usual.

Related: The Secret Cause of Burnout and How Entrepreneurs Can Avoid It

2. Mistakes will happen

There’s an important human component to acknowledge here. Despite what many people may think, leaders are not superheroes who are immune to PTSD — they’re humans, too, and it affects them just as it does anyone else. The pandemic has dropped us in unchartered territory. Leaders are going to make mistakes, and they’re going to need understanding and empathy to successfully navigate during these difficult times. There is no playbook for this. We need to be supportive of leaders and allow them to rebound from their mistakes. Yes, we can provide feedback and input, but we also need to give them the grace to course correct. Agility is critical and should be welcomed with open arms.

3. Time off must be encouraged

It’s so easy to get caught up in work, but putting off self-care doesn’t do anyone any good. We all need to get away and disconnect every now and then to relax and take care of our mental health. There are countless studies that show how important this is for boosting creativity and maintaining productivity. Corporate boards and peers in senior leadership should advocate, support and model the behaviors of self-care to support a company’s goals. Encourage your leaders to break up their day, exercise, eat well and take time off to fully disconnect. If someone is working an excessive number of hours, encourage them to take a step back. Stepping away from the office and taking some PTO is incumbent for leaders, as it will give them time to reset and renew their energy. The goal is to return to work feeling refreshed and ready to get down to business.

Related: Vacation Tips From a Workaholic

Remember to be supportive

The pandemic has lasted a long time and left many of us dealing with some sort of PTSD. Between the challenges of working from home and navigating this strange new world, it’s safe to say we’re nearing the limit on just how much we can take mentally, emotionally and even physically. No one is immune to the toll of the pandemic, not even leaders. That’s why it’s so important that companies show support and really encourage self-care throughout the organization. Throw performance measures as we know them out the door for now — they don’t apply in these situations. If you’re going to rate your leaders, focus on how well they’ve kept the ship afloat with the crew intact and understand that a toll has been taken. Right now, it’s about care and compassion.

We hear it every time we fly on an airplane: “In the event of a change in cabin pressure, put your mask on first before assisting others.” We need to allow our leaders to pause for a second and take that advice.

Sharon Harris

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Sharon Harris is CMO of Jellyfish, working closely with global brands and their millions of customers worldwide to create the perfect digital partnerships. Over the last 10 years, she has operated at the executive level to help brands develop relationships and embrace digital transformation.