As most of us realize by now, addiction, being a brain disorder of re-wired neural connections which predispose to “addictive behavior”, is a mental health issue. As a mental health disorder/issue, it is interwoven with our underlying mental state or health whether or not we have (or think we don’t have) other documented mental health maladies or diagnoses.
Here’s a blog(re)post from the folks at Grammarly, whose employees are just like us. They present some helpful tips on how to safeguard our mental health in these challenging times.
How Grammarly Team Members Look After Their Mental Health
Good mental health is not one-size-fits-all—every person needs to approach the subject in their own way and find the methods that work for them. Right now, when life around the world has been dramatically altered due to the pandemic, these methods seem even more crucial to consider closely.
As Mental Health Awareness Month draws to a close, we thought we’d speak to a few Grammarly team members about their own views and practices. What do they do to make sure they are supporting their own mental wellness?
Defining mental health for themselves
Members of the Grammarly team come from many different backgrounds and have had a diverse set of experiences—so it’s only fitting each person we spoke to should offer a unique personal definition of mental health.
Finding a balance
“Mental health means finding the right balance in life and staying calm even when dealing with obstacles,” says Katia Chystiakova, a member of our Communications team.
Jessica Mordo, who works on our Content Marketing team, also seeks “equanimity in the face of challenges.” She points to a particular difficulty in achieving that needed balance: “Stress might express itself physically rather than emotionally or mentally (feelings can be sneaky!), so it’s about noticing the signals and taking a time-out to alleviate them.”
Inner peace, individually
For Christina Khrapach, a member of our Support team, mental health requires an “inner sense of calm, first and foremost.” It’s important, too, that this calm is truly felt and not just projected outwardly: “Some people may feel extremely stressed out and do not show it, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate good mental health.”
Alignment is also important to Iaroslav Karkunov, an engineer on our Core Language team. Mental health “feels like integrity,” he says. It requires you “to be in sync with your body and the world around you.”
Self-care in order to care for others
For Laura Rue, who oversees Grammarly’s internal communications, a major aspect of good mental health is “respecting my needs and boundaries so I can give to others.” For her work, which is often deeply interpersonal, creating healthy boundaries helps her “hold non-judgmental space to explore and work through challenging emotions.”
Denys Kulyk, a product manager, also likes to be sure that he is at his interactive best. He believes that when his “mental clarity” is low, he is “hesitant to move forward” and fears missing out on essential details. But having better mental wellness means feeling more like himself: “personally more engaged and proactive.”
Maintaining a practice that works
From definitions flow action: the tactics that will help one find balance and practice self-care. There are untold resources and methods to achieve this—here are some that Grammarly team members find useful for themselves.
Mindfulness and meditation
“When you wash the cup, think about the cup.” That’s advice Liza Skryabina received from her therapist for concentrating on the present moment. “What do you like about it? How do you feel?” Liza, who coordinates events for our Kyiv office, also likes an exercise that asks her to look at a lamp, jacket, or other object and then appreciate at least three characteristics—shape, color, material, or anything else. “This helps me find beauty in small details,” she says.
Iaroslav meditates, too. He first created his own mediation practice from instinct while stressed out at his first job. Since then he has studied various methods and now meditates every day. He likes to start with body-scan meditation, then tries to remember something “lovely or warm” and concentrate at the feeling it induces. When something distracts—noise, itching, pain, thoughts, emotions—he tries to relax it mentally and return to the warm feeling.
Seeking counsel and support
Beyond meditation, Iaroslav also values psychotherapy, which he thinks of as an “exercise for reflection.” Consulting with someone else took some getting used to. “I thought that I could do everything by myself,” he admits. “But now I believe that is not true. Other people can show you something about yourself that you’ve been ignorant about for a long time.”
The value of a good support system is something Julie Long, who works on our Lifecycle Marketing team, believes in strongly. “In a world where mental health isn’t understood or a transparent subject,” she says, “it’s been really important to have confidantes who can truly empathize with my experience.”
Her inner circle helped her explore various tactics to lessen her anxiety. She tried meditation, yoga, changing her diet, massage, and cross-country running—but didn’t find relief. “For me, these modalities alone won’t keep me well,” she says. “Connecting with the right doctor and receiving medication has been a game-changer for my quality of life. I have no shame in sharing that and believe it’s important we destigmatize treatment.”
Getting some device-free space
Denys appreciates the advice he has learned from the classic self-care book Managing Your Mind, by Tony Hope, Gillian Butler, and Nick Grey. He has taken many useful practices from it, including finding healthy distance from a screen. “As with many people who work with technology,” he says, “I find it necessary to have an analog hobby, such as cooking, drawing, or putting together puzzles.”
In a similar spirit, Jessica likes walking meditations to clear her mind after being still all day. “I take a walk around the block (leaving the phone behind is important) and tune into my movements and the sensations I experience internally and externally,” she says. “Lately I’ve been delighting in hearing all the birdsong in my urban neighborhood on these walks; it’s extremely soothing and uplifting.”
In less socially distant times, Christina liked to focus her energy into physical activity. “After all,” she says, “being an office worker does take its toll at some point.” She started doing TRX training (a form of suspension training) and then progressed to lifting weights. “Persistent feelings of anxiety, anger, and irritation” all “dissipate after my workout sessions.”
But without access to a gym during the pandemic, she is finding new ways to apply her energy: by revisiting favorite philosophy books from her student days and recording podcasts. “Focusing on that has helped me route my thoughts to something other than my worries, and that positive distraction has been a tremendous help,” she says.
Making goals and allowing for change
While everyone has their own methods for managing mental health, there is something each person shares: the understanding that things change. All team members expressed the need to appreciate how mental wellness needs to be considered moment by moment, day by day.
These things take time
“I remember having my first panic attack during the summer before freshman year of high school,” Julie says. “Since then, managing my anxiety disorder has become a prominent part of my daily life, and I know it’ll continue to be a lifelong, evolving journey.” This evolution is a natural part of the process, Laura believes: “Over time, you learn what truly supports your well-being and what doesn’t.”
Figuring out what works often takes the form of developing new habits—a process Denys enjoys. “I don’t feel like I even have to practice them for too long before I see some major change,” he says.
For Christina, however, creating healthy new habits requires clearing away old ones that have stopped working. When she felt sad or anxious in the past, she would listen to music and let herself “succumb to the feelings I was feeling to let them take over and pass.” But when that started making her feel worse instead of better, she realized that she needed to be more proactive. “I think that I benefit more from pushing myself,” she says.
Forming habits is also important for Michelle Geng, who works in business operations—but so is keeping these habits manageable. Trying to do too much can be counterproductive, creating additional stress. “I’m okay if I don’t do all of it every week,” she says, “as long as I have the intention to do the most that I can.”
Learning to appreciate this moment
Liza likes to affirm that finding a healthy balance for one’s mental health isn’t something to put off for tomorrow. “I am someone who tends to think that true happiness will come later, after some of my goals and dreams are realized,” she says. “But the reality is different. If you cannot enjoy your life right now, you won’t enjoy it in the future either.”
That’s not to say all Grammarly team members know exactly what is most effective for them. Developing new attitudes takes work and time, according to Katia. “I’m still in the learning phase,” she admits.
So what does she do while still figuring out what works for her? She tries to pay attention to herself. “Sometimes, the rhythm of life and work makes you forget that you are not a robot,” she says. “You need a break, or to change what you’re doing.”
And if you can create some space for yourself every once in a while, Katia believes, you might find something surprising about what was concerning you: “Maybe it was not worth your worries at all.”