It is a whispered secret of the C-suite that depression is rampant among high achievers and those who have “made it.” No one wants to talk about it. My goal here isn’t to provide answers to why this is (I’ll save that for another space), but to provide ways to prevent depression and help those who are struggling with it.
The suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain are only the most recent tragedies of depression. I’ve been shocked at some of the articles and comments I have read in response to the news. People don’t understand the real desperation and isolating feelings that depression imposes on its sufferers. Depression is suffocating. It’s like a parasite has taken hold of you and is sucking the life out of you, subtly and slowly. Many very successful people don’t even realize that they are actually depressed. However, at some point, they usually do realize that they are more easily irritated, can’t focus as well, aren’t sleeping or are overly fatigued.
Burnout and depression are very closely linked. These issues are at the heart of an emerging leadership initiative: Leading Yourself. Leading Yourself changes the way people think about work, time, and success. The old model isn’t working anymore on almost every level of work, from grade school to the corner office. This affects society’s ability to harness true brilliance and create long term economic growth in all sectors.
If you have burnout and/or become depressed you are ineffective. Period. Leaders desperately need to acknowledge the skills needed to stay creative, fresh, healthy, and set an example for others to do the same.
The skills are simple and universal. They can be learned and practiced anytime: before or in the midst of burnout and depression. What most people realize is that they are the keys to unlocking their true brilliance.
Keys to Combating Burnout and Depression:
1) Take time off. Constant work may have gotten you where you are, but it’s not going to keep you there. Just as with other skills you’ve had to adopt as you moved up the career ladder, you have to change the way you work. Your body is not designed to be “on” all the time. You may feel that you can go, go, go, because your body is used to the adrenaline, but your brain and the rest of you are exhausted. Take your vacation. Don’t answer emails or texts on the weekend. There is a reason why God created a Sabbath day.
2) Appreciate the little things. Write down 3 things everyday, before you go to bed. Appreciate your bed, your pillow, the air conditioning, fresh air, things that make you happy to think about. Everyday there is something to appreciate. When we stop to acknowledge all the good things going on, there is a physical response that occurs in the body that literally helps the body change on a chemical level.
3) Claim your next feat. Acknowledge that life is a continuous journey, not a destination, even if you’ve “made it.” The maintenance of being at The Top isn’t nearly as fun as getting there, so set another goal. The task can be as simple as eating dinner at home, or as big as setting up a new non-profit. The point is to have something to pull you through to the next peak.
4) Find peace. High achievers tend to be adrenaline junkies, but as I said in # 1, this can take a toll on your brain, body, and sustainability as a top performer. Finding quiet every day is important to keep creative juices flowing, focus, and effective problem solving.
When you are on the adrenaline roller coaster your body is in survival mode. Growth and creativity cannot exist in survival mode. When that level of survival and intensity goes on for too long, burnout and depression creep in. In order to be a sustainable leader and prevent falling into the trappings of success, do these 4 things every day. I promise you they won’t be a waste of time. They will probably catapult you to new heights.
If you’d like more information or support on sustainable leadership, contact Elyse for a private, confidential, consultation by filling out the form below. Additional resources can be found in links below.