Community Spotlight: Mental health

Your stories have power. They bring ideas to life and can shape how others see the world, and here at Hearts, we use stories to build community.

This is the second post in our Community Spotlight Series, where we feature Hearts who identify with a group and have important conversations about how we can support one another.

Throughout the series, we will work closely with these individuals to create an experience where they can share their culture with fellow Hearts. We’ll hear directly from them about their lives, the safe spaces they’ve created to live their truth and how we can be better allies.

And then we listen.

Because more than ever, stories that celebrate our differences need to be heard.

A widespread battle

COVID-19 has been a difficult time for many living with mental illness. The isolation, loss of routine and anxiety over the unknown have left many feeling uncertain of the future.

And Sarah Polli, director of martech at Hearts & Science, wanted to help.

As an advocate for those with mental illness, she wanted to share some of her own coping mechanisms with other Hearts and open up a dialogue around the issue. To that end, she worked with the Engagement Team at Hearts & Science to plan and execute a companywide meditation event.

They hosted two 30-minute sessions in different time zones across the United States, and all Hearts were invited to participate. With no right or wrong way to meditate, this experience allowed everyone to pause in the middle of their day and take a moment to check in with themselves.

You can take a moment now, too. The outside world can wait.

Safe spaces to share

How Sarah’s surprise diagnosis became a turning point

Growing up in North Carolina, Sarah Polli developed a love of traveling and the outdoors. But after she moved to NYC, she had an unexpected breakdown that led to a diagnosis of anxiety.

As a strong, independent, successful woman, this came as a surprise. Her anxiety appears on the inside, even if she looks put together on the outside.

Through therapy and self-exploration, Sarah now openly shares about her anxiety to inspire others who may be battling silently inside. She advocates,

“It’s important to remember that health is health. Whether it’s emotional, mental or physical, it’s all the same because our bodies are all connected. We all struggle in different ways, so we need to have compassionate empathy.”

Whenever Sarah is having a particularly difficult day, her couch at home has always been a safe space for her. It’s where she learned to manage her anxiety and talk through things with close friends, family or a dating partner.

And maybe where she dips into Netflix, too. We all have those days.

Sarah’s pro tip: “Here are ways that I support myself during extended work from home. I hope one of these sparks an idea that will help you!”

  • Try to get up around the same time each workday, shower, and put on fresh clothes.
  • Stick to “work” hours so it’s not consuming. When I’m done for the day, I put my laptop away.
  • Meditate a few times a week. I block time out in my calendar for meditation; mental health is a top priority right now.
  • Limit consumption of news. I listen to my morning podcasts (like Up First by NPR and The Daily by The New York Times) and then read the latest updates at night.
  • Move my body! It’s been tough not having the gym, so I’ve had to release the pressure I put on myself to be active. Some days, a walk is what my body needs. When I need some motivation and to feel fierce, I do a weight workout.

How Kevin finds balance on his bicycle

Kevin Boyle has always been an avid participant in long-distance sports. And now that he’s in Los Angeles with his wife and three wonderful daughters, he still makes time for long-distance runs, bike rides and swims (COVID-19 permitting).

Challenges as a teenager quickly taught him that outdoor activities like cross-country skiing were critical for him to diffuse and find peace. Now he hits the road to cycle and run.

But no matter the sport, the connection with physical activity helps him find balance.

He reflects,

“There’s something about the need while you’re riding a bike to keep your balance, pedal and maintain a forward motion that forces me to release stress because I have to focus on something else.

It gives a Zen-like experience through motion.”

So regardless of how his week has been, going for a bike ride or run has always been a safe space for him. And when he can beat the traffic, a sunrise bike ride along the ocean is a great start to the day.

“Sometimes I get frustrated. We all do. We live in a fast-paced world. The business we’re in is fun and it’s demanding, but at some point I need to diffuse. We all do.”

Kevin’s pro tip: The truth is, everybody is going through something.

“The biggest thing is to raise your hand and be willing to say, ‘I need a break’ or ‘I need to go for a walk.’

And if people didn’t know that before COVID, more people will understand now.”

He continues, “I think we’ve got a really healthy vibe inside the agency. From the top down, everyone is people first and I get the sense that people truly care about each other—you just have to raise your hand.”

How Dana finds moments of peace amidst a pandemic

Dana Basile has experienced anxiety for as long as she can remember. When one of her friends passed away at a young age, the negative effects of anxiety compounded until it was too overwhelming to even drive.

Too difficult to breathe.

In time, she discovered a love of traveling. It allowed her to get away and experience something new and manage her symptoms. Diving into a new book or creating music were other avenues to cope.

Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 lockdown, there have been fewer places to escape to. Out of necessity, she has learned important lessons about how to adjust.

Thankfully, she and her husband recently moved into a new apartment building during the pandemic.

And this apartment had something special.

Now her favorite safe space is out on her patio, decompressing with a book. “We just crave fresh air. There’s a new appreciation for sitting in front of a window and breathing in fresh air.

We’re learning to appreciate things we never appreciated before.”

She reflects, “In some ways, there has been a positive side to [COVID-19]. We’re connecting more with people. We can’t do things the same way we used to, so the reach for deeper connectivity has improved a lot of relationships.”

Dana’s pro tip: “I’m an optimist at heart, so I’ve taken this time to create some sustainable, good habits that I can carry through into the new normal.”

“Take this time to reflect on any good changes or priority realignment that has happened during COVID and commit to keeping it around. Don’t beat yourself up about not getting to everything, but try to make the most of it when you can, at your own pace.”

Work should be a safe space too

As a company, Hearts & Science is proud to support its employees with engaged, people-first HR and comprehensive benefits, including an increase in the Employee Assistance Program benefits.

Here’s what else they have in the works:

  1. Commit to using inclusive language. As a company, Hearts & Science is committed to making everyone feel safe, right down to the words that are used. They are currently auditing their communications so that they never use words, even casually, that might alienate or diminish another.
  2. Inclusive management training. Hearts & Science has long made an effort to hire people who are dedicated to inclusivity across their company. Now they are taking another step forward and intentionally train management to facilitate inclusivity around them.

You know someone who struggles with mental health, whether you’re aware of it or not. Here are some important things you can do to be a better support to your friends and colleagues now.

  1. Connect with the people around you. Sarah Polli suggests, “When people ask how it’s going, we have automatic responses—particularly at work. But I always try to have some basic connection, something that reminds us that we’re just two people. Someone may be your manager, but they’re also a human.”
  2. The biggest part of connection is listening. When someone opens up to you about anything they’re struggling with in life, take the time to really listen. Kevin shares, “It’s cliché, but you have to listen. And when you listen, don’t try to solve the other person’s problem. Often all they need is a listening ear that’s not going to judge or put a Band-Aid on it with a quick answer.”
  3. Get a hug. Kevin continues, “You’re not just living in your own head. Get a hug—it goes miles. Simply know there’s another human being out there who at least appreciates and loves you for who you are.”
  4. Be aware. Dana counsels, “There are a lot of people that come to work with a smile but you don’t recognize the burdens in their heart. Be an active listener and be there for them, pick up a treat, or write them a kind note if they seem off. And most importantly, hear what’s not being said.”

Christofer Peterson, senior director of talent & engagement, shares,

“When our employees talk to their loved ones, I hope they say, ‘The best part of working at Hearts & Science is that I got to be myself. That I’m a proud card-carrying member of this community and I was a pivotal part of celebrating my personal identity here.’”

Mental health is something a lot of people struggle with, but they shouldn’t have to do it alone. Take this blog post and share it with a friend!

Give them space to share their experiences and be a safe space for others.