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Evolve your mental health toolbox

Many people within the agency and marketing sectors are facing a tough time due to the ongoing pandemic. To provide support, the ICA is interviewing a range of people at all levels within the industry who have overcome mental health challenges and built resiliency. The series seeks to remove the stigma around mental health where it exists, and to provide help where it’s needed through relatable stories and strategies. In this interview Jordan Friesen, Principal Consultant at Mindset Mental Health Strategy, talks to Lauren LiBetti, Senior Strategist, Executive Projects, Sid Lee. He set out to discover LiBetti’s story, what she’s faced and learned in terms of mental health, and how she has evolved her resiliency strategies in the face of the pandemic.

Speaking with Lauren LiBetti a powerful story of resilience soon emerges. Yes, she’s faced her own specific mental health challenges in terms of a diagnosis of a general anxiety disorder but her experience also shows how resiliency strategies can really benefit people living through testing times.

LiBetti is open about being an anxious person by nature and talks about how, in the past seven or eight years, she evolved a “toolbox” of strategies that helped her to manage this anxiety: “Journaling has always been my space. When I go to the journal, even if I don’t feel I have anything to say, it includes thoughts I wasn’t even aware I was having, and it’s great to be able to process them. That’s how I can tell the state of my mental health.”

In addition, she finds exercise and meditation useful in taking her out of her anxiety and rooting herself in the moment. Even something as straightforward as washing her hands, a key activity during the pandemic, works for her: “Taking me out of my head and back into my body makes such a difference for me.”

Yet, in the past year, LiBetti found that her toolbox was no longer that effective in managing her anxiety. What happened, and how did she evolve her strategies? “COVID put me in this ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response for an extended period of time and I was struggling,” she admits.

LiBetti explains that her family lives in the US and her father became ill, necessitating travel, which increased her sense of fear and anxiety. What stands out in her response is being open to change, accepting that the things which worked in the past were no longer sufficient. This is a positive approach recognising that, as our bodies and our minds grow, we need new things to keep us healthy.

So what have been the positives, the wins? She says: “A couple of years ago I’d get frustrated with how much I worried about things, why I couldn’t relax and enjoy what’s in front of me. Over the past year I’ve accepted anxiety is part of me and worked out how to harness it to make my life better. I’ve been able to see when being anxious and worrying is warranted, and then find opportunities when it’s best to let it go, personally and professionally.”

COVID also unlocked a past trauma dating back to her early twenties. At the time, LiBetti decided not to address this through therapy because she says she saw it as admitting to a weakness, and didn’t think it would bring value. The experience also triggered her “fight, flight or freeze” mode for a time. This past year, in an effort to evolve her resiliency toolkit, LiBetti opted for therapy: “I decided to speak to a therapist and worked on processing the trauma and it’s been the best decision I’ve made.”

The key takeaways in the past year for LiBetti are, number one, learning that worry for the sake of worry isn’t helpful unless you can turn it into a positive action. To do your best or to let it go. And, number two, develop the understanding that other people, friends and family, are resilient too, and the chances are they’ll find their own way through it without the need for constant anxiety on her part. After all, if you’re serving others all the time, who is helping you?

With this in mind, thinking about people across the advertising and media industry who may be struggling to bounce back from what’s happened in the past year, does she have any advice or encouragement? “Start small. I’d encourage people to the best of their ability to shut things down. Even if it’s just for an evening, actually turn off the notifications, the social media, and the music, and just sit with yourself or go for a walk. Start there and see what comes up. If you give yourself space to slow down, listen to your body and your mind, it will talk to you and tell you things you had an inkling were going on and then you have an idea of how to move forward.”

Making space both for your body and your brain to tell you what they need seems like a great way forward after such an intense and traumatic year.

Jordan Friesen is a registered Occupational Therapist and Principal Consultant at Mindset Mental Health Strategy. He uses his skills as a consultant to assist organizations who want to take progressive action to support the mental health of their workforce as a competitive advantage and business imperative for the future of work.

Sid Lee is a member of the Institute of Communication Agencies. Report on Marketing is where leading Canadian agencies showcase their insights, cutting-edge research and client successes. The Report on Marketing provides a valuable source of thought leadership for Canadian marketers to draw inspiration from. Find more articles like this at the Report on Marketing.

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