Transcript: Be Well: The Value of Self-Care
MS. STEAD SELLERS: We’re delighted to have you.
I wanted to start by asking about the three pandemics we just learned about in the introductory video. How do you prioritize which pandemic to address first?
DR. CHOPRA: They’re all entangled. So, one influences the other. If you’re financially stressed, it’s going to affect your health. If you have a compromised immune system, it’s going to affect your health. So, all three pandemics are entangled. However, if we manage our well-being, then all three are moving in the right direction in terms of mitigation/amelioration.
So, the first thing we need to address is how do we cultivate a joyful, energetic body; a loving compassionate heart; clear mind, reflective, clear, creative; and likeness of being, likeness of spirit. If you have those four intentions and actually, we can manifest those four intentions, all the other crises will also start to go away slowly.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: That sounds incredibly challenging in these difficult times. Can you pinpoint a little bit more how you’d go about putting these things first?
DR. CHOPRA: Yes. So, in the last year or so, I have focused on seven things–seven things–and I’ve shared these with everyone, and they seem to be making a big difference.
One is restful sleep, seven to eight hours of sleep. Lack of sleep is the number one cause of premature death from cardiovascular disease and affects everything, hormones, immune system, et cetera, et cetera. So, sleep is the first immunomodulator. The second is meditation and stress management, but other kinds of stress management, listening to music, maybe dancing, reading poetry, watching funny movies, et cetera, but meditation is the most effective. Meditation is reliable mindfulness practices. The third is mind-body coordination and movement, yoga, tai chi, qigong, whatever, but deep breathing as well. The fourth is emotional resilience and paying attention to relationship through attention, affection, appreciation, and acceptance. The fifth is balancing your biological rhythms. The sixth is nutrition, and the seventh is self-realization of spiritual inquiry.
These are very practical. We’ve done research at our foundation that if you practice these seven pillars of well-being, you will see all the genes in your body in every cell that regulate your biological system, all the genes that are responsible for self-regulation or healing or what we call “homeostasis,” they go up in their activity. All the genes that are responsible for inflammation and compromising the immune system, they go down.
The level of telomerase, which is the enzyme that controls our genetic clock for aging, in our studies went up 40 percent. We did the studies with the Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn. Now everybody is replicating these studies. These pillars of self-being, self-care and -being, actually change genetic activity in the direction of healing.
Only 5 percent of disease-related gene mutations are fully penetrant, which means if you have a gene mutation like, say, the BRCA gene for breast cancer such as Angelina Jolie had, that is a gene that predicts breast cancer. So, she correctly had a mastectomy, but what we are learning now, that only 5 percent or less of these genetic determinants are fully penetrant in that they guarantee the disease. Ninety-five percent of illness is regulated or ameliorated or mitigated by the seven pillars I mentioned.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: You’ve also partnered with Fitbit recently to create a wellness program. How does that work? How do you bring tech in here?
DR. CHOPRA: I’m wearing a Fitbit right now. So, what you can do is if you have a handheld device and a Fitbit, you can instantly check in real time heart rate, heart rate variability, which is the best sign, by the way, of health, well-being, or whether you have stress or not. You can instantly check, if you’re wearing in real time a Fitbit, oxygen saturation, core body temperature, something called “electrodermal activity,” which measures what we call “galvanic skin response,” which measures stress again.
So, in real time, you can actually have a quantification of your stress, and then instantly in real time, you can practice breathing or meditation or mindfulness or some technique for stimulating your vagus nerve, which is all mental and involves breathing and visualization. You can actually change your biometrics instantly.
So, what we are seeing now is a movement for what used to be called “biofeedback” to bioregulation, how you as a conscious being and a body-mind unit can actually trigger the healing response and make it measurable in real time. So, bioregulation is going to be the future in digital medicine. It’s going to be precise. It’s going to be personalized. It’s going to be predictive. It’s going to require your participation. It’s going to be a process, but ultimately, this will be the future with new algorithms that correlate everything from facial microexpressions to tone of voice to body language to whether you’re smiling or whether you’re scowling. All that can be correlated with what’s happening in your heart and your immune system, on and on. So, we are seeing a very different future for well-being, and in part, we have to thank the pandemic because all these creative technologies only emerged recently and came to surface, including Zoom, including the technologies we’re using, including the new vaccines. And the vaccines are only going to get better.
So, the pandemic, even though it’s been a period, I think, of grief across the human landscape, people have found different stages of grief. Some have become very anxious, some very stressed, some angry, some victimized, some helpless, some frustrated, but some have found acceptance, and some have found meaning, and some have found opportunity.
I think, in my case, it’s the future of well-being that is going to be the most precise in technology.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: I’m glad you brought up the pandemic because these accessories are not accessible to everybody, right? And the pandemic has hurt minorities and people on the lower socioeconomic levels far harder than many of the rest of us. So, is this sort of digital future you’re talking about accessible to the people who need it most?
If you go to that site, you’ll find an AI chat bot. Her name is Piwi, named after a singer in Europe who died from suicide, and her sister is actually helping us with democratizing this well-being through the chat bot and through digital technology. And what we can do now is anyone can check in there free of charge, and the chat bot identifies whether you are mentally depressed, challenged, refers you to other people, engages with you. Already have seen some kind of intervention and possibly 500 suicides and millions of conversations going on.
At the same time, we are launching a meditation with Oprah, actually started yesterday, which is free, which is called Unstuck, and it’s all about moving on, finding meaning, getting resilient, and reinventing your life.
So, yes, we need to make everything available to everyone because everyone’s health is interconnected. If other people are healthy, you will be healthy. If you’re healthy, other people will be healthy. We’re all connected.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Dr. Chopra, I took a look at your foundation’s website, and you’re promoting meditation as a means of potentially overcoming the inflammation that’s associated with COVID. Is there scientific evidence to underpin that?
DR. CHOPRA: Yes. So now many published studies show that meditation, deep breathing, mind-body coordination, yoga, emotional resilience, good sleep, nutrition, the things I mentioned, they have an effect on what is called the “vagus nerve,” which counteracts the effects of what we call “sympathetic overdrive,” which causes inflammation, compromises the immune system, increases cortisol levels, increases inflammatory markers.
Vagal stimulation through these mind-body techniques overrides that, and actually, we’ve seen now evidence–and you can find it all over in scientific publications. You just have to google, and you’ll see that vagal tone when it’s increased, it decreases inflammation but also what I call “inflammatory storms,” which happen when people get acutely sick from any illness, including COVID-19.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: So, are you saying meditation is an integral part of hospital treatment for seriously ill COVID patients?
DR. CHOPRA: Well, if you’re seriously ill, you’re on a respirator. It’s not going to make any difference, right? But as a prevention, certainly, and in chronic illness, certainly. In acute inflammatory storms, maybe not, because in acute inflammatory storms, you need more radical interventions, including some of the things that are being done right now, and medication is not going to help somebody on the respirator.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: And one more question about using social media and other forms of the internet. Many people find those things anxiety-inducting and that we feel we need to put our phones down rather than use them more. How do you use social media responsibly in the wellness context?
DR. CHOPRA: You should use it just like you use anything in life. Consciously. So, I divide my day into conscious relationship time, conscious exercise time, conscious eating time, conscious relaxation time, and conscious meditation time and conscious technology time.
So, check your technology maybe every two hours for five minutes or so, and then slowly do it only twice a day. And before you use it, ask yourself, is it going to be useful? Is it making a difference, or is it just aggravating people’s stress?
Technology is neutral. You can give somebody a dopamine hit just by sending them an emoticon. I can increase somebody’s dopamine levels in South Africa by just sending a nice hug and a kiss and say, “I love you. I care about you, and I’m holding your back.” And at the same time, you can be a troll on technology and raise people’s cortisol and adrenalin levels. So, you have to use it responsibly.
But it’s part of our evolution, and we can’t avoid it. And so, either we adapt and use it usefully or we become irrelevant.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Dr. Chopra, I have an audience question that I’d very much like to ask you. It comes from Merlyn Holmes. I’m going to read it. Merlyn Holmes is from Colorado and asks, “Can you speak at all on our resocialization as the pandemic winds down? What will our natural tendencies be? How can we best bring consciousness and intention to group dynamics, et cetera, to actually evolve?”
DR. CHOPRA: This is a very important question, and I think Merlyn for asking it.
As we go back, let’s go back with a little less hubris and a little more humility. Even during the pandemic, we saw that in polluted cities, birds were singing in the morning. You could see the Himalayas from 500 miles away. Fish were returning to dead lakes, and the ecosystem was repairing itself. So now we know that everything is connected: climate change, pandemic, social injustice, economic injustice, war, terrorism, peace. They’re all connected.
So, if we want to go back consciously, more humility, more respect for each other, making conscious choices, and understanding that if we are peaceful, the world will be peaceful. If we are loving, the world will be loving because the world is a projection of our collective consciousness.
If we could have one billion people–I’m saying that theoretically because that’s been my dream all my life–if we could have one billion people moving in the direction of peace, social and economic justice, sustainability, health, and joy, we would see a more peaceful, just, sustainable, healthier, and joyful world, and for that, we need social media. For that, we need everyone’s help.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: One more question from our audience. This one is from Estee Axe. She’s in Connecticut and asks, “What five daily habits are most important, and how do you implement them so that they become second nature?”
DR. CHOPRA: Well, in my case, I start my day with four intentions: joyful energetic body; loving compassionate heart; clear mind; and likeness of spirit of being.
Then I make sure that every action I take actually reinforces that. What five or four practices? Well, good sleep, good nutrition, healthy relationships, and make joy the measure of success, otherwise what good is success?
You know, you’re at the end of your life. You have all the success, all the money. You have net worth but no self-worth, and you have rotten teeth, heart disease, compromised immune system, infirmity. What’s the point? You spend all your life being successful, and then you have to spend all the success you had to recover. So, don’t do that. Make joy the measure of success.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Well, thank you.
I’d like to do something a little unorthodox now and ask you to give us a one-minute guided meditation. Since I have an expert right here, please lead us for a minute.
DR. CHOPRA: Okay. I’ll lead you for a minute. So, don’t mind the time. Close your eyes. Keep your feet firmly planted on the ground. You can also join me, and keep your hands open. Close your eyes, and just observe your breath. Just observing the breath will quiet it down because the breath mirrors the movement of thought, okay? So, as you observe breath, thought also settles.
And now bring your awareness to your heart, then we’ll ask four questions. Don’t try to answer them. Just ask the questions. Your life will move you into the answers.
Question number one: Who am I? Just be aware of any sensations, images, feelings, or thoughts that spontaneously come to you.
Question number two: What is my deepest desire? What do I want? Allowing any sensation, image, feeling, or thought to come to you.
Third question: What is my purpose? What is my calling? Allowing any sensation, image, feeling, or thought to come to you.
Final question: What am I grateful for? Allowing any sensation, image, feeling, or thought to come to you. Gratitude will open the door to you, to your soul.
Okay. Now let go and repeat your full name. I am Deepak Chopra. I am Mary Smith. Just four or five times mentally.
Now repeat your first name. I am Deepak. I am Merlyn. I am John. Four or five times.
And now let go of your name altogether. No name, no form. Just say “I am” mentally. I am. I am.
Now replace that with the mantra Ahum. Now let the mantra go and rest in the presence of your own being. That’s the most important thing. Be present now to experience. That’s it.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Well, thank you, Dr. Chopra. That was very refreshing. I think it’s what we all needed.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: I’m afraid it’s all we have time for, but we were delighted to have you on the show today.
DR. CHOPRA: Thank you. It was a privilege to be with you.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Well, thank you for coming.
I’ll be back in a few minutes with Arianna Huffington and Laurie Santos. I’ll see you soon. Stick with us.
MS. COLLIS: Good afternoon. I’m Kelly Collis.
According to a survey from The Washington Post Insights team and Citrix, the three top behaviors employee adopt to maintain wellness at work are eating well, focusing on one thing at a time, and finding time to recharge. But what else can we do to achieve self-care in our professional life?
I’m delighted to be joined by Donna Kimmel, chief people officer at Citrix, and Dr. Amit Sood, executive director of the Global Center for Resiliency and Well-Being. We’re talking to these two experts about how to find creative ways to reach wellness goals in your personal and professional life.
Dr. Sood, let’s start with you. We understand the science around self-care. We’ve heard that employees may be more effective and creative when incorporating self-care. Why is that?
DR. SOOD: Well, productivity, engagement, effectiveness, they all depend on your most important hardware, which is your brain. So that’s what well-being program and self-care helps.
So, what gets brain going? Brain needs three key ingredients. The first one is oxygen. The second is glucose–that are obvious. The third ingredient is actually RUM, and when I say RUM, I don’t mean wine rum. RUM is an acronym. It stands for rest, uplifting emotions, and motivation–rest that allows you to let go of planning, problem-solving, worrying for a period of time; uplifting emotions that come from connection, novelty, meaning; and motivation, which reminds you of your why. Why am I doing what I am doing? So good well-being programs make people self-aware that their brain needs this RUM, this rest, uplifting emotions, and motivation, and they help people experience this RUM every one to two hours. That’s what our brain is hungry for.
So, well-being is not about just life is happy, everything is good, let’s be grateful. Well-being is empowering your brain, making your brain well-oiled, so that it is able to handle what is, what was, or what might be. That’s how well-being programs help.
MS. COLLIS: Okay. Donna, now to you. Self-care is a highly personal topic. How can companies have a role in promoting self-care?
MS. KIMMEL: You know, I think for so many of us, we focus a lot of our time on caring for others, and we forget about yourselves. And I think there are certainly things that companies can do to help promote self-care.
We can do it through the culture of the organization. We can do it through digital space, and we can do it through physical space. All three of these elements shape employee experience.
And I’ll talk a little bit about each of the three elements. The first one is culture. It really sets the foundation for what’s most important. It doesn’t matter if a company has a gym or has meditation apps for employees if employees feel guilty using them. So, creating a culture that’s supportive of self-care really starts with leaders and managers, giving employees permission, and encouragement to take time for themselves and also to manage their personal boundaries with their work boundaries. We know that that has become a challenge, and they’ve really become blurred.
A couple of examples, little gestures that we as leaders can do, when we get together with our employees, talk first about what’s going on for them. Ask them how they’re doing, a little simple thing. If you know that they’re, for instance, training for a race, you can ask them how that’s going. If we only focus on asking them about their work progress, then we signal that work is the only thing that matters.
Another thing, I think, that’s important for leaders to do to help set the culture is really to model the way, and I’ll confess I’m really not great at taking time for myself yet, though my team members are really good at reminding me. I’ll remind them to take care of themselves, and they remind me back. But, again, I know what difference it makes when you model by saying something like, “Hey, I had this really great idea this morning while I was taking a walk this afternoon” or “I have a doctor’s appointment and I’m going to be offline for a little while.” It gives people permission, and so we really can demonstrate commitment to ourselves and to our employees by not only showing that work is the most important thing. So, culture really sets the tone, and then it’s a lot easier for companies to focus on designing the right digital space or the right physical space that’s going to enable them to be more effective.
So, as an example, digitally, we can provide well-being apps or fitness apps, and while these apps don’t actually sort of force self-care, what it really does is it gives self-awareness, all these little digital nudges to give employees inspiration to start to make change.
And from a physical environment perspective, we can design our offices to put gyms that are really helpful to people walking paths, meditation spaces, or even nap rooms, but again, ultimately, there’s no point for any of those if you haven’t really focused on building a culture that makes it okay.
MS. COLLIS: Okay. We just have a couple minutes left. Dr. Sood, I want to turn it back to you. How can companies measure success when it comes to employees prioritizing self-care?
DR. SOOD: Sure. And I’ll be quick. I’ll start with the boring stuff. Productivity, engagement, health care costs, insurance cost, turnover, those are the obvious, but there’s two interesting ones. One is self-perception of health. For two equally healthy people, those who perceive their health as excellent do much better in terms of morbidity and mortality, and what you can do to enhance self-perception of health is doing something for well-being. And finally, is what I like to call “skipping score.” Do you see your employees skipping from one meeting to another? Are they skipping to work Monday mornings? So how happy and how satisfied your workers are, and that is what can tell you that they are really taking care of themselves.
MS. COLLIS: And, Donna, as we look ahead, what is something people can keep, ditch, and strive to maintain that wellness at work?
MS. KIMMEL: Great, Kelly. I think for people, what they can keep is making sure that we’re checking in on each other. Regardless of our role in the company, it’s important that we support our coworkers and check in on what they’re doing from a self-care perspective.
What I would ditch, I would ditch the mindset that we can’t make time for ourselves and that self-care comes at the expense of company productivity. As you heard Dr. Sood say, productivity is actually really enhanced when we focus and take care of ourselves, finding moments to relax and refocus.
And then I think really to strive for is really striving for self-care in every aspect of that employee experience, looking at the culture of the organization. Once we start with that, then we can really bring in tools that help from a digital perspective as well as a spatial perspective.
When employees do feel supported, as you again heard from Dr. Sood, it is about engagement, motivation, dealing with customers, focus customers, achieving results, truly enabling employees to be at their best, which is all any of us want. And I think in my mind, what is good for people is good for business.
MS. COLLIS: Well, thank you both for sharing your expertise, Dr. Sood and Donna. I’m afraid we’re out of time, but I’ll turn it over to The Washington Post.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Hello, and welcome to Washington Post Live. If you’re just joining us, I’m Frances Stead Sellers, a senior writer with The Washington Post.
It gives me great pleasure now to welcome two thought leaders in the wellness space–Arianna Huffington, who is the founder and CEO of Thrive Global, and Laurie Santos, who is a psychology professor at Yale University. A very warm welcome to you both.
MS. HUFFINGTON: Thank you so much.
MS. SANTOS: Thanks for having us.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Delighted to have you.
Before we start, I’d like to ask you both a little bit about how you are advising friends and family in this time of great mental stress as we go through the pandemic and also whether you’re practicing what you preach.
Maybe you could start, Laurie.
MS. SANTOS: Yeah. I think I’m advising my friends and family members a lot about the power of giving yourself some grace. I feel like one of the worst things about this pandemic isn’t just that we’re going through an incredibly tough time. It’s that we’re also beating ourselves up about going through an incredibly tough time, and I think giving yourself some grace, having a little bit of self-compassion is so powerful right now. We’re not going to be the best employees, spouses, parents. We’re all going through a difficult time.
So, I’ve been kind of telling my friends and family members, reminding them that grace is really important right now, and I’ve been trying to extend that to myself. It’s harder to give yourself grace than it is to give other folks grace, but I’ve been really trying to practice what I preach and do that a little bit for myself. For myself, it means saying no to more meetings than I’d probably like, trying to give myself a little bit of temporal space during the day, and also making sure that things like exercise, yoga, and even time for gratitude, they’re at the forefront. They’re non-negotiables. I just need to build them into my schedule.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Arianna, do you have some similar non-negotiables for yourself?
MS. HUFFINGTON: Definitely. My non-negotiables, first of all, sleep, which is the foundation of our immunity, of stress reduction, and also 60-second breaks during the day to cross-correct from stress.
Everything we do at Thrive, as you know, is broken down into what we call “micro steps,” tiny, incremental steps, and I find that especially during this pandemic year when there is more anxiety, stress, a sense of being overwhelmed, breaking down what we are asking of ourselves into small steps that we call “too small to fail” means that you can actually achieve things around any of the healthier habits we want to adopt.
And, generally, this is a great opportunity to use this crisis with this time of incredible losses and grief as a catalyst for changes that, frankly, we should have done a long time ago. There was a lot that was not working about our pre-pandemic life–I know certainly in my life–far too much breathlessness and unnecessary travel and a lot of things that as we prepare to go back to a post-pandemic world in the next few months, I definitely want to evaluate and change.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Laurie, you have this course that’s incredibly popular at Yale University, the Science of Well-Being, and you’ve recently made it open to the public and free to the public. Could you give us a quick crash course on the course?
MS. SANTOS: Yeah. I mean, the class is all about the misconceptions that we have about what really makes us happy. I think this is a big, big part of the problem. It’s not that we’re not trying to be happy. It’s not that we’re not trying to protect our mental health. It’s that we’re putting in a lot of effort, but we’re doing it wrong.
We think it’s about excelling in our careers, and the next accolade from my Yale students, it’s about the perfect grades. But, in fact, we’re often doing those things at the expense of stuff that really does matter, our sleep, as Arianna mentioned, our social connection, our presence, just even simple healthy habits like exercise and eating well. Often, we’re going after things that we think are going to make us feel good, and in the end, we’re going about it the wrong way.
So, the class really starts with all these misconceptions, the stuff that doesn’t matter for your happiness, and then we walk through a lot of the practices that really work, taking time for social connection, focusing not on yourself but becoming a little bit more other-oriented. We talk about the science of all these healthy practices like sleep and exercise, and then we’d sort of talk with folks about how they can actually turn these things into habits that stick with them, because it’s one thing to know what you’re supposed to do. It’s another to put that into practice.
And just like Arianna, we emphasize baby steps. You can sometimes hear all this work and think, “Oh, my gosh, I have to restructure my life and meditate, gratitude, and exercise more,” but we try to figure out that if you really want these things to stick, you have to do them in small manageable ways too.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: So, I think you launched the course in 2018. How has the pandemic changed your thinking or affirmed your thinking?
MS. SANTOS: Yeah. Well, I think the pandemic, kind of like Arianna was saying, it’s really taught me that some of the problems that we saw before were things that we could actually change around.
I think about, again, how much–just me personally, how much travel I was doing and how my time was so caught up, how little time I had to be present, to be grateful for things that I miss terribly now. If I look back at all the times I walked into my favorite coffee shop and wasn’t jumping with joy, that I could just go and get a latte without wearing mask, I realized how much I was taking for granted.
And I think the course has really taught me that we can form better habits. We can form a society that’s focused on the right things if we know the right things to focus on, and I think that’s why so many folks gravitated towards this class during the pandemic.
We launched the online version of the class before the pandemic, but we had over 3 million people sign up just in the first month of lockdown, which was incredible. And I think it’s because people are really looking for things that they can do to protect their mental health. They know it’s not going well, and they really want strategies that will work.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Arianna, you’ve tackled this issue of mental health really in our professional lives, and you have a partnership, I think, with Walmart Canada. Could you explain that, explain your motivation, getting into this work in the professional space and also what you’ve learned through it?
MS. HUFFINGTON: Yes, Frances, and I must say I so love being here with Laurie, whom I admire so much. She and I just did a podcast, in fact, this week. So, I love having Laurie twice in a week.
But what Laurie has found in her work and what we found at Thrive is really exactly the same, which is that the latest science at the moment validates ancient wisdom about how we can lead healthier and happier lives, and that’s the work we bring into many companies, Walmart across both the U.S., Canada, now Mexico, Chile. It’s a global problem that we’re addressing, the stress and burnout epidemic that predated the pandemic and has been exacerbated because of the pandemic.
And what we are finding now in our work with Walmart, essential sales force, many companies, is that these issues of well-being, mental health, resilience, that used to belong to the HR benefits department are now front and center for the CEO and the board, because employee well-being is tied to productivity, business metrics, and the success of the company.
So, what we are finding is a lot more cultural permission being given, and so that it’s not just enough to offer mental health programs, well-being techniques and tools, if employees don’t feel that they have cultural permission to take time to recharge, to speak up if they are dealing with anxiety or depression.
So, the shift that’s happening now is a cultural transformation and for many companies around the world, which is really one of the silver linings in this pandemic, and indeed, even the SEC came up for the first time with new reporting requirements asking companies to report what they are doing for their employees in terms of attrition, retention, development, et cetera, which is completely new as a requirement coming from the SEC.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: I’d love to dig a little bit deeper into that, Arianna. It sounds wonderful. I’m an employee. It also sounds quite difficult to understand this move from the HR department to the CEO. How does it work? Which companies are doing this really well, and what kind of trends are you seeing in either their hiring practices or in their engagement with their employees? What are the real differences?
MS. HUFFINGTON: Well, if we take Walmart that you mentioned, we’ve developed a way of launching a new program that includes internal marketing and then external marketing. So that way, you really can achieve that cultural transformation.
So, beginning with the CEO and the CHRO participating in even a short webinar that launches our product, that recognizes that all aspects of our lives are interconnected, so our app is not a point solution like meditation, sleep, steps. It’s everything, how you recharge, sleep, and recess during the day, food, movement, gratitude, family, finances, everything interconnected.
And then a key element here is storytelling, inviting everyone from the leadership down to store associates to share their stories. What micro steps are they practicing? What results are they seeing? We are finding that that’s how you get your heart, not just your mind, engaged, and you learn and get motivated from your peers or the leaders of the company.
And then having external opportunities to talk about what you are doing, so that it seemed as something that’s a priority for the company at large, and a lot of other companies are doing that.
At Accenture, for example, their CHRO Ellyn Shook has been writing about how doing our program, she started walking again, because a lot of people, as you know, Frances, had given up at the beginning of the pandemic doing anything for themselves, because they considered it self-indulgent as leaders, that they had to focus on what they had to do for their employees, the company, and now we needed that mindset shift that doing something for yourself, going for a daily walk, for example, or getting enough sleep or having cutoff point when you stop consuming coronavirus news, that’s actually an investment in your leadership and not a luxury.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Laurie, Arianna has just mentioned two things that I wanted to ask you about. One is the science behind sleep, how we know how much we need, whether it varies enormously from person to person, and the other is this notion of altruism. How do we know that helping others helps us? Where is the science there?
MS. SANTOS: Yeah. Well, the science is just so robust, and the way the science works, because it can kind of be a little bit strange to talk about a scientific approach to happiness or well-being–the way the science works is scientists go out and they find people who are happy, who self-report being satisfied with their lives, who self-report a lot of positive emotion, and then they just dig into what they do–
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Right.
MS. SANTOS: –how do these folks spend their time, how do they spend their day, and then they do experiments where they take the not-so-happy folks, make them do these activities, and try to look statistically at whether or not well-being improves, and that we have, like, decades’ worth of work that’s been doing this. And one of the most robust things that comes out of this work is that happiness comes not from self-care or treating yourself in the way we traditionally think about it. Happiness seems to come from being more other-oriented, and pretty much every available survey of happy people suggest that happy people are more social in general. They tend to make these really rich social connections. They prioritize time with friends and family members.
But happiness also comes from doing for others. This is a thing we forget. There’s research from Liz Dunn’s lab at the University of British Columbia showing that spending on other people improves your mood more than spending on yourself. This is something we don’t really realize, but if you look at happy people, they’re statistically giving more money to charity. They’re statistically spending more time on other people. So, this idea of giving to others seems to be a fundamental way we can improve our well-being, even if we don’t realize it.
And the same has been true in sleep. We think sleep is this thing that you do when everything else is done, but the research really suggests it’s integral for our mental health. One study looked at what happens to your mood levels if you drop from seven hours of sleep a night to five hours of sleep, just for a week, and this research showed that your mood levels plummet. You basically look like you have mood levels that look like clinical depression just after a week of deprived sleep, and so I actually think we could solve a lot of the mental health crisis in the country, but especially in our young people, the college students that I work with, if we could just get them some more sleep.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Get them some more sleep, right? I heard a psychologist say exactly that to me that she’d be out of business if people got enough sleep.
One of the things, the strategy you’re both talking about, are they aimed purely at white-collar workers? How do we know that the people who have been hardest hit by this pandemic, many of whom are minorities and from the lower economic echelons, have the opportunities to learn from the strategies and use the strategies you’re talking about?
MS. HUFFINGTON: Oh, that’s such an important question, Frances, and thank you for raising it, because you’re absolutely right that this wellness conversation is sometimes reduced to a kind of bubble baths and trivial kind of self-care Instagram posts. So, though, trust me, nothing wrong with bubble baths.
But this self-care prioritizing is important for everybody. It’s particularly important–actually, the harder your life is, the more challenges you are dealing with, and with all the essential workers we are working with, we are seeing amazing results when you break it down to these micro steps. Instead of New Year resolutions that people tend to break after two weeks and seem daunting and overwhelming, breaking it down like we are working with a lot of front-line workers who have big weight problems. Diabetes is a huge epidemic everywhere in the world, as you know, and particularly in areas where you have food deserts. People don’t have access to healthy food.
So, breaking it down into micro steps, some small food swaps with healthier products, and then building that new muscle of success, feeling better and feeling better about yourself, and then sharing your story and reading stories from your peers is game changing. We’ve had people reverse diabetes, that get off hypertension medication, have real results purely through these behavioral changes, and that’s the power of new habits.
Laurie’s work is amazing here, because she goes back to Plato and Aristotle and the Stoics, and they knew that. They knew that in order to adopt healthier habits, we needed to set up different kind of priorities and environments in an easy say so that we don’t just depend on our will power. That’s important across the board, and as a society right now, prioritizing what’s happening with front-line workers at the company level, at the policy level, but also at the personal level is going to be key.
I just released my new podcast today with Van Jones who talks about how he started prioritizing his self-care because for years he thought this was kind of antithetical to his activists, that he just had to fight for social justice and not worry about himself. And now he sees how when he actually takes care of himself, he’s going to be able to fight for social justice longer and more fiercely.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Yeah. Well, that’s a valuable thing.
We’ve had some audience questions. Laurie, I’d like to start by reading one for you. It comes from Susan Abdelmalek from Texas who asks, “How do you see the narrative around mental health evolving in the workplace? How long do you think it will take before the norm will be for coworkers to speak openly about mental health challenges and/or seeing a therapist?”
And I think Arianna took on some of the first part of this, but maybe you can talk about sort of where we are in this process, how long you do think before people will talk openly about these things.
MS. SANTOS: Yeah. I mean, I really do think that these things are changing. They’re changing at the university level. They’re changing in the workplace, and I think they’re changing for exactly the reason that Arianna mentioned, which is that the people at the top, CEOs, people who care about performance–and hopefully not but maybe less so about people’s mental health–they’re realizing that the bottom line relies on people being mentally healthy.
You need mental health to have productive employees. You need mental health to have employees who are innovating, who are coming up with creative solutions.
We used to think that happiness in mental health came after all the things, you know, you work well and all this stuff, but we’re realizing we have the causal arrow wrong. Our mental health predicts whether or not we’re going to be productive at work. It predicts whether or not we’re going to even show up to work and be healthy enough to do so.
And so, I think because the people are realizing like, wait a minute, the bottom line relies on this stuff, I think it’s really changing the conversation. So, businesses are really thinking about what can we do to promote employee mental health first, and I feel like that means conversations about how we do that well, whether that’s through practices like we’re talking about, whether that’s through clinical therapy and this being okay and not stigmatized. I think the conversation is really changing. I’m actually quite encouraged by it.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Great. And one for you, Arianna. This comes from Rebecca Nissen from South Carolina who asks, “What do you see as the most effective ‘front door’ to improvements in well-being? While I don’t believe in a single ‘magic bullet’ that can solve all things, are there digital solutions or platforms that you recommend to meet those on the full spectrum between ‘looking to improve’ and ‘at the end of my rope’?
MS. HUFFINGTON: That’s a great question, and I go back to micro steps, Rebecca. Actually, we just have a book coming out next week of hundreds of micro steps in all these areas, and you can pick the area that you want to start with, whether it’s sleep, food, gratitude, your family, connection, anything, and start small. Start smaller than you think, and then you build these new habits. You build a success muscle that encourages you to go on.
I just want to mention my absolute favorite micro step that I practice religiously now which is to pick a time at the end of the day that you declare the end of your working day. Start wherever it seems easy, and mark that end by turning off your phone and charging it outside your bedroom.
Now, if you can’t do it every night, do it one night. Start somewhere, and that begins the cycle of separating work from recovery time, which we know from athletes is essential. I mean, Tom Brady spoke about how prioritizing his sleep and disconnecting from technology were essential for winning the Super Bowl at 43. I stress that because sometimes a lot of these micro steps, a lot of these ideas may seem warm and fuzzy, but they are entirely based on science, data, and as Laurie would testify–ancient wisdom.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: It seems now as if we may be emerging from the grip of the coronavirus, and we’ll be adjusting to a new post-pandemic reality. I’d love before we finish for you each to take on the question of what your most important piece of advice would be for people as we adjust to this new reality.
MS. SANTOS: Well, I can start. I mean, I think one of the things I’ve seen is how much we were taking for granted before this pandemic. Again, I mentioned experiencing joy when I went into the coffee shop. That wasn’t my morning routine of just being incredibly grateful that I got to have my morning latte or go grocery shopping or see my mom for a hug without having to worry about her health and things.
I think when we emerge from this crisis, we’re slowly going to be able to start going back to some of these things and going back to our coffee shops, seeing people again, traveling again, and I hope what we’ll bring back with us is just a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude, a sense that this wasn’t a given. We could lose this at any time, and it’s really precious. We need to really appreciate it when we have it.
I think if we all come back from this crisis with a bigger collective sense of gratitude, we’ll all be a lot happier because of it.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Arianna? That’s a great message from you, Laurie. Arianna, what’s your piece of advice?
MS. HUFFINGTON: Frances, I would say that this is a great opportunity to abandon a collective delusion that in order to succeed, we have to burn out in the process. I trace that delusion to the first Industrial Revolution when we started revering machines, and the goal with machines is to minimize downtime. The goal with software is to minimize downtime. We need to recognize that the human operating system is different, that downtime for us is a feature, not a bug, to embrace it, accept it, and then see the results that we are actually happier and more productive when we take time to recharge, which requires unplugging from our ever present technology, phones, social media, et cetera.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Arianna and Laurie, thank you both very much for joining me this afternoon. It was fascinating.
MS. SANTOS: Thanks for having us.
MS. HUFFINGTON: Thank you. Thank you, Frances. Great to be with you, Laurie.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Well, it was great to have you. Unfortunately, that’s all we have time for.
For our audience, thank you for joining us. If you’d like to see more, please log on to washingtonpostlive.com, where you can see upcoming programs, and thank you very much for joining us this afternoon. I’m Frances Stead Sellers.