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Mental Health Awareness Month: Six Ways For PR Pros to Balance Work Stressors

By Dr. Kristin Schinella

PR professionals are no strangers to the stress of competing deadlines, fire drills and managing crises. I often hear PR pros recite the mantra, “It’s PR, not ER,” as a reminder to place perspective on their workloads. Easier said than done, especially as PR continues to be placed on the list of the most stressful jobs in the U.S., in the company of teachers and surgeons.

The nature of the job, coupled with what can feel like a tight economy, can feel overwhelming. Balancing these factors can play a critical role in how we live our lives after we’ve logged off for the day. A recent report from PRSA-NY found that 79% of PR pros feel anxious and uncertain about the future. These feelings of stress often announce themselves as a fight-or-flight visceral response: body aches, sweating, or a pronounced heart rate. When these stressors are consistent, they can leave a major long-term impact on your mental health.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s a good time to reflect on the importance of talking more openly about mental health in PR and learning to foster a culture for people to understand and care for their mental health and those around them. A culture that values mental health can promote a sense of belonging within the workplace and help individuals feel more centered and supported.

During the pandemic, Access surveyed its employees to unearth their challenges and found that work-life balance was a pain point for most, similar to the PR industry as a whole. To tackle these struggles proactively, the agency implemented several wellness initiatives, including offering complimentary access to the Calm app and providing individual balance coaching for everyone.

As Access’ Balance and Leadership Coach, I’ve worked with individuals to build action plans specific to their own goals related to work-life balance. In 1:1 coaching sessions, I help work through topics including stress management, setting and understanding boundaries, conflict resolution, problem-solving, anxiety, and getting unstuck. I also work closely with the Access leadership team to make positive changes at the organizational level based on the common themes I see.

Addressing mental health concerns and promoting work-life balance starts from the top down, and at Access, it’s our goal to create a safe, inclusive environment for employees.

Managing Day-to-Day Stressors as a PR Professional

While you can’t always change the demands of the job, it’s important to sit with yourself and think about what you can do to alleviate stressors as they arise in the moment. Here are a few of my tips for managing your mental health during the workday:

  1. Remember that you are part of a team: You can lean on your colleagues when you are feeling overwhelmed, unsure of what to prioritize or when you have too much on your plate. Teammates can be great thought partners in working through prioritization. Ask your team leads to help you juggle projects – they have a bird’s eye view of what’s going on across accounts and may be able to redistribute the work. Sharing your concerns or discussing work-related challenges with others can help alleviate stress. Further, maintaining open and clear communication channels with your team can foster collaboration and reduce misunderstandings that may lead to additional stress.
  2. Leave the Screen: Being glued to your computer can be unproductive. Consider adopting walking meetings where you can. If you have a scheduled meeting where you don’t need to view a document or have face time, opt to phone a colleague while you get outside and walk. Walking meetings can boost productivity and allows you to rest your eyes from a screen while getting exercise and still accomplishing a work task. If you have a week where walking meetings are not possible, look at your schedule and find pockets of at least 15 minutes to stand up, take a brisk walk, hydrate, and check in with a friend or loved ones. Believe it or not, studies show that breaks are a key ingredient to productivity!
  3. Practice self-care by taking breaks in the day and unplugging in the evening and on weekends: It’s essential to take regular breaks to recharge and rejuvenate. Stepping away from your desk, connecting with a colleague or going for a short walk can help clear your mind and reduce stress. Additionally, ensure you get enough rest outside of work. Make time for activities that you enjoy, such as exercise, meditation, or spending time with loved ones. It’s important to get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, and take care of your physical and emotional needs. If you allow yourself to be physically run down, you won’t be able to perform at the level you expect from yourself.
  4. Prioritize and Organize: Start your day by setting clear priorities and organizing your tasks to help you stay focused and alleviate feeling overwhelmed. Make a to-do list and break down larger projects into smaller, manageable tasks. By having a structured plan, you can tackle one task at a time and feel a sense of accomplishment as you complete them. Whether you’re a list maker or maintain a calendar, everyone organizes themselves with their own unique systems. The key is to find what works for you!
  5. Practice Time Management: Effective time management is crucial for managing stress and anxiety. Set realistic deadlines for your deliverables, always keeping in mind what comes easy to you and what takes you longer to work on. Allow more time when you are tackling something new. If you have never written a pitch in the cyber security space, for instance, allow yourself more time to review examples, read articles, and learn. Avoid multitasking – many studies have shown that it actually decreases productivity and significantly slows people down as they try to return to what they were working on. Instead, focus on one task at a time, and if needed, use time-blocking techniques and technology to dedicate uninterrupted time to important projects. Apps such as Freedom help block distractions and can be very useful during times when you need to be completely focused.
  6. Be mindful of others’ time and work “space”: Before pinging or tagging someone on Teams, ask yourself if it’s necessary to include everyone on the alias, or if it would be better as a one-off email. If you are asking for something to be done ASAP, consider the time zone where the person is working. And finally, if you are in a crunch, reach out to your colleague to have a conversation about how to get something done. When you show that you are respecting people’s time by being aware that they might be head’s down, or in another time zone, you’ll get much more cooperation and teamwork.

PR can be a demanding job, but it’s also a rewarding one. Taking the time to prioritize your mental health is necessary to build positive life experiences and achieve personal and professional goals. Likewise, with burnout and stress affecting many Americans today, the PR industry has an opportunity to invest in better balance tools to support employees’ mental health.

CDC Resource: If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org

About Dr. Schinella

Dr. Kristin Schinella is a mother, clinical psychologist, coach, mental health advocate, and a small business and educational strategist. In addition to seeing clients in her private practice, Kristin has worked in the education sector as well as in tech and consumer goods start-ups. She is a Balance Coach specialist and Leadership Coach  at Access Communications.