When Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles, two of the most accomplished figures in their sports, announced they would not compete in prestigious events in 2021 — Osaka in the French Open and Biles in parts of the Tokyo Olympics gymnastics competition — both cited mental health concerns. Each was immediately met with harsh criticism: Biles was called a “quitter” and a “national embarrassment.” Osaka was labeled “narcissistic” and told to “woman up.”
Within days, and upon more sober reflection, the sentiment toward both athletes, including some who leveled the harshest critiques, began to turn. Rather than describing them as weak and selfish, many called their decisions courageous. Speaking for large numbers of their supporters, former tennis star Ai Sugiyama said she hoped their actions would “create an opportunity to talk about athletes’ mental health.”
The conversation was soon picked up by others outside sports. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, authors Alyson Meister and Maude Lavanchy said: “These instances of high-profile athletes prioritizing their mental health, along with organized efforts from the sports industry, have triggered an important shift in the narrative of mental health in sports. They’ve increased awareness of the numerous career dynamics that pose mental health risks to athletes: unsustainable expectations for perfection and constant improvement, enormous public pressure to win, pervasive demand to outwork or outlast an opponent … .”
Conversations about mental health have since proliferated beyond the arenas and into practically every business and industry. Change a few words in the previous paragraph and those HBR authors might have been describing golf course superintendents and other managers. Their stress has manifested in headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression and anxiety. Unpredictable weather conditions, volatile supply chain conditions, labor concerns and growing expectations for superior conditions only add to the stress we layer on ourselves in efforts to perform at our best and please our owners and managers. Those who cope most effectively do so with a disciplined set of actions.
Set realistic expectations. If the bar that establishes performance expectations is continually being raised, stress is inevitable. Start the year with a plan that you and your manager agree is aligned with management’s goals and one that the budget and your team can support. Schedule regular management check-ins to review progress.
Take a walk. Remember the lesson learned from Hardy Weems in “The Legend of Bagger Vance”: get out there in that “green, green grass.” Reconnect to the best parts of your profession and reflect on issues and demands that may be pressing in on you without the normal chatter and distractions of the workplace.
Make a list. One of the most valuable benefits of a peaceful walk is a better organized set of priorities and tasks. You have a head start on a less stressful day if you have a list that clears the air within your mind. Prioritize tasks and be realistic about what can be accomplished in a day, week or month. Overly ambitious lists only add to stress levels.
Act instead of reacting. Responding to unexpected or unforeseen problems is stressful. Put your plan in place and make it the star on which you navigate your work and stress. Knowing what needs to be done is the first step for managing stress. Reviewing your priorities and the critical parts of your responsibilities comes next. Schedule your day to allow time to deal with the day’s surprises and problems and to regain control over unexpected events.
Delegate. Look at your own team and identify which members can best handle certain jobs and the pressure that comes with them. Building a strong team is its own reward. Experienced and dedicated team members will step up if given the chance, reducing your workload and pressure.
Stay healthy. Stress builds on itself. Being properly rested improves focus and clarity of thought, makes for better heart health and improves mental health. Eating right is as basic as feeding your course the right nutrients. It also boosts immunity, increases energy levels and lowers stress-related illnesses.
Managing stress is a courageous first step in improving mental health and performance. Don’t hesitate to adopt behavior that lessens stress and adds to your enjoyment of your job and the people around you.