Years of flux and uncertainty have left people burnt out and disconnected. For Jessica Holmes, coming out of the pandemic is akin to coming out of depression. “Sure, the doors are opening back up,” she said, “but we’re a bit shell-shocked and we’ve gotten used to living a ‘smaller’ life.”
A comedian, mental health advocate, and Bell Let’s Talk Day celebrity Ambassador, Jessica has struggled with both post-partum depression and, as she puts it, “regular, run-of-the-mill, garden-variety depression”. She says it’s more important now than ever to foster a sense of well-being and engagement within our environments.
This is what Jessica is hoping to achieve with her new keynote “Bring on the Joy”. She designed this talk to encourage positive mental health and help people re-engage with their sense of purpose by making tiny, sustainable shifts to their daily routines. These shifts, Jessica says, take us from “I can go back to my old life minus the soft pants and soup-making” to “hey, I can use this second chance to live intentionally!”
We recently spoke with Jessica about her new talk and to learn more about the shifts she’s made to prioritize her mental health. She also shared advice on how we can better support ourselves and those around us post-pandemic, especially in the workplace.
Speakers Spotlight: What do you think is the toughest part about taking the plunge and actually prioritizing our mental health?
Jessica Holmes: The toughest part is finding the energy and motivation to go for it because we tell ourselves “I’m already overwhelmed, I can’t add more to my plate!” But prioritizing mental health is about removing energy-wasting habits as much as it’s about adding new ones.
Imagine you could reduce many of the toxic elements in your life — negative self-talk, trying to be liked by everyone, doomscrolling — and replace a portion of that with small shifts that are proven to re-energize your mental health.
We are all worthy of well-being, so I encourage everyone to take that first step and see the results.
SpSp: Can you share one of your go-to strategies to maintain your mental health?
JH: People are busy, so I never share anything on stage that can’t be accomplished by your average, frazzled team member. While we can’t always change our life circumstances, we can become more resilient by acknowledging that there is a calm, safe place inside each of us that is always accessible. Knowing that space exists can help people accept that difficulties are a part of life, that bad moods come and go, and that there are simple, accessible hacks for feeling safe and well in the present moment even when something isn’t going right. Reframing your thoughts is like training a muscle. The more we acknowledge that calm space, the more resilient we feel.
I like to take the audience through an exercise that reframes their overwhelming thoughts to a more helpful mindset. “It never ends! I’m too busy!” becomes “I complete tasks when I focus on one thing at a time.” And, of course, laughter is a great reframe. On stage, as in life, I turn pet peeves into punchlines and remind people that sometimes laughing it off is a perspective shift away.
SpSp: What shifts can leaders make now to have the biggest impact on fostering fulfillment and happiness at work?
JH: Two factors that boost professional joy are the quality of your workplace relationships and the meaning in your work.
Leaders can strengthen their relationship with staff by exemplifying the acronym A.R.E. — are you Available, Responsive, and Engaged? Each person can define what expressing those qualities look like for themselves, and it has a great trickle-down effect in creating a positive work environment.
Regardless of the job description, when we are able to express our values at work, we are more fulfilled. I invite people to recognize the qualities and values they hold and incorporate them into their life so that their sense of fulfillment goes up. For years, I’ve worn a bracelet with the words “fun” and “kindness” on it. This reminds me to express the qualities I’m proud of whether I’m on stage, sending an email, or playing basketball. (I’m the worst player on my women’s parks and rec team, but I might be the funniest. And, in all honestly, it gives me a real feeling of belonging knowing I add what I can.)
SpSp: How can individuals approach mental health and wellness in an office where it’s not clear how to engage in that conversation?
JH: It’s daunting for management to think being a therapist is suddenly part of the job description. But there are three steps anyone can use when someone opens up about what they’re going through.
- Listen without offering advice or opinion. I’ve never met anyone who says “you know what I need? More unsolicited advice!” But every one of us appreciates feeling heard.
- Validate what’s been shared so that they feel heard and believed (an important factor for anyone with an invisible illness). Use whatever words feel authentic to you in that moment. For me, it’s often along the lines of “That sounds really hard. Thank you for sharing that with me.”
- Ask “is there anything I can do to help?” Offer your support to make their job more flexible while they seek help.
We do not have the power to “fix” people, but when the person struggling feels supported, they can tap into their deepest strength.
SpSp: What are some ways we can build empathy for ourselves in a world where we’re always being asked to do better/more?
JH: Many of us struggle with a fear of failure and, in order to avoid that feeling, we set unattainable goals and don’t reward ourselves for doing our best or getting small wins. When we encourage people to bring their unique qualities to work, we’re reminding them that there is no cookie-cutter version of perfection. There’s just being the best you in a supportive environment. Self-compassion is a shift in attitude from beating ourselves up to accepting ourselves just as we are.
Growing up, when I was hard on myself, my grandpa would tell me, “Jess, you do the best you can with what you know at the time. Then you forgive yourself and move on.” Now, when I’m up there on stage with my pompoms pointing out the funny in our chaotic lives, I’m not trying to keep up with anyone else, I’m expressing the fun and kindness I aspire to.
Life has been challenging to all of us in different ways, and being in survival mode got us through the last few years. We did the best we could with what we knew at the time. Let’s move forward in expressing our values. Let’s shake off the pressure and live intentionally. Let’s bring on the joy.
Beloved comedian Jessica Holmes has brought the house down opening for giants like Ellen DeGeneres, Russell Peters, Jerry Seinfeld, and Oprah Winfrey. She has also performed at Just For Laughs and The Second City, and starred in the hit comedy series, Royal Canadian Air Farce and The Holmes Show.
Jessica’s hilarious take on life’s challenges as well as her unique knack for impersonating celebrities always leaves audiences in stitches. Contact us to learn more and Jessica and how she’s helping to end the stigma around mental health.