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  • Writer's pictureFrancis Eijsackers

Mental Health for Leaders

Updated: Jun 11

A few months ago I was experiencing a rather new phenomenon for me...I was temporary without work. Besides the extra time to spend in a way I would like, I sometimes was struggling with negatives thoughts.

  • About myself: 'I am worthless';

  • About others: 'I am a burden to others, they don’t like me';

  • About the situation: 'it will never be okay again' and

  • About my fixed value (God/ the Universe/ Mother Earth etc.): “He has turned away from me.”

It seems natural to occasionally worry about the future—imagining what could go wrong, envisioning chains of negative events. These are all forms of what we call worrying. Interestingly, a certain amount of worrying can actually be healthy. It can enhance performance and motivate action. It's believed that these forms of concern evolved as a constructive form of problem-solving behavior.

In the fascinating article "Why We Worry" from Scientific American Mind, some intriguing facts are highlighted about how our brains work in this area: what is the purpose of worrying? Here are some key points...

Negative Consequences of Worrying

Although worrying can be healthy, it can also backfire and lead to stress and anxiety. When this happens, it often stems from a strong need to control everything. The long-term effects can be negative. Prolonged stress can weaken the immune system, and worrying can cause the sympathetic nervous system to respond less effectively to threats. Additionally, excessive worrying can dull emotional responses.

Vicious Circle

Worrying becomes part of a vicious circle that is hard to escape. This cycle begins with the need for control that underlies worry. These thought patterns about the future show increased brain activity in areas related to planning, reasoning, and impulse control.

The brain also activates the insula and amygdala. The insula becomes more active in response to worry, reinforcing the tendency to worry as people believe they can prevent potential losses. The amygdala, which is crucial for processing negative emotions, triggers our fight-or-flight response. This heightened alertness and anxiety are born, and the sympathetic nervous system is activated, leading to physical sensations of tension and fear.

In turn, the brain notices this physical state, often resulting in attempts to eliminate the anxiety and thoughts. First, you become aware of the unwanted thoughts; second, you unconsciously try to catch yourself thinking those thoughts you want to avoid, making your brain even more sensitive. Unfortunately, this is just more of the same strategy: control. And so, the vicious circle is complete.

Balancing Healthy and Unhealthy Worrying

The line between healthy and unhealthy worrying is not easy to define. A certain amount of worrying seems to enhance performance. Successful people likely score slightly higher on the worry scale. However, excessive worrying leads to decreased functioning.

As a leader you are inclined to always be there for your colleagues (employees). But how can

you listen well if your head is full of negative thoughts? The fact that my negative thoughts could affect my brain, my immune system and my emotional response made me look for solutions, preferably quick fixes.


6 Tips

Tip 1: Visualize Your Dreams

Thinking about negative thoughts is essentially visualizing. This is a powerful technique because seeing something in your mind has almost the same impact on your feelings as actually doing it. Therefore, you can completely change your life by visualizing positive things daily. More positive thoughts lead to even more positive thoughts, creating a positive spiral.

  • I bought a pre-printed diary and regularly wrote down my dreams in great detail.

Tip 2: Practice Meditation

Your thoughts are just thoughts. You have the power to choose which thoughts you engage with and how much they influence you. Meditation teaches you to observe thought patterns from a distance. This allows you to consciously choose to engage with positive thoughts and let go of negative ones.

  • I listened even more attentively to my yoga teacher who, with her loving voice, told us that thoughts come and go and are just like clouds... that you can admire or let pass by.

Tip 3: Breathe More Consciously

Breathing exercises are highly effective for activating your parasympathetic nervous system and breaking through negative thoughts. For centuries, yogis have used breathing techniques to relax their minds and, consequently, their bodies. Yoga exercises are also very effective for achieving complete relaxation.

  • If I got stuck in negative thoughts, I started breathing 'consciously'. Did you know that deep abdominal breathing promotes relaxation through an increase in serotonin? Serotonin is a signaling substance, also called a neurotransmitter. This substance has a calming effect and affects your sense of happiness and sleep patterns.

Tip 4: See Life as a Learning Process

Is your brain programmed to fear mistakes or blunders? If so, you’ll be more prone to critical and negative thoughts. It’s much more beneficial to see life as a learning process, where mistakes are essential for optimal personal development. Aim not to be the smartest, but the one most willing to learn.

  • This was a challenging tip for me. Yet I can look back and tell you exactly what I learned from the situation. In my case, I now know much better what I no longer want, and that is a great starting point for new challenges.

Tip 5: Practice Gratitude

Few things combat negative thoughts as effectively as gratitude. We often take the positive aspects of our lives for granted, even though they are anything but. Take a moment each day to consciously be grateful for what you have, for example, before going to sleep. This way, you’ll fall asleep with a positive feeling and likely wake up in a good mood as well.

  • I my case the pre-printed diary also worked to note my gratitude. Do you know the expression who writes, stays? Your eye-brain connection recognizes words of gratitude and releases Dopamine, a happiness neurotransmitter that is closely involved in, among other things, your pleasure, reward, motivation, concentration and movement.

Tip 6: Create Positive Routines

Just as negative thoughts can reinforce themselves through repetition, the same applies to positive thoughts. Make a habit of the five activities mentioned above and consciously make time for them in your schedule.

  • Now I am a little bit like Julia Roberts in the movie Eat, Pray, Love. I enjoy cooking, I read a lot of books and I have started to love myself more. And I wish you the same so that you can continue to lead not only yourself but also your team wonderfully.


Francis Eijsackers MBA is a guest writer. She is an entrepreneur pur sang and likes to network and connect with people all over the world. She is the CEO of Francis4YourPractice, an organization- and consultancy agency for healthcare.

Francis4YourPractice provides essential support to organizations in the healthcare sector, specializing in interim management, people management, and practice organization. With a mission to work purposefully, results-oriented, loyal, and passionately towards optimizing your organization, Francis4YourPractice strives to bring out the best in you and your team.

Many years of experience in managing over 700 people (275 FTE) ensures that no question about managing people is too crazy for her. Francis is a good discussion partner for questions about leadership, integrity and mental health for leaders.

An important motto of Francis; never stop learning and practice lifelong development.

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