As healthcare is projected to account for a third of new employment in the next decade, we have the opportunity to build health into our society with new models of care and access; address the social determinants of health head-on; and revolutionize chronic disease and mental health.
Accomplishing all of this, however, calls for inclusion of varied viewpoints and lived experiences in problem solving and decision-making. This is how Onboard Health views sustainable health innovation — through the inclusion of change-makers from historically underrepresented backgrounds.
Onboard Health’s blog is dedicated to giving a voice to these talented individuals hard at work creating lasting change in our society. This post, featuring Emily Anhalt is the eleventh of a Q&A series — “How I’m Building” — highlighting members of the diverse Onboard Health community.
Can you explain to us what exactly emotional fitness is and why it’s important?
Emotional fitness is the ongoing, proactive practice of strengthening your mental health. Just as working on your physical fitness provides both immediate and long-term benefits, emotional fitness helps you become more resilient in the face of everyday life challenges, and also prevents bigger issues down the line.
Through extensive research with hundreds of founders, entrepreneurs, and psychologists, I discovered that emotionally fit people exhibit seven traits: self-awareness, empathy, mindfulness, curiosity, playfulness, resilience, and communication. At Coa, we offer therapist-led classes to help strengthen these traits.
You are the Cofounder of Coa, which is pioneering a new approach to help high-growth technology companies invest in their employees. Why is it valuable for companies to invest in the emotional fitness of their employees?
Who we are anywhere is who we are everywhere - which means our mental and emotional health at work is just as important as anywhere else in our lives.
As rates of anxiety, burnout, and resignation continue to climb in the face of the pandemic, employers and employees are looking for new tools that can help them thrive even when the ground is shifting beneath their feet.
It has become increasingly clear that when our mental health isn’t in a good place, we’re not going to do our best work. Healthy employees = healthy returns! In order to show up for our colleagues, company, and customers, we have to prioritize the relationship we have with ourselves and each other.
What led you to pursue this career path?
Growing up in Silicon Valley, I’ve always had an interest in the psychology of the entrepreneur.
In high school, my psychology teacher told me that if you know a lot about psychology, you’ll know a little about everything, because the world is spoken in the language of relationships and psychology is the study of relationships.
In graduate school, I specialized in working with leaders, co-founder pairs, investors, and entrepreneurs. It became clear that the culture of mental health in these high-achieving groups is very reactive; they often wait until they’re experiencing a crisis to seek support. But to me, that is like waiting until you’re diagnosed with early signs of heart disease to do cardio!
I wanted to shift the narrative of mental health from reactive to proactive, and reduce the stigma that often keeps people from working on their emotional lives. In 2019, I cofounded Coa with Alexa Meyer, and the work of supporting leaders took on a whole new meaning as I worked to build a company myself.
What pivots has your work seen during the pandemic?
Before the pandemic, we were planning to open up in-person studios for our emotional fitness classes. Covid really threw a wrench in that plan! While we still have plans to open brick and mortar spaces, in early 2020 we pivoted to focus on building our online emotional fitness studio first.
That shift came with one big silver lining: we were able to launch nationally in a time when people needed our services the most, and have supported people from all walks of life in building their emotional fitness.
Your work often talks about the specific importance of an emotionally fit leader, can you explain why it’s important for leaders (and entrepreneurs) to practice emotional fitness?
I like to think of business as a series of relationships. As a leader, you’re constantly interacting with investors, coworkers, employees, customers, vendors, and other stakeholders. Emotional fitness helps you improve your relationship with yourself and others. There is no better investment in your business and yourself as a leader than improving your ability to maintain these relationships.
Additionally, “Do as I say, not as I do” does not work in a company culture. If a leader is not prioritizing their mental health, no one else will feel like they can either.
As leaders model a commitment to emotional fitness, employees will follow suit, and the entire organization will benefit. Emotionally fit leaders attract and foster emotionally fit employees, who create emotionally fit products, which support emotional fitness in users. There’s a huge ripple effect, and it all starts at the top.
If someone was brand new to practicing emotional fitness, what are some things they could do right now to improve their quality of life?
The first and most important thing is to commit to prioritizing your emotional health - even if it’s just for 15 minutes a day. A lot of people deprioritize their mental health regimen because they worry they don’t have time. But investing in your mental health every day saves a huge amount of time in the long run.
At Coa, we offer 15-minute therapist-led Emotional Push-Ups classes to help people take that first step. In these classes, we tackle topics like “How to handle disagreements,” “Combatting procrastination,” and “Working through Imposter Syndrome.” An emotional pushup is any small emotional exertion that puts you just a little out of your comfort zone. Doing them regularly leads to emotional growth.
A few more examples of emotional pushups include:
- Apologizing for a mistake
- Asking for feedback from a direct report
- Meditating for 5 minutes in the morning
- Celebrating a win
- Pausing before you pour yourself a drink to ask what you might be trying to avoid
- Putting your phone away after 10pm and paying attention to how you feel
Where are you drawing inspiration from lately?
I draw a lot of inspiration from my community. At Coa we say that emotional fitness is an individual journey, but a communal pursuit.
We are communal creatures and we need each other to thrive.
I’m so grateful to have people I can lean on and cheer for as we all work to make positive change in this wild and crazy world.
What is your favorite way to connect with your friends and family?
Eating food and being in nature is my favorite way to connect with myself and others :).
What does Onboard Health’s mission — “building an inclusive health workforce” — mean to you?
I deeply believe that any organization that is trying to create change in the world has to be working to create that change internally as well. A company that wants to improve health in society must also prioritize the health of its workforce.
Diversity, inclusion, and belonging are profoundly key components in a healthy workplace community, and I’m so grateful for all Onboard Health is doing to support companies to prioritize inclusive practices and growth.
Is there anything we didn’t talk about that you would like to discuss with us?
We’re launching a podcast in June called Emotionally Fit with Dr. Emily Anhalt, which delivers short, actionable Emotional Push-Ups to help you build a better practice of mental health. We'll also share surprising, sometimes-funny, sometimes-shocking conversations on Taboo Tuesdays, because being a therapist has taught me that the things we’re most hesitant to talk about are often the most normal. We’re really excited to share insights from an great guest line up, which includes Kevin Love (NBA all-star), Kat Cole (President & COO of Athletic Greens), James Beshara (founder of Tilt & Magic Mind), Lori Gottlieb (author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone), and Alessandra Toresani (Hollywood actress). Keep an eye out, and head to joincoa.com to kickstart your emotional fitness regimen.
Where can the Onboard Health Community connect with you online?
Dr. Emily Anhalt is a psychologist, emotional fitness consultant, and the CoFounder and Chief Clinical Officer of Coa, your gym for mental health. She studied psychology at the University of Michigan and attained Masters and Doctorate degrees in Clinical Psychology in Berkeley, California. For the past thirteen years, Dr. Anhalt has been working clinically with executives, founders, and tech employees, and has conducted extensive research with prominent psychologists and entrepreneurs about how leaders can improve their emotional fitness. Dr. Anhalt has matched more than 600 people into therapy, and has collaborated with some of the fastest-growing technology companies in the world including Google, Asana, TEDx, Github, NASDAQ, Unilever, Bloomberg, and Salesforce.