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The Baseline Tool for Mental Health

A conversation with Walmart Canada’s chief people & corporate affairs officer prompted me to think through the habits that promote my own wellness

Nabeela Ixtabalan and Shaun Francis

At left, Nabeela Ixtabalan, executive vice president of people and corporate affairs for Walmart Canada. At right, Shaun Francis, Medcan chair and chief executive officer.

What are the behaviours you need to embrace every week to ensure that you’re taking care of yourself? That’s the question that I’ve been considering ever since I interviewed Nabeela Ixtabalan–Walmart Canada’s inspiring and dynamic executive vice president of people and corporate affairs—for the Medcan weekly podcast, Eat Move Think. Even as I pressed that red “end call” button for our socially distanced video call, I started thinking differently about wellness—on many different levels.

First, Ixtabalan is leading an effort at Walmart Canada to redefine the way a corporation cares for the wellness of its employees. That’s important because Walmart Canada is among the nation’s largest employers, with 90,000 associates. Walmart has provided virtual health care and support to that workforce throughout the pandemic. They’ve also launched an app to encourage their employees to take small steps to improve their health and wellness, by improving their diets, physical activity and sleep patterns. The COVID-19 crisis contributed to these changes—but the corporation’s duty to care for its employees will persist long after the pandemic’s end.

Second, Ixtablan has a positive relationship with work. The inspiring executive is a self-professed “recovering workaholic.” A first-generation American, she’s the daughter of immigrant parents from Lebanon. Growing up in Houston, she finished high school in three years while working as a Starbucks barista. In her early and mid-20s, Starbucks promoted her through the ranks, from store manager to district manager to talent acquisitions manager. At the same time, Ixtabalan completed her undergraduate degree from Indiana University. After the birth of her first child, she continued to work full-time while simultaneously studying toward a graduate degree in organizational behaviour from the University of Texas—and that’s when she began to have debilitating panic attacks.

Professional counselling and a lot of self-exploration helped her confront her workaholism. Over time she developed a tool to help promote balance between work and self-care. Ixtabalan shared it with us during our interview. She calls it her baseline, and it includes elements like daily prayer, working out three times a week and eating regular, healthy meals. (Find Ixtabalan’s baseline listed here, and check out this article where she describes the thinking behind it.)

Inspired by Ixtabalan, I started thinking about my own baseline. It’s a question that’s particularly relevant in our unusual circumstances. I approached the question independent of the pandemic. Regardless of what’s open or closed, regardless of who we’re supposed to be seeing, I thought, What are the things that I need to do to secure my mental wellness, to ensure that I’m taking care of myself? Here’s the result:

My Baseline

  1. Exercise every day, so that every week I am doing something to build my aerobic fitness, my strength and my flexibility. A challenge during the pandemic, but virtual workouts help.
  2. Training rides outside on my bicycle two times a week. Since a bad fall in summer 2020 I’ve only recently returned to the saddle. When the weather makes outside riding impossible, I hop on the Peloton.
  3. Daily check-ins with my family, which is tricky since we’re so geographically separated. Each of my three sons attends school in a different part of the world—but we get the job done with phone calls, videoconferences and posts to the family chat group.
  4. Time for reading. I try to spend at least 30 minutes with my nose in a book, usually immediately before bed.
  5. Time away from technology. At least 30 minutes a day away from the constant pings and buzzing of the smartphone.
  6. Time outside, at least 30 minutes a day. Typically by taking a call and walking while I’m doing it.
  7. Sleep seven hours a night, five times a week at least.
  8. Avoid skipping meals because of work. Ensure I’m well fuelled throughout the day to maintain good energy levels and mood.

What is your baseline? What are the behaviours that you need to do to stay mentally well? I recommend that everyone attempt this thought experiment. Ideally, you’ll come up with a list, write it out and post it somewhere that you’re likely to see it every day—like the back of a closet door, or on the fridge. Care to share your baseline with us?

Send us a message on one of our social media feeds, on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn. We’d love to hear from you.

Shaun Francis is the chairman and CEO of Medcan. Seeking help to devise your own ideal baseline? Medcan’s Annual Health Assessment is a great starting point.

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