The two-day virtual event featured inspiring keynote presentations on how to successfully lead through crisis and how to prioritize your mental health through stress management and better sleep.

Brent Gleeson: How to lead in times of crisis

The global pandemic has changed life as we once knew it, leaving individuals, families, and organizations grappling with how to adjust to the new normal. “We’re all faced with new challenges, new obstacles, and new adversities that some of us have never experiences in our lifetime,” said former Navy SEAL Brent Gleeson, who kicked off RISE West earlier this month.

We’re in the midst of a crisis that calls for the ability to lead, adapt, and collaborate, explained Gleeson, who left a career in finance to join the U.S. Navy in 2000. It was a decision that taught him early on to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, and to be all in, all the time, he said.

Of the 250 students who started the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training, only 23 graduated, Gleeson being one of them. It was grueling both physically and mentally, he explained. And despite the fractured elbow, severe bursitis, joint injuries in both legs, and a flesh-eating bacteria on his calf, it was the mindset transformation that impacted him most. “That necessary passion, persistence, the grit, and resilience required for any person in any environment required to successfully lead in crisis, to navigate change and adversity. Not just navigate it but lean into it, embrace it, accept your reality.”

The life lessons acquired as a Navy SEAL go beyond the battlefield and can be applied to any team or organization, noted Gleeson. “All high-performance teams have similar, if not the same, attributes,” he said. Some of these key attributes include:

  • Clear and concise mission narrative
  • Highly engaged team members
  • Resilient mindset
  • Navigate change and adversity
  • High level of engagement
  • Leaders at every level

But without a solid foundation, these attributes are not nearly as effective. “The most important foundation of any high performing organization, especially during times of crisis, is to build, manage, and protect a winning culture,” he said. “The culture of an organization, for better or worse, drive the outcome.”

Shifting the culture of an organization in times of crisis often requires rethinking and reinventing the belief system of an organization through three questions:

  • What are our core values?
  • What are our principles?
  • What rituals do we have that work or don’t work and what new ones should we create?

“There are no easy days when leading through crisis. There are no easy days for individuals and organizations pursuing an existence of excellence. Our work, our lives are full of challenges, as we all know. We simply have to face those challenges head on, controlling what we can and ignoring what we can’t,” he said. “I ask that you to be all in, all the time.”

Dr. Marc Milstein: Tools for stress management and better sleep

COVID-19 has taken a significant toll on mental health across the country. Uncertainty has emerged since the onset of the pandemic and left many stressed, isolated, and restless, all of which are detrimental to our brain health. But there are simple, actionable steps we can take to keep our brains healthy and young during the pandemic and beyond, according to Marc Milstein, Ph.D., who is a scientist and researcher on health and happiness.

Many factors contribute to brain health, explained Milstein. In fact, one-third of all dementia is preventable, he noted. There are currently 47 million people with dementia worldwide, and the number is predicted to reach 115 million by 2050.

So how do we tend to our brain health, especially amid a global pandemic? Here’s what Milstein said are the best things you can do for your brain:

Sleep: Quality sleep is critical to our brain health because it’s when the brain strengthens memories and gets rid of toxins and waste.

Some of the daily practices to improve sleep include:

  • Turn off blue light devices, such as cell phones or televisions an hour before bed. Blue light is the same wavelength of sunlight, which wakes up our “brain clock.”
  • Sleep in the complete dark so the brain releases melatonin, the hormone that helps us fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Get outside into natural sunlight within 30 minutes of waking up to reset the “brain clock” and begin the countdown to when it’s time to fall asleep again.
  • Refrain from over-the-counter sleep aids as they interfere with the process needed to rid the brain of waste and toxins.

Socially engage: Social distancing due to COVID-19 has drastically limited social interactions, leaving people not only lonely and isolated but at a heightened risk of dementia and burnout, explained Milstein. “It’s so important to stay connected,” he said. “It’s critical for our brain health and mental health.”

Manage stress through mindfulness: Stress in doses or bursts, that we can take a break from, is good for the brain, said Milstein. The best method to ensure you have a break from stress: mindfulness, meditation, or yoga. Focusing on the present moment through these practices has proven in brain scans to improve the brain by growing the hippocampus, the “waiting room” of the brain that is critical to short-term and long-term memory, he explained.

Keep inflammation low: Inflammation in the body confuses the microglia in the brain, the cells that are responsible for removing damaged neurons. The best way to prevent this confusion is to address any autoimmune condition or injury from the brain down, said Milstein, who recommends individuals ask their primary physicians to measure any inflammation with a CRP blood test.

Follow the MIND diet: Milstein recommends the MIND diet which includes foods such as dark leafy greens, nuts, berries, beans, fish, and poultry and restricts red meats, butter or margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food. Individuals who followed the MIND diet moderately well lowered their Alzheimer’s risk by 35 percent and up to 53 percent for those who adhered to the diet rigorously.

Practice moderate exercise and daily walking: Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, helps sleep, and balances the immune system. In addition to any moderate exercise you do, Milstein recommends 30 minutes of walking every day, which he says can lower the risk of dementia by 60 percent.

Treat diabetes: Diabetes is the single greatest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s other than age, said Milstein. Untreated diabetes increases the risk by 65 percent, but when diabetes is treated the risk lowers below that of the general population’s risk.