How Executive Assistants Can Balance Wellbeing While Supporting Others

As an assistant, your whole job is to think about someone else – in light of that, how do you balance your own wellbeing? It’s especially important to take inventory of how you are supporting your emotional, mental, and physical wholeness, considering how much it plays a part in your effectiveness and the overall impact you’re able to make in your daily work, your partnership with your leader(s), and your organization.

Keep reading to learn some practical ways you can support your emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing while your whole job is to think about supporting someone else.

How can you bring some focus back to yourself as an Executive Assistant?

In our recent Base Live panel at Admin Week Summit 2023, our panelists shared their tips for how Executive Assistants can integrate wellbeing into their daily and weekly routines:

  • Heather Davis, Executive Assistant to Base’s CEO + President, and EA Community Lead
  • Natalie Turner, Content Strategist & Workshop Instructor at Base, Host of Courageous Help, and Former EA to Base’s CEO + President

Watch the full video below or keep reading for the highlights from the conversation!

3 areas Executive Assistants can support their own wellbeing

Here are the three biggest takeaways from our panel discussion. Got any to add? Join our Executive Assistant Community and share with assistants across the globe who are learning from one another and shaping the future of the EA role every day. 

Practically process big emotions💓

The “chaos coordinator” nature of the EA role can sometimes lend itself to overwhelm or other emotions that can impact work performance. Because of the supportive aspect of the job, there is more potential for disappointing others. Not to mention the pressure to do everything “right”. 

When it comes to making mistakes and the emotions that may follow, some assistants simply try to power through, blocking out uncomfortable feelings because there are more pressing things to attend to. Others may beat themselves up as a way to prevent a mistake from happening again. Research shows both of these strategies are counterproductive, and likely temporarily throw off an assistant’s ability to be effective.

For powering-through types, if you’re having an emotional response you can’t process in the moment, instead of blocking it out indefinitely, Natalie cited it may feel helpful to schedule a time to process it later so it doesn’t build up. Planning 10 minutes with yourself at the end of the day, or even scheduling a venting session with a supportive friend to process emotions out loud can prevent emotional festering.

If you notice yourself in the beat-yourself-up camp, a helpful perspective Natalie shared with Heather is that an emotional response to a mistake really speaks to what you value. Instead of dwelling on the feelings about what you did “wrong”, try shifting your focus to what you are valuing at that moment. Then, think about how you can act on that value. For example, if you deeply value your team’s trust and you’re feeling fear you broke their trust, gently shift out of the challenging emotional reaction and into a more intentional response like, “What can I do now to rebuild their trust?” After letting someone down, meaningful action motivated by values both prevents rumination and reinstates self-trust.

⭐️ Top takeaway: Schedule time in your calendar to process emotions alone or out loud with a friend to prevent emotional festering.

Intentionally set down the mental load 🧠

Another aspect of the EA role that can be challenging without intentional balance? The mental load of constantly being aware and in charge of the intricate details of someone else’s life and work. You may notice you have trouble mentally separating yourself when you’re off the clock because you likely care deeply about your work and leader.

To combat this, Natalie and Heather shared about their daily wind down routines — which included a practical way to be “done for the day” in a role that can feel constant with email and calendars always rolling. Planning tasks, projects, and workflow for the following day, and/or sending a digest at the end of the day so you know your leader has everything they need for the following day and there are no loose ends can help signal to your brain it’s safe to switch off work mode.

Natalie also shared about mentally transitioning after work by taking a walk, using your commute to voice note with friends, or listening to a specific playlist to meaningfully hook back into your personal life. Another tip was to not listen to a podcast at this time because you may need less input, not more, at this time.

Heather distinguished between this intentional mental transitioning and checking out (think Netflix and wine). Mental transitioning tends to serve you well in the long run, while checking out can be soothing in a specific moment — and both can be supportive at different times. The key is to be mindful about what you’re choosing and why.

⭐️ Top takeaway: Give yourself the satisfaction of a practical way to be “done for the day” in a role that can feel constant with email and calendars always rolling.

Make commitments to physical health 💧

The EA role can certainly require a lot of energy and focus in order to be able to provide a consistent level of support to others. When physical health isn’t in balance, it’s common to experience persistent brain fog, a lack of confidence, tiredness and lethargy, or a decline in mental health. While supportive fuel and movement are personal choices and everyone gets to find their own way based on their circumstances, health concerns, etc., committing to physical health is imperative for assistants to be able to perform at the level they desire without burning out.

Heather shared how you can look at investments in your holistic health as investments in family, in friends and community, in your executives, and the team you’re a part of. While you know these investments matter, sometimes practically implementing them gets tricky, and you may need support to help you uphold your commitments to your health. For example, if you know you always ignore your “lunch + walk” calendar blocks, try to schedule walks with friends to a lunch spot to make yourself get out and move. Accountability is key, because if someone else is attached, you’re likely not going to ignore that.

Another thing you can do is try to use the non-stop focus on your executive to your advantage when thinking about your physical needs, like Natalie mentioned. For example, if you’re looking at your executive’s schedule and notice how busy they are, so you proactively order lunch for them – how could you apply that kind of thinking to yourself? If you know you have a stressful week coming up supporting your executive on a big deadline, think about how you can care for yourself in advance in the same way you would for them.

⭐ Top takeaway: Try meeting your physical health needs like meals or exercise with the accountability of a friend so you’re less likely to let yourself drop to the bottom of your priority list.

How Executive Assistants can prioritize their wellbeing using technology

If you’re an EA looking for technology to help you manage your mental load and keep everything organized so you can feel confident switching off of work mode, the Base platform was built just for you. Our all-in-one workspace for Executive Assistants gives you one go-to place to organize, communicate, and take action. Get a demo of Base and see what we’re all about.

You can also check out our resources for EAs, learning and development programs, and job opportunities.

Written by Bryn Smith

Bryn is the Senior Manager of Brand and Product Marketing at Base, where she is on a mission to build a world-class EA community by connecting them with top-notch thought leaders, invaluable resources, and cutting-edge insights.