10 April 2021

On ‘Mental Wellbeing’ with Sibel Yücesan

By Birsen Çevik Akgünlü

I had a pleasant conversation with Sibel Yücesan, the founder and managing partner of ‘Holistic Approach to You’, in which I learned new things. If you are wondering about the differences between concepts such as wellbeing, wellness and mental health, I think you will find this article very useful.

Welcome Sibel, can you tell us about your own story?

I am a graduate of Boğaziçi University Chemical Engineering. Afterwards, I completed my master’s degree in business administration in Scotland and started business life. I worked in large corporate companies for 25 years. In my last role, I was general manager at Mercer for 15 years. I also took on regional responsibilities. I was running three countries, I had a crazy agenda. That’s when I encountered ‘burnout syndrome’.

I went to the doctor because of my health problems, and the doctor diagnosed my immune system as having collapsed and asked this striking question: ‘What will you change in your life?’ This question impressed me very much. I started meditation and physical activity. At that time, ‘well-being’ issues began to attract my attention. I was actually close to health issues, because of my experience with health insurance in the MMC group of companies. But I began to realize that well-being is a much broader concept. This awareness made me an entrepreneur and I founded the company “Holistic Approach to You”.

I do executive coaching and mentoring. I am a columnist in Milliyet and I have a project to write a book. We also farm as a family. We also have an event hall and guest house on our farm. I organize well-being programs in nature.

An inspiring story… Shall we talk a little about the concepts and their scope in the field of well-being? ‘Wellbeing’, ‘Wellness’ are English concepts. What are the main differences between them? What is the exact meaning of the concept translated into Turkish as ‘Holistic Well-being’ or simply ‘Well-being’?

  • We can translate Wellbeing as ‘Well-being’ and Wellness as ‘Vitality’. Well-being is a broader concept that includes fitness.
  • While fitness mostly describes the state of well-being in the physical field, well-being is the ‘holistic state of well-being’.

Holistic well-being is defined through 8 basic factors accepted throughout the world:

  • Four of these are very basic and relatively areas that the individual can control more or change more easily if he/she wishes: Mind, Spirit, Emotion and Body.
    The well-being of these four is actually, in its simplest form, ‘How are you?’ The answer to the question.
    If you answer the question “How are you?” by really connecting with yourself rather than by rote, “How is my mind?” “How is my body?” “How is my soul?” “How is my feeling?” you will have made a basic analysis of your own well-being.
  • The other four are the outer layer of the circle: Social, Career/Status, Financial and Environmental.

We are actually talking about a broad spectrum.

Where does ‘zoom fatigue’ fit into this broad spectrum? Spending all day in front of a screen is a difficult situation for all of us. It is challenging not only physically but also spiritually. Does the concept of ‘mental health’ – I think it means mental health in Turkish – cover this area?

The translation ‘Mental Health’ is not accurate according to the World Health Organization. When we say ‘health’, we mostly focus on disease and symptom dimensions, and these are topics that fall within the field of medicine. For this reason, we find the translation ‘Mental Well-being’ to be more accurate.

I learned this distinction now, thank you very much. So how can we analyze our mental well-being? Do you have any small tests or suggestions that will help us evaluate?

Of course there is. First of all, everything starts with awareness. People need to think about their mental and spiritual state on a daily basis, even from time to time during the day. So they need to take action to notice.

Some questions we can ask ourselves can help us evaluate this issue:

  • Can I solve problems?
  • Can I focus mentally?
  • Can I stay in the moment?
  • Do I have a curiosity to learn?
  • Can I see other people’s points of view? like…

The answers to these questions are ‘I read what I read 5 times and I don’t understand it, my mind always wanders somewhere. I can’t stop my thoughts. I don’t want to learn anything. I have no interest in anything. ‘I don’t care about anything’ and the like, we would do well to focus on how we can improve our mental well-being.

What roles do leaders and the HR function play in maintaining ‘Mental Wellbeing’ in business?

Before the pandemic, ‘holistic well-being’ issues were like holiday candy in the organization. It was handled in the form of two or three interspersed sessions or guest speakers on special occasions. With the pandemic, leaders and management teams began to look at employee health in more dimensions. Because it has become clear that corporate sustainability is based on employee well-being.

Going back to the question, the task of leaders is actually very simple: to ask more sincere questions! For example, sincere and specific how are you questions:

  • ‘Can you sleep?’
  • ‘If you can’t sleep, what kind of questions are keeping you busy in your mind?’
  • Like ‘How can I support you?’…

It is also important to create routines integrated into the working day.

I can focus on this area. Requiring employees to move between meetings can also include physical movements that can be done together during the meeting. Again, it may be possible to talk about certain symptoms and refer them to specialists if they observe these symptoms.

If we want to raise awareness on this issue, we need to share real stories. Those stories should also come from senior executives. ‘Today, I benefited from the employee support service provided by our company for 6 free sessions. Like ‘I have a problem too.‘ There needs to be a real example that helps build trust. I always observe that there is no senior management in my wellbeing stories and mindfulness trainings. This means ‘this is for you guys, we are all very good!’

It is not right to expect teams to share their vulnerabilities unless managers share their vulnerabilities. I totally agree with you. So, what suggestions do you have for individuals to support their own well-being?

Awareness is very important and I think there is a serious deficiency in this part. In fact, we need to do consecutive practices like studying. For example, stopping and listening to yourself when you wake up in the morning. There is an application we call ‘body scanning’. For example, this can be done in the morning. To look and feel, starting from the toes to the top. This is a practice that brings us to the present moment and makes us feel safe. I do this in the mornings.

I also write in the mornings. Writing is also very good, I recommend it too. All experts recommend it anyway. You may have memories, it may be things we experienced at that moment. We don’t always wake up with the same feeling in the morning. Sometimes we wake up with a feeling we cannot understand. Only 6 minutes. As the pen flows. For example, you can even choose a keyword. Like my well-being or my fears. Writing allows things you are not aware of to come out of your pen. This is one of the things that is good for our spiritual and mental health.

It is very important to be able to create moments of pause during the day. Stopping and doing a body scan, for example. Or between two zooms, ‘Where is my mind? Asking questions like ‘How is my body?’ The body is always in the present moment. That’s why focusing on the body or breath brings us to the present moment.

It’s not easy to get into the habit of taking breaks between zooms. For example, one of the problems I have is creating behavioral changes in myself. I make decisions but I have difficulty implementing them. Do you have any advice for gaining discipline?

You won’t give up on yourself, you will try. It won’t happen on day one. It won’t happen the second day either. And on the third day. On the fourth day. All ‘resilience’ stories say only one thing: practice, practice, practice, practice… If you couldn’t do it a hundred times, you will try the hundred and first. It’s all a matter of intention and stability. Believe me, it will happen eventually. When we have a hard time getting out of our comfort zone, we give up, that’s the problem. ‘Impossible. This is not for me. We say, ‘Let me answer three more e-mails.‘ I have this too, we all have it. You must keep trying. You need self-confidence.

Thank you very much, Sibel. I always ended my articles with ‘good luck’. It makes much more sense now 🙂

Stay safe until the next article,


04 April 2021