Tema Bryant’s list of professional accomplishments is impressive.
She has been president of the American Psychological Association since 2023. Bryant is a professor of psychology at Pepperdine University, where he directs the Culture and Trauma Research Laboratory.
Prior to that, she was the SHARE program coordinator at Princeton University, which provides programming and support to combat sexual assault and harassment.
And before that, she received her doctorate in clinical psychology at Duke University and did her postdoctoral work at Harvard Medical Center.
Her professional achievements are not the only ones that bring her joy.
She also likes to dance. She listens and writes spoken word poetry. And at least every week she makes time for a phone call with her best friend of 30 years, who lives across the country.
“It’s time to abandon the false dichotomy or false choice, which we believe I have to give up in order to be successful,” she said.
CNBC Make It spoke with Bryant about balancing productivity, your mental health, maintaining close friendships — and how to do it.
The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Productivity is not always a sign of your health or emotional well-being
Aditya Srikanth, CNBC: What is a common misconception people have about mental health care?
Bryant: A common misconception is that people think, “If I try not to think about it, I’ll forget it.” Suppression doesn’t work properly. It can be done in the short term, and I think that’s why people choose it and say, “I don’t want to talk about it.” But when we have challenging life experiences and avoid them, they end up showing up in other ways.
It can be seen and affect sleep. It can be seen in our parenting. Avoidance is not the same thing as healing.
The second misconception is that “busy” or “productive” is the same thing as “healing” or “health” or “wholeness”. Many people are fooled by this because they associate depression with not being able to work well and not being able to get out of bed, which is the way it appears for some people.
But for others, they can throw themselves into their work. They can be taskmasters or perfectionists. They constantly feel like they have something to prove, but never feel good enough.
Your business or productivity isn’t always a sign of your wholeness or emotional well-being.
You want to be intentional. You want longevity in your success
Partnership: At the same time, it is important and necessary to be effective in your work. How do you balance excelling at work with taking care of your mental health?
Bryant: Thinking about longevity and your own sustainability. Sometimes we are so driven to accumulate more or gain promotion that we don’t pay attention to who we are in the future.
It’s a setup for a burn. It is setting up our own body that is failing us. Sometimes, physically or emotionally, we just can’t keep up that pace.
They want to be the ones pulling this all-nighter, not just a deliberate and temporary success to deliver this amazing report tomorrow. You want longevity in your success.
Think: “How can I create a pace in which I have given everything, my time, my energy, my focus, my health or my relationships for granted?”
I would like to point out that for some people this is not even a luxury pursuit. It’s trying to pay rent for some people while they’re in survival mode.
Even for the thinnest, you have a family depending on you, and when we run ourselves into a hole, it doesn’t last forever. It is important to find small ways or short cuts to create care systems.
Partnership: What is an example of a short ritual that anyone can do?
Bryant: It can be easy when you wake up in the morning. Try to wake up before you wake up.
If I set my alarm for when I should jump out of bed, I start my day feeling anxious. Give yourself a few minutes in the morning and decide what your morning ritual will be.
It could be a podcast. I’m probably going to wake up and take a long shower. What are the things that nourish you?
Another aspect that is often overlooked is community care.
Healthy friendships and healthy relationships Whether it’s in your family or with your coworkers, these things help us and remind us that we’re alive, that we’re not just robots or objects or laborers.
That can inject a little breath and love and compassion into our lives.
‘When it comes to friendship, you can overthink quality.’
Partnership: Friendships are often relationships that fall by the wayside when people start having children or need to care for aging parents. How can you cultivate friendships when you’re so busy?
Bryant: For people who are very busy or have many responsibilities, when it comes to friendship, you can think of quality over quantity.
I may have gone through a phase in my life where I would talk to you on the phone for hours while watching TV. We may not be able to get together often, but when we do, it’s authentic, it’s mutual, it’s clear.
To feel recognized and accepted and cared for by someone, for who you are, is very healing. You have to fulfill many of your lives or fit into different roles. It’s a breath.
It’s a gift to our nervous system when we’re with someone we feel at home with.
I would also say talk to someone about what your time limits are. I think sometimes we make assumptions or don’t communicate. Then the friendship might fall apart because the person thinks you’re done with them or you just don’t care. But really you care.
My best friends are all over the country. She lives in Philadelphia and I live in Los Angeles. It’s not like we go somewhere together every week, but it’s so important when we do talk.
Don’t miss it.