As of this writing, the whole world is under a pandemic we can't begin to comprehend.
We may be coping, but we're also overwhelmed. We're concerned, if not petrified, and many of us are grieving -- grieving for our vulnerable loved ones, grieving for our unknown future, grieving our illusion of control.
But we can get ourselves unstuck -- one day at a time, one hour at a time, one moment at a time. It starts with a few simple strategies.
Fight the good fight
Does this feel good? No, not always. For a lot of people, the snow-day vibe of staying home wore off three weeks ago. But there's something ennobling, even comforting, about doing our part -- especially when human lives are at stake.
On a personal level, fighting the good fight might mean ...
- Minimizing trips to the grocery store; not hoarding
- Checking up on a loved one or neighbor in need; not assuming someone else already did
- Supporting your favorite local family restaurant by ordering takeout now and then
What about when working from home? A few examples:
- Showing confidence as a manager, both in yourself and your team
- Asking your team, "How can we use this time to its highest advantage?"
- Systematically filling the information gap that comes from everyone working remotely
- Meeting deadlines without being asked (applies to employees at all levels)
If we can live through this chapter and come out stronger and better, what else could we do? Not a bad question to pose to your team.
Focus on what you can do
"Action absorbs anxiety." ― Hans Selye
Almost everyone's got a project they've been wanting to get to but haven't had time. What is yours? Maybe it's a skill, a habit, or a part of your life that needs organizing. Now is your chance.
Or maybe this opens up a new and necessary way to serve customers and clients.
I've recently been recording a series of short videos to help managers lead and manage remotely. I've also gotten back into the nightly habit of reading a good book. Both will increase my capacity to serve.
What's one constructive action you could take that would lower your anxiety?
Choose your influences carefully
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ― Fred Rogers
Be aware of how you're being influenced. This holds true whether you're watching the news, interacting with friends or chatting with co-workers. Even music has its effect.
You don't have to read everything someone sends you. If someone points fingers or complains endlessly, you don't have to join in.
This is where it helps all the more to have a compelling project. A good project can keep your mind on a positive track -- and keep you working toward something worth having.
Set goals, no matter how small
Goals give you back a sense of control. They channel your energies so there's less time for fear and anxiety. And when fears and anxieties resurface, you may find you're better equipped to handle them.
To manage fear and anxiety, here are a few goals worth considering:
- Getting outside every day, even if it's just for a few minutes
- Getting a better night's sleep tonight than you did last night
- Doing one thing every day that's difficult yet necessary or helpful
- Lightening someone else's load
- Brightening someone else's day
No matter your age or rank, you have the power to brighten someone's day.
For example, one night this week I opened my mailbox and found a lone envelope. Inside was a lovely handwritten note from my assistant and a picture her daughter (age 2 1/2) had colored for me. Total keeper.
Set new boundaries
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Boundaries help protect your time, energy and good disposition. With the world and routines having changed so drastically, it may be time to re-evaluate your boundaries and put some new ones in place.
For example, if you're new to working at home, you may be surprised at how hard it is to keep your work life and home life separate. But if you want to avoid burnout, you must make the effort.
A few practical suggestions:
- Silencing your phone during the day so you can focus on your work
- Saying no to non-mandatory meetings or online meetups
- Changing into different clothes to signify you're "home" now, no longer at work
- Setting aside a specific time each night for dinner -- no devices allowed
- Putting parameters on when you're done with email for the day
- Turning off the news at night a good hour or more before bed
Back in the 1990s, Stephen R. Covey warned us about "urgency addiction," the inordinate drive to get things done that may not be important, especially when they come at the expense of deeper values. Boundaries are the solution.
Start and end each day with something enjoyable
This is yet another way to keep anxiety in check. Whether it's reading, writing in a journal, sipping tea or strumming your guitar, find a meaningful way to frame the day -- so that anxieties don't overwhelm.
To make this even more effective, choose rituals that energize you in the morning and help you sleep better at night. Both will increase your capacity to manage your stress.
Have you found it harder during this crisis to sleep? Please leave a comment below. I'll see if my childhood friend Jeff Scheuer, "America's Beducator," can give us all some practical tips to sleep better.
Trust that answers will come
To put it more bluntly, don't try to figure it all out at once.
Few things are more existentially frustrating than trying to make important decisions with incomplete data. Which means we should all stop trying to figure out our plans for summer.
On the other hand, if there's something you need to do now and there's no getting around it, trust yourself to handle it -- professionally and compassionately -- as soon as the time is right.
Double down on self-care
"I'll take care of me for you, if you will please take care of you for me." ― Jim Rohn
When I first started speaking on self-care, few professionals outside the helping professions knew what it was. Now self-care is staring us all in the face, making its demands.
And what are those demands? A quick snapshot:
Physical: Sufficient rest, balanced nutrition, physical exercise
Mental: Engaging work, opportunities for growth/challenge, putting your gifts to meaningful use
Emotional: Having relationships that are nourishing (not toxic); feeling known, respected and valued
Spiritual: Finding purpose and fulfillment, having a sense of belonging, cultivating gratitude
I have never met a professional who, having embraced the daily challenge of self-care, ever regretted the decision.
But I have met countless professionals who, having ignored this need, consigned themselves -- and in some ways their loved ones -- to a lifetime of frustration.
It doesn't have to be that way. You need and deserve better.
What's one way you're willing to take better care of yourself during this crisis? Please share by leaving a comment below.