Self-Leadership at Work and at Home - Five Best Practices to Stay Grounded in Times of Corona Stress
About COVID-19… This is a challenging time and you might experience more stress, anxiety and other emotions than usual. Not only is this completely normal, it’s also extremely useful. Those emotions drive us to take action, so we can face the challenge at hand more effectively.
On the flipside though, you could say: It’s not good to have too much of anything. Too much anxiety, for example, can prevent us from thinking clearly and logically, weakening our ability to generate solutions and make decisions. Additionally, like COVID-19, an emotion like anxiety is very contagious; something to be mindful of when you’re leading a team at work, or a family at home.
So what can you do to keep those emotions in check and prevent them to spike up to a level at which they limit you, rather than support you? In other words: How do you stay grounded in times of Corona stress?
I’ve had many conversations about this topic over the last couple of weeks; with clients, other coaches, friends and family. Based on those conversations, I’ve put together a shortlist of 5 Best Practices.
5 Best Practices
1. Limit your media consumption (quantity) and choose your sources wisely (quality). It’s important to stay informed AND too much media consumption makes it very difficult to keep your worries in check. Ask yourself:
"Is it really helpful to stay updated 24/7?"
"Or does it merely feed into your distress?"
Reliable media sources include:
I like the analogy of food/ diet as a guideline:
Schedule news check-ins as-if they are meals; no snacking allowed in between meals. Consider an 8, 16 or 24-hour break (fasting) if you’ve consumed too much lately and need to reset. Be intentional about choosing nutritious and organically grown products.
2. If you haven’t done so by now, I strongly encourage you to establish a daily routine. Having a predictable structure in place gives you a sense of agency, something we all crave these days. Drifting through the day, not knowing what to expect next can increase distress.
What structure or routine would be feasible and supportive in your new day-to-day?
No need to plan the whole day, hour by hour; this isn’t a military operation. An easy place to start could be to use the so-called 'bookends approach':
Think of a ritual or routine that marks the start and the end of your day. You can do the same for your workday, helping you to establish boundaries between work and your personal live, while you’re working remotely.
3. Breathe. It sounds easy, but many people don’t breathe properly, especially when under pressure. Deep breathing helps calm your nervous system down; it is the body’s built-in stress reliever. No tools or equipment required; it’s accessible to you at any time, at no cost!
Deep breathing is a skill you can learn. The more you practice, the easier it gets. Take a few minutes every day to practice, on specific times (set an alarm to remind yourself) or at set times of the day (e.g. after breakfast or before going to bed).
Close your eyes and settle into your chair. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 6, and exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. Make sure you breathe into your belly, making it rise and fall as you inhale and exhale. You can put a hand on your belly to feel the movement. Repeat 10 times.
You can do a brief check-in with yourself prior to and after the breathing exercise:
What’s going on in my mind?
What am I feeling emotionally?
How does my body feel?
4. Get to know you mind. Our minds create thoughts all day, every day. Most of the time, we’re not even aware that this is happening; it’s an automatic process.
In times of stress the thoughts that run through our minds can add to the stress we already experience.
What if I loose my job? What if I end up being homeless? I won’t be able to handle it if my parents get sick. These lay-offs will ruin the team’s spirit and engagement forever. Did I wash my hands when I came in? She didn’t cover her mouth when she sneezed, what if she’s infected? I shouldn’t have shouted at him, I’m the worst parent in the world. Why am I so stressed, I shouldn’t be so stressed! Why is this happening to us, it’s not fair.
It’s helpful to get to know your mind a little bit better. Start catching yourself thinking throughout your day, just noticing your thoughts coming up. Can you find any patterns of thinking your mind falls into on a regular basis?
Next you can create some psychological distance, by saying to yourself:
“I notice I’m having the thought that…”.
The space you created allows you to shift from the emotional part of the brain to what I like to call ‘the thinking brain’, and ask yourself:
“Is having this thought helpful right now?
"Is it helping me to take effective and constructive action?”
If the answer is YES, then choose to pay attention to the thought and take action accordingly. If the answer is NO, then try saying:
“Thank you, Mind, for trying to protect me, but I’m choosing to let go of this one”.
5. Tune into what’s good. Our brains are naturally wired to focus on the negative and to always be on the lookout for potential danger. This so-called ‘negativity bias’ is amplified in challenging times like the one we’re currently in. Up to a certain extent, this helps us prepare and take essential precautions. Once you’ve taken care of what’s within your control, consider countering some of that negativity bias, by tuning into what’s good, even during challenging times.
An evidence-based practice that helps you get started is called 'Three Good Things'. Be creative and adjust it to your liking: E.g. Verbally exchanging ‘Three Good Things’ around the dinner table, or changing the title to ‘Good, Better, Best’.
Choose Your Pick
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. We’re all wired differently, so what works for me might not work for you, and vice versa. I encourage you to just start somewhere and see where it takes you. Choose your pick and experiment: Try it for a week and adjust if necessary.