COVID-19 has deprived us of so many of the activities and joys we are used to. Some of us are increasingly frozen, anxious and depressed. Others are pent up angry and bursting to break out. Still others careen from depression to determination and back again. Many of us have lost our rhythm.
Still others seem to be cranking out eLearning and creating great innovations of charitable nature.
What is normal anymore? All of it actually. Everyone reacts differently and even the reactions of individuals will ebb and flo over time.
What to do? Firstly, we can accept our own mental state. And that of our friends, family and colleagues. It’s all normal. There should be no bench marks for success in this weird time other than taking reasonable steps to stay healthy and looking after one another.
After that, if you have interest in trying to improve your mood or productivity have a read. If not, no worries at all. Just getting by might be all that is required of today. No judgement here.
Well, you are already reading this so give yourself a pat on the back 🙂 You are already curious as to whether there might be techniques that you could use. Bravo! (and if you are skeptical that’s okay, keep going).
What’s next? Take ONE small step outside your current comfort zone … not back into the wide world, just back into taking control of what you do with your time.
“Like what?” you say? If you are feeling low, start with Scenario 1. If you are angry, zip down to Scenario 2. Heard it all before? That’s okay, you don’t need new ideas. These all have predictable physiological benefits. Give any of them another try.
Got your own great tips and resources? Please jump down to the Comments and share away!
Need more than a blog post can offer? Please jump down to “What about when these techniques don’t work?”
Scenario 1 – I am low
- Make a coffee/tea/hot chocolate and just savour the flavour, the heat on your hands and in your body
- Sit outside if you can – what can you hear? Can you identify 5 different sounds? Are they different early in the morning, at noon and in the evening?
- Turn on your favorite song (do NOT turn on TV/NetFlix/FaceBook/Tik Tok/Twitter!). Close your eyes and just listen to one song
That’s it. That’s all for the moment.
You have just done something phenomenal … you took a step outside your comfort zone and tried something else. That is a victory! Give yourself a deep joyful breath. You did it.
Don’t rush to the next thing. Savour that moment. Repeat it if it gave you joy.
The entire point is to slow it all down and “be in the present”. Buddhist monks practice this for years, so cut yourself some slack and know that it all begins with a moment’s success.
Right now, if we are healthy and our families are currently healthy, we have a different priority – focus on the current “field of operation”. No, nope, don’t drop into the chasm of “but”/”I used to…”/”I need”. Instead, focus on the current moment not what’s next – this moment is what we need to calm and re-set … and we’ll need to re-ground regularly as we navigate the next months. The beauty of it is that there is more joy in this moment than we remember.
Do you have a memory of being a kid and just laying on your back watching the clouds go by? Maybe smelling the damp, grass under your back? Something similar? Good moments. Take them back.
Ready to UP your game?
- Find a spare piece of paper and write down one thing that you are grateful for – just one, don’t look for a fancy book to put it in – tear off the back of a cereal box if you need to – tape that sucker on the fridge. Imagine if you can do this everyday….
- Take a walk around the block (with your music on)
- Find an old puzzle and empty it on the table. Give it a go. It’s not a race – I have one friend who is working on one puzzle piece a day.
- Dust your book shelves / desk top / kitchen counter
- Make some toast / muffins / vegie tray
- Dig out a few weeds
- Empty and re-organize a closet – set aside the items you no longer want to give away when opportunity arises
Scenario 2 – I am angry / antsy
Are you antsy? Raring to go? Many of us are experiencing this too. Some are alternating between deep depression and radical determination to get going.
What has worked for you before? How can you approximate that? Most of my energetic friends already have some of these ideas on the go. Some are more organized than others. All answers are good answers as long as they are bringing you a sense of control. Still feeling frustrated? It maybe an opportunity to re-calibrate your approach.
- Getting it off your chest?
- Sometimes a good old fashioned rant helps to clarify our thinking so go ahead and give it a go … just be thoughtful of your audience. You might want to find a friend who thinks like you do and ask them for permission to rant a bit (this allows them to prepare not to take it personally and maybe brace for your energy). Then let it go… like really.
- Making lists, plans?
- You might want to write this down in a way that you can refine it over time (rather than starting in the same place day over day). This will allow you to make progress.
- You might want to include the conditions that you will be looking for in the environment for when to start. Then you will create some certainty about “when”. You can revise when you have more information.
- Maybe getting started on your plan?
- Are there small things you can begin that will position you for better success later?
- Maybe find a “coach”? Perhaps a mentor or even a professional coach or consultant who can help refine your plans objectively
What else can you do with all your energy? Some of my most energetic friends miss the gym – the routine, the camaraderie and the exercise high.
- Can you take a walk or a run?
- Maybe add music to your adventure? A playlist a music service
- Put it on your schedule?
- Create a ‘leader board’ with some like-minded friends and ‘compete’ for most ‘steps’, miles or other metrics that you like
And hey, I am not here pretending that this is easy or that a blog post has all the answers (some of you may need to read this a couple of times).
This is about experimenting with small steps that bring each of us a sense of control and maybe just a little satisfaction, joy or peace … and building those into an hour, a morning, a day.
Why do these techniques work?
These are all natural reactions to change, in particular negative change. Need some technical references? Check out a short list at the bottom.
The Cliff’s notes version is that we human beings are biologically programmed to want certainty and control. This is how we assure our physical safety. This is wired into our anatomy and sometimes, when we feel under threat, our physiology takes over. When that happens we don’t always think as clearly. All of the techniques above, and many others, help us take back control.
Years ago as I learned how to play hockey vicariously with my kids I heard the coach say “Take the puck. It is yours. Go get it.” Struck me as pretty good life advice. The challenge right now is that we are all programmed to take over the arena. And a few months ago that was our “field of operation”. It’s not now. Deep sigh? I know. It’s okay.
So give yourself a bit of a break. There should be no pressure to be an expert in this situation because everyone is figuring it out.
What about when these techniques don’t work?
Is COVID-19 set back? Yes. Damn yes, hell yes.
Maybe treatments and vaccines will come quickly and maybe they won’t. Maybe we can navigate through without catching it and maybe not. Maybe we will lose family members. It is normal that this uncertainty is wearing on us.
Only one thing seems certain – this is hard and it is plausible that most of us will experience sadness, fear, anger. Most of us have all had challenges before and we have overcome them to get here. We will overcome them again.
Most of us will be able to navigate this period of time. Some, who feel overwhelmed, will need a little help. That has to be okay. Maybe this is not for you but for your partner or friend. Perhaps you can take the first steps with them.
There are many services what we can call on including:
- Make an appointment with your doctor and tell them how you are feeling. Don’t worry – they are trained to ask the right questions. You don’t have to figure that out.
- Do a quick (Google) search on “mental health services” (and scroll past the advertisements 😉 ). Here is the link that came up for my area “Find mental health and addiction services in your community”
Re-connect with people who are important to you. One of the most compelling acts of hope and optimism is connection. Nothing changes the world like a small act of engagement – to remember being a part of something larger than our own personal space.
Over the past several weeks I have had emails and calls from former colleagues that meant so much. And I have also reached out to others and benefited from those connections … hopefully they have too.
So call a friend. Not someone who rushes to give you advice or someone who is more down/angry than you are. Maybe someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Maybe a cousin or a former colleague.
- Take five minutes to check in on how they are doing. Do this genuinely and whole heartedly. Listen without fixing. The goal is just connection. That’s all. Listen to understand. That’s enough.
- Remember not to take on their emotions rather just to hold space and let them have their moments to express themselves.
- Give yourself a couple of moments to express what you are focusing on (dodge the canyon of despair and the rapids of the resentful – stay on the path of the present).
- Wish them well and perhaps agree to check in again later.
Now, keep it going. It’s a flywheel – every turn picks up momentum. Got stuck again? That’s okay. Start at the top again. It’s not a race it’s a journey.
- “Focused, Fast and Flexible: Creating Agility Advantage in a VUCA World” Tom O’Shea and Nick Horney
- “Micro-Resilience: Minor Shifts for Major Boosts in Focus, Drive, and Energy”, Bonnie St. John, 2017
- “Neuroscience for Organizational Change: An Evidence-based Practical Guide to Managing Change”, Hilary Scarlett, 2016
- “Prosilience: Building Your Resilience for a Turbulent World”, Linda Hoopes, 2017