Life as we know right now is like no other period we have ever experienced. The world as we know it has changed – the loss of normalcy, the fear of economic implications – at a micro and macro level, the loss of everyday personal connection. According to an excellent recent HBR article we are collectively feeling grief. We’re not used to feeling this kind of collective grief in the air and it is unsettling.
The article explains how we are also experiencing ‘anticipatory grief’ of what might happen – this occurs when there is a high level of uncertainty about what the future holds. This feeling is actually anxiety and is occurring on a macro and micro level.
The problem with this is the emotional ‘contagion’ that can follow, which means we can ‘catch’ the collective anxiety from others, who can relay it back to us. It is important to stem the collective contagion and make work to make positive emotions more contagious.
There is also a lot of advice out there as to how you can manage in these unprecedented times, when there is no rulebook to follow. This topic has come up so often in almost every client interaction I have that I have compiled a list of the best tips I have read (a particular shout out to @Julie Leoni and the wonderful tips she recently shared from colleagues in New Zealand).
- Recognise where you are on the grief cycle which moves through Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining, Acceptance, Meaning (a sixth stage, added later). It is important to note that this is not a linear process and you may go back and forth along this cycle.
- Watch your sources – use the test ‘is this person/media source helping or hindering my resilience?’. Find the right people to talk to and keep thinking ‘Is this conversation helping or hindering me to function as best I can now?’. Take a good look at your media intake and ask the same thing. Be wise about your media sources and only use reputable sources, not social media posts and lay opinions.
- Stay calm using whatever method works for you as this will create a positive spiral, and help get you out of the negative spiral you may be in. Easier said than done, for sure. But one very practical tip that can help is to come into the present. Mindfulness and meditation will help this if you know how, but so will simple techniques like naming 5 things in the room, or using your senses and think about what you see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. Recognise that in the present nothing negative has happened. It is safe and calm.
- Positively increase your mood: research tells us about the positive impacts of exercise, mindful meditation, volunteering, showing kindness towards others, and spending time with the people/stuff that makes you happy. Actively build these into your day.
- Find balance in your thinking – if you find yourself thinking a lot of negative thoughts, then deliberately think of some positive outcomes. The idea is not to eliminate your negative thoughts (this is unrealistic) but to ensure they don’t dominate. ‘Benefit finding’ is a key resilience skill. Share the good stuff (search #htgs for ‘hunt the good stuff’ – used by the US military for resilience training).
- Focus your mind on what is important and of this, what you can control – let go of what you can’t control, it is wasted energy. Easy to say, hard to do, but pay attention where your mind goes.
- Stock up on compassion – there are no rules or hierarchy in situations of fear and uncertainty, we all feel what we feel. Be patient with those who are short with you or acting out of character. Think about who the person usually is and not how they seem to be in the moment.
- Have a ‘timed wallow’ – I love this tip shared by Julie Leoni in her recent blog. Nothing good ever comes from ruminating or wallowing in misery and self-pity for long. So set a timer and allow yourself a minute of wallowing, before deliberately distracting ourselves with something more positive.
- Be kind to yourself and others – none of this is easy and remember you are doing the best you can. Be kind to others too – a little kindness can make a big difference to someone’s day and help to brighten you up as well. I just love the rainbow drawings that are being posted in windows in UK homes right now, along with the teddy bears, that allow children to do a teddy bear hunt while they are out walking.
Sharon Peake is an occupational psychologist, career coach, gender diversity expert, and the founder of Shape Talent, a boutique consultancy established to help enable more women to step up into senior leadership roles in business.