On the other side of the COVID-19 crisis stands a future you living with every decision you make for her today. She’s hoping you will embrace the vulnerability of this unique moment and yet still gather the courage to nurture your own wellbeing and growth, and that of those around you. “Imagine looking back when the pandemic is over,” suggests Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D. “How can you set that person up to be incredibly proud of how she handled this challenge? Start there and work back to today.”
In the middle of a crisis, stress and overwhelm can feel like constant companions that weren’t welcome to begin with and now are getting downright exhausting. It’s tempting to pretend they aren’t there and just hope they’ll go away. But, oddly enough, admitting they are real and sharing the experience with others is not only one of the most effective ways to deal with stress, but has a strong potential upside. Sharing concerns candidly can enable you to forge more meaningful relationships and greater engagement in the tasks at hand.
“Everyone is struggling and there is no need to pretend everything is okay,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., psychologist and best-selling author of numerous books including Better than Perfect
. “Leaning into that vulnerability is about showing up despite the uncertainty of the outcome. Leaders at all career stages can do that.”
The shared nature of a global pandemic makes it that much more important to deal with the strain honestly, knowing that no one is sitting this one out. “There is a great opportunity right now to engage in candid conversation with our colleagues, team members and supervisors about the challenges and fears we are facing because we all share them,” Lombardo advises.
Get out of the red zone
Although we can’t solve the global health crisis, we can choose our responses to it. There is tremendous power in acting with intention to exert as much influence as a challenging situation will allow.
Self-care is a critical choice to put at the top of your list to safeguard your wellbeing and your ability to be there for others. Lombardo points to three red flags that suggest you may not be making self-care the priority it should be.
Experiencing heightened, undesired emotions (such as anger, shame and overwhelm); increased physical symptoms (such as headache, tight muscles or gastrointestinal issues); or unwelcome behaviors (such as lashing out, procrastination, or food or substance abuse) are all warning signs you need a break. “Low levels of stress can enable better problem solving, but if you’re at a seven or higher out of ten, I call that the ‘red zone’ and you need to get out of it,” Lombardo says.
Physical movement is one of the greatest stress relievers. Go for a brisk walk, do some jumping jacks at your desk or practice yoga online. Consider talking to a trusted family member, colleague, friend or counselor. “One of the most powerful things a leader can do during challenging times is to admit her own struggle,” Lombardo says. “Leaders who show appropriate vulnerability let us know it’s okay to be human and that we’re all in this together. And that increases engagement.”
Start with the end in mind
Lombardo suggests thinking proactively about how you are writing this chapter of your life so your future self will be wiser, stronger and proud of how you rose to the challenge. Make sure she can say that you . . .
- Clearly articulated your values and made decisions consistent with them at home and at work.
- Actively looked for ways to serve others within your family, community, workplace and company.
- Prioritized self-care with daily exercise, mental pauses, good eating habits and connection with others.
- Focused on things you could actually control.
- Embraced the possibility of new opportunities and strived to find creative solutions to problems.
- Decreased black-white thinking and searched for new opportunities in the shades of gray and uncertainty.
- Increased candid communication up, down and across the organization in a spirit of shared problem solving.
- Listened without judgment when others needed to vent their frustrations and then helped them refocus on decisions within their control.
- Celebrated the good stuff by sharing detailed stories about colleagues going above and beyond to serve one another, customers and the organization.
“Every crisis presents opportunities,” Lombardo says. “Even if it is simply to show kindness, be a team player and demonstrate that you understand the pressures others are experiencing.” Choose to show up for yourself and others now in a way that will fill your future self with gratitude.