Six+ Good (and Bad) Habits for Stress & Anxiety in Times of Coronavirus

Here we are well into the Covid 19 Pandemic. It’s been about two months (at the time of writing this) since the pandemic put a hard stop to what used to be our ‘normal’ ways of life. Since then we’ve nearly all experienced an unprecedented level of change, uncertainty, and disruption. Careers, financial stability, ways of life, have all taken a hit. While we now have lots of road behind us (two months now), we are still in a ‘moment in time’ and don’t yet have a clear picture of where the road ahead takes us. How long? What it looks like?

(Pixabay)

So how to make sense of it all and navigate the ever-shifting and uncertain landscape? Well, I think there are two landscapes. There’s the external realities (work, finances,  day-to-day activities of getting stuff and doing stuff; school for the kids — and of course protecting our health!). And then there is the parallel internal landscape with : your mojo – resilience, heartiness, emotional wellbeing.

A truth that I’ve come to know is that the better we get a handle on navigating our internal landscape (our resilience, heartiness, wellbeing), the better we can respond to the challenges of the external kind.

In my own experience (as I too feel very impacted by it all) as well as in my conversations with many others, I’ve noticed some good habits that help us feel better as well as some bad habits that make things tougher. We may all from time to time default to some of the lesser helpful habits but if we notice them we can try to pivot to better practices.

So, here are just a few  ideas for personal strategies and habits that will take you from feeling bad to better. It’s not an inclusive list but it touches on a few of the biggies. And full disclosure: I too am working on many of these!

Habits — From Bad to Better…

#1 About Control...

FEEL BAD HABIT: Focus and worry about what you can’t control or can’t get done.
FEEL BETTER HABIT: Focus on what you can control and what you can do right now.

There is so much we can’t control now and obstacles to getting things done. When we put our thought attention exclusively or predominantly to what is out of our control or what we can’t do we trigger fear and a feeling of powerlessness. Our better thinking brain gears down and we trigger a spiral of more fear and worry. Instead, when we shift our focus (even for a moment) on what we can control right now and what we can do in a given moment, we get some more ‘space within’ ourselves and gain a feeling of agency and more resourcefulness. Ask yourself: Even in this chaotic context, what can I do now? What is one thing I can take control of today that will be good for me and others in my work and/or life?

#2 About Doing Enough…

FEEL BAD HABIT: “Shoulding” all over yourself for not meeting your highest standards in doing more, faster, better.
FEEL BETTER HABITS: Recognize when you are doing your best. Acknowledge what you are getting done despite challenging times. Be more compassionate with yourself.

(NOTE: there’s a little video about this habit too. See it here!)

Sure we have to get stuff done and for many, this pandemic has brought significantly escalated demands and external pressure (from work, from others). But when we continually add more self pressure to ourselves because we think we ‘should’ be doing more, better, faster, we add even more stress to ourselves and heighten our risk of wearing ourselves down. A constant “not enough” thinking default is not a good idea. It often triggers even more stress in our inner world and spirals our feeling of efficacy down.

This kind of bad thinking habit can be tamed. Notice where and when you are doing the best you can but your own gremlins are berating you for it not being enough. Acknowledge what is getting done and the effort you are making. Sometimes a good day isn’t counted in all the ‘wins’ and accomplishments; rather, it can also be in the feeling and knowing you gave it your all and did your best. Take solace in knowing when you did lean in with your best. That is all we can do in any given moment and sometimes  it has to be good enough.

Remember that cutting yourself some slack in self-judgment is not the same as slacking off. By all means, do your best, stretch appropriately, but watch out for the ‘should’ and ‘not enough’ inner dialogue and gremlins. Once you show up with yourself with a kinder, more realistic mindset, you might actually get more done! And with less stress and overwhelm.

Here’s a bonus tip: writing out a daily ‘ta da’ list to counter that ever-growing to do list. Give it a try and even tiny ‘ta da’s are worthy of making it on the list!

#3 About Fear for the Future…

FEEL BAD HABIT: Future guessing and catastrophizing.
FEEL BETTER HABITS: Deal with what you know now; moderate the negative ‘what if’ guessing game; and practise some positivity.

While planning ahead can be an act of responsibility and might give you a sense of control, it’s not productive if your thinking is overpowered by guessing too many negative ‘what if’ catastrophic scenarios. Your brain doesn’t respond well to that kind of negativity. What you need is a fresh supply of good thinking so that you plan, discern, think and simply be the best you can in these challenging times. To do that, redirect your focus to the present (for starters). Notice where you are already safe and well. Take a lighter grip on guessing games about the future. Stay open to the possibility that new resources, support, and opportunities may come your way – even if you can’t see them yet.

And practise authentic positivity. A regular dose of positivity has been proven to build resilience, resourcefulness and creativity. The possibilities are endless. A few ideas: write out a gratitude list; pay extra attention to all the good that does show up in your day; look for the silver linings appearing (e.g. connecting more with people even if virtually?); seek/create even small pleasures amidst the day; share a laugh with another; and much more.

Bonus Tip: Each day write out 3 good things that happened that day and why they were positive. Writing the observations will give you an additional boost of positivity and not only build your positivity habit, it will also boost your resilience.

#4 About Certainty and Change…

FEEL BAD HABIT: Resist what is; wear down and lose hope
FEEL BETTER HABITS:  Surrender a little bit more to the flow of unknowns; trust yourself and your innate resilience; and never give up hope. 

As human beings we are very attached to certainty and for some of us, a little (lot) resistant to change. Many of us have already experienced loss: our way of life, income, work, and for some, an identity (associated with life before Covid). Change can be tough especially when combined with so much ambiguity and lack of certainty — we haven’t yet landed on all the changes at play.

Who doesn’t want to feel more certain about the future? But when we can’t predict or get the certainty we crave, don’t resist or lose hope. Instead, try to surrender your grip on needing to know (even just a little) and focus on trusting that you will be okay. The details of change  for all of us are yet to emerge but remember that you are more resilient and even adaptable than you may realize.

Take stock of how you’ve already proven your resilience – in these last weeks and prior. Note all that you’ve already had to respond and adapt to. Your list will prove evidence that you are stronger and more flex-ABLE than you think.

#5 About Going it Alone…

FEEL BAD HABIT: Going it alone; pretending all is well when it doesn’t feel so
FEEL BETTER HABIT: Connect with others; reach out to get and give support  

“Social distancing” was coined in the early days of the pandemic but later more aptly reframed as “physical distancing.” No one should have to go at this alone. Reach out safely (phone, emails, text, video) to others to connect; to share your challenges; and to get the support that can make this easier.

Bonus Tip: even if you aren’t able to do so in a BIG way, tiny acts of kindness to others can make a world of a difference to the recipient and to you as well. It could be simply a call; a note; or an offer to be a sounding board.

# 6 About Sleep….

FEEL BAD HABIT: Skimping out on quality sleep
FEEL BETTER HABIT: Making quality, regular sleep a priority

No question about it, sleep is a powerful tool in the repertoire of good habits. Sleep is essential to regulate thinking, mood, and helping you sustain your focus, energy, and resilience in tougher times. Make sure this gets top priority!

Of course, there are so many more good habits and not-so-good habits to be aware of. These are just a few. Feel free to add and practise your own.

FINAL WORDS OF CARE AND CAUTION: These are just a few ideas that I hope can be helpful to many but sometimes one may need more support. If you feel you are having a very tough time, please reach out to your doctor or another professional who can direct you to the right support. For more information, you can also look to CAMH Foundation for additional tips and resources.

More to come in a video series soon….check back here for more and/or sign up to my newsletter.

Here’s to your wellbeing and resilience in these challenging times!

Eileen Chadnick, PCC, ABC is principal of Big Cheese Coaching and an award-winning coach and communications professional in Toronto. She specializes in career management, leadership development, and communications. She works with leaders (aspiring to experienced) and organizations to foster personal, professional, and organizational wellbeing. She draws from the disciplines of emotional intelligence, Conversational Intelligence®, and neuroscience. Author of the book, Ease:Manage Overwhelm in Times of Crazy Busy, Eileen is also a contributing leadership and careers columnist with the Globe and Mail. Join her in conversations about leadership, learning, life!

 

 

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