How do we start effectively coping with our anxiety, fear, catastrophizing, awfulizing, and obsessing?

How do we live with less, manage in the meantime, do the maintenance on our relationships that matter, stay strong, and begin strategizing about our next chapter?

Our world has been profoundly shaken with the latest virus that has impacted our lives in the last few weeks. This pandemic is spreading quickly around our planet and as a result we are continually being updated by the media with some very scary and disturbing developments. 

  • Many thousands of people are becoming globally infected with Coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • Many people are dying from it
  • We know entirely too little about how it spreads and who is likely to be infected
  • Treatment and vaccines have yet to be developed and will probably arrive in a year or longer
  • Testing initiatives and services have been limited
  • Schools, businesses, sporting events, entertainment venues, large meetings, modes of transportation, et al are being closed until further notice
  • Some entire countries are now being required to stay indoors at home
  • The escalation of the problem continues and it appears that we all have to be concerned about protecting ourselves from the possibility of infection
  • Many people are so anxious that they are cleaning out stores of their supplies of toilet tissue, food, water, home supplies, disinfectants, etc.
  • And, perhaps worst of all, many of us are beginning to panic, resulting in a variety of reactions… shock, disbelief, fear, agony, sadness, guilt, weakness, anxiety, obsession, anger, helplessness, suspicion, and frustration

This international pandemic crisis has created a huge distraction from our daily routines. 

Many of us are experiencing loss of income, requirements to remain quarantined, and dilemmas on how to remain safe while trying to stay strong, and keep the business of living at some level of functional.

In addition, there exists a significant disruption in our perception of control of our own lives.  Because unpredictable is now the new normal, and many of us are also in the deep end of the emotional roller coaster, we can be easily distracted from our work, our responsibilities and our focus.  What can we do?  How do we stay focused instead of constantly worrying or remaining hostage to the latest newsbreak?

It is sad that it has taken such a crisis as this one to get our attention and replace our cynicism and fear with strength and recovery.  On the other hand, we are going to once again witness firsthand, in this darkest hour, the triumph of the human spirit and its healing power. 

Here are 9 ideas on how to prevail that can be helpful:

  1. EMBRACE THE OBVIOUS. Admit to yourself, out loud, that rather than life being the way it SHOULD be, in reality LIFE IS THE WAY IT IS.  It is curious how people have so much trouble reconciling that gap.  When you accept the cards that are dealt and play those, life becomes easier.  Further, you begin to “SOLVE” problems rather than simply “describe” them.  So, look at the obvious – life has changed, there is a national crisis, your work and life are seriously impacted, and so is your emotional resiliency.  You will actually begin to feel better when you can learn to embrace the OBVIOUS.  Life has changed for all of us and we can now improvise, adapt, move on, and overcome. When you think about how you will advance, you automatically begin to take charge of your life rather than be hostage to the circumstances. The key is to remain PROACTIVE instead of reactive most of the time.
  1. GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO BE HUMAN. So often people apologize for being emotional when it is a perfectly normal and expected reaction.  It is difficult to stay focused at work when you are feeling upset.  When you admit that, you can actually experience episodes of emotion and then recover faster. To repress these emotions only makes them worse and the result is an increased inability to focus.
  1. SET UP A ROUTINE WITH SHORT BREAKS and longer intervals of concentrated focus and work. When you are upset it is difficult to spend long hours of concentration at work.  You might want to take frequent short breaks (if your job allows it) so you can decompress regularly.  Still, it remains important that you stay steady in returning to your responsibilities.  It is easy to rationalize taking longer breaks and then blowing off the rest of the day.  So, break up the day into bite size bits and you will have more success in staying focused.
  1. LEARN SKILLS ON HOW TO RECOVER. My experience is that most everyone would like to learn how to recover faster from failures and setbacks and yet most people are quite unaware and ill-equipped to do so. So, follow this recipe to recover (think NOLD).
    • NOTICE: When you are catastrophizing about your situation, ask yourself, “What am I NOTICING?” When you do this you will likely notice that you are catastrophizing, awfulizing, obsessing, and simply spinning your emotions up.
    • OPTIONS: Then ask yourself, “What are my OPTIONS at this point?” Make sure you think about at least 3 options. Here are some ideas:
      1. “I can keep catastrophizing, awfulizing, or obsessing.”
      2. “I can make this situation worse, and have a nervous breakdown.”
      3. “I can pull myself together, and replace my description of the problem with solutions to get back in the saddle. 
    • LEARNING: Then ask yourself this question, “What am I LEARNING from these options?”  When you ask this question you will begin to think in common sense terms and you will very likely choose option 3.
    • DO DIFFERENTLY: Now, ask yourself, “What will I now DO DIFFERENTLY?”  This is very important, you must start to DO something on a proactive basis.  Take initiative and get some momentum going.

NOTE: If you are noticing that someone in your network also needs to recover from a setback you can ask that person the above NOLD questions and they will also likely recover faster. (If you want more material on the Recovery recipe, please contact our office.)

  1. TAKE INITIATIVE TO AFFILIATE OR REAFFILIATE WITH KEY PEOPLE. When you are upset it is easy to let anxiety and worry increase your sense of isolation, disconnection, and meaninglessness.  Solve this by making regular contact with family, friends, co-workers, customers, and people you would like to know better.  As your connection to people increases, so does your ability to cope and remain pro-active.  Initiative creates more initiative.  Therefore, your taking action to connect with people increases your feeling of strength.  Many people are offering help to the victims and their families.  Many businesses are doing the same.  These support efforts increase productivity and add new meaning to work and life.  Further, remember that technology includes tele video conferencing and you would be quite surprised how routinely connecting with people that matter to you increases the “glue” between you.  

My experience is that most people do entirely too little relationship maintenance with others in their lives… children, spouses, parents, extended family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, customers, etc.  Increase your connection and “glue” with people important to you. People clearly become happier when they feel closer to others. So, set up routine initiatives to connect with others, get conversations started, reach out to others, and you will find your smile.

  1. CREATE MULTIPLE OPTIONS. When you are upset and it is difficult to concentrate, you will often polarize about what to do.  You will automatically think in two options:  win/lose, right/wrong, success/failure, smart/stupid, all/nothing.  When you do this, you will become hamstrung, paralyzed, and end up stalling, unable to move forward.  To prevent this, make sure you always keep multiple options in mind. (See #4 above.) Think of all the ways you can deal with your responsibilities at hand.  You will be quite amazed that as you think of several options, new ways of dealing with your situation will emerge.  For example, because of the national crisis many of your major contacts with your clients have dried up or been postponed until next year.  You are now feeling panicked because you were counting on that income.  You polarize and think you only have two options:
    • Win the business back with your customers, or
    • Lose the business permanently and go into debt.

Notice the anxiety building!  Is it difficult to focus?  Now, instead of polarizing, create multiple options (minimum 3). 

  1. Get the clients back
  2. Lose everything
  3. Get some new clients
  4. Retool your products/services to existing markets
  5. Re-focus your efforts to gain more and different access to the existing market
  6. Re-establish relationships with old customers/colleagues

As you can see, you will recover faster when you create multiple options. 

  1. LEARN THE LESSONS. Whenever you go through a crisis, there exists a great opportunity to learn some new lessons about life.  Remember, life is about learning lessons, and lessons will be repeated until they are learned. 

So, ask yourself, “Since this national crisis has happened, what can I learn about me, my life and life in general?”  Spend some time reflecting on the answers.  You might begin to change your behavior and live your life differently, perhaps with greater meaning, higher standards, more compassion, stronger character, and with more of a contribution to society. 

  1. START NEW AND REGULAR ROUTINES WITH YOURSELF and key people. There are many options. Here are just a few:
    • Play board games together.
    • Learn to play chess.
    • Clean out or reorganize several sections of the house.
    • Take initiatives to repair, clean, disinfect, improve your home.
    • Read and improve your mind rather than just watching TV.
    • Learn a new language.
    • Start eating healthy, lose weight and get in shape.
    • Exercise regularly with cardio, strength, yoga, aerobics, and other activities.
    • Dance at home, by yourself, and/or with your partner and family.
    • Sell some of your stuff that is just sitting around… online.
    • Start thinking about your next chapter, how it might look, and how you will manage it better.
    • Learn about fiscal literacy, how you will save money and manage it better than you have. Increase your income and shrink your expenses.
    • Create a database. Look through your address book and begin the establishment of a database of family, friends, customers, colleagues, etc. It is very important that you do this because time will go by quickly and you will always want to stay in touch with those people. Most people think this is a very good idea, and yet, most people avoid doing it with the fantasy that it will get done someday. When you have this database and you start using it, you can recognize those people important to you and reach out to them. Be sure to wish them “Happy Birthday” as a great way to keep the “glue” strong.
  1. WRITE DOWN YOUR BASIC GOVERNING VALUES. When you do this, you will reduce the gap between the way you would like to live your life and the way you are living it now.  Your decisions are reflective of your values and if your values are unclear, your focus and drive will be fuzzy as well.  Spend some time becoming clear about your values, standards, and principles.  Write them down and put them where you can see them.  They will be marvelously helpful in guiding your decisions.  As a result, your productivity goes up as well as the quality of your work, self-respect, and relationships. 

This crisis can allow us all to learn lessons and galvanize us in our strength of character, our commitment to our values, and the triumph of the human spirit.  Our chronic cynicism can be minimized and it can be replaced with a new and revitalized commitment to community and our need to support each other. 

Life can certainly be difficult at times. This is a great time to change our behavior, improve our standards, take some initiatives, share our strength of character, and learn some valuable lessons about life. 

What are your thoughts?

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