How to grow and rise in times of uncertainty
We are currently living in exceptional circumstances, which are challenging even for the most resilient among us.
With a global pandemic, racial injustice, political unrest and climate change concerns, we are surrounded by uncertainty and we don’t know what life will look like in 6 months or in a year or two. Our systems and structures have changed, and we have had to reinvent the way we work, the way we learn, and even the way we entertain ourselves. Some of us have had to cope with some degree of loss too: a lifestyle, a job, financial security or (most painfully) a loved one.
This is producing a lot of anxiety, and we have sadly seen a rise in mental illnesses such as addiction, depression, or suicide in all age groups.
Six months ago, we had to very quickly change, adapt and learn to live with Covid, but now we are facing a different challenge: how to live with the pandemic long term without knowing for how long. Runners will tell you that you don’t need the same skills and training to run a 400m or a marathon. Well, we have run our 400m, and we are now heading for a marathon, potentially even several of them. And so, we need to adapt again…
One of the positive aspects of the current situation is that we are all in it together. This generates a common understanding, and perhaps a sense of inclusion. However, it also means that the people who we might have relied on in the past might not have the bandwidth to support us, as we are all in the thick of it…
So, it’s down to each of us. It is our responsibility to find the resilience to take this in and move forward. We must all realise that stress management and self-care are no longer a luxury – they have become a necessity.
With World Mental Health Day last Saturday 10th October, here are a few tips and tools that I shared in a webinar with my Instinctif colleagues last week. I hope that these will empower you to not only navigate these exceptional circumstances, but also to flourish and make sure you harness the challenges and difficulties as opportunities.
- Cut yourself some slack
These are particularly tough times and it is OK not to be OK.
Be aware of your emotions and feelings, acknowledge them and let them sit with you for a while. You may be feeling anxious, worried, overwhelmed, stressed out or even a little sad. This is all normal. Give yourself time to acknowledge what is happening, take stock and readjust. Be kind to yourself.
- Find your ‘new’ balance
For a lot of us finding balance means a better work-life balance, which has been quite challenging in the last six months, especially for those juggling the demands of work and home schooling or those looking after a relative directly affected by Covid.
A lot of us focus on better time management, which is a good place to start, but we also need to learn to manage boundaries better and to make better choices.
The Wheel of Life or Life Pie exercise can help you to identify your priorities and life goals.
- On a notepad, draw a large circle segmented – like the slices of an orange. This represents your life balance. Label each segment with an area of your life, for example: finances | love/relationships | career/work | personal growth | friends | family | health etc.
- Move around the wheel, scoring (from 1-10) how satisfied you are with each area of your life right now (1 = completely negative, needs improvement; 10 = completely positive, no room for improvement).
The wheel gives you a holistic picture of all the elements that make up a fulfilling and happy life, and allows you to focus on improving either one or several segments of your life at a time.
Which of these segments will you work on during these strange times? Write down 2 or 3 actions to start moving forward in these areas over the coming months.
- Avoid stress contagion
Stress can be contagious. Simply watching someone else tense up can trigger the release of the stress hormone, cortisol, in our own bodies. We can even have meta-stress – where we stress about being stressed.
To address your stress and understand it better, think about a bridge that is carrying too much weight. It might be possible to see the warning signs before it happens (the bridge would bow, buckle and creak) but eventually, if nothing is done about it, the bridge will collapse.
The same principle can be applied to us, human beings, with excessive demands and challenges placed on our bridges. There may be early warning signs, but also stress can creep up on some of us, resulting in an unexpected breakdown.
To release some of the weight on your bridge, you can:
a) Take back control – Make a conscious decision to focus your precious time and energy in the right places, where what you do can have an impact. If you cannot control or even influence something that is worrying you, choose to write it off and let go of it.
b) Change your mindset – Everyone is going to experience setbacks or obstacles in their life journey: how you explain them to yourself will determine what they mean and how they make you feel. Optimism is a common attribute of resilient individuals. Some studies have even found that when participants learned to view their stress response as helpful for their performance, they were less stressed out, less anxious, and more confident.
c) Embrace the perfectly imperfect – Is your best never good enough? If the perfectionism is down to others, reaffirm your boundaries and learn to be more assertive. If the perfectionism is coming from within, it is time to give yourself a break: save your high standards for the things that matter to you most, be process smart (the majority of the pay-out for your efforts will be realised at the early stages of processes), and reward yourself for being imperfect. Finally, allow yourself to be human and fallible.
d) Practice Gratitude – Last thing in the evening or when you wake up, write down a few things you are grateful for in your life. Can you rise to the challenge and practice this for five days and avoid repeating the same entry twice? What about a month? You will notice that the practice will gradually change your entire outlook on life – give it a try!
- Build a self-care or wellness plan
Not everyone is a fan of routine, and I am not suggesting that you join the ‘5am Club’, but in times of uncertainty, creating some structure from the things we can control ca provide some stability and peace of mind.
To create a wellness plan that works for you, consider doing the following:
- List the 5 most important things you need to stay healthy mentally, physically and emotionally
- List your 3 main triggers for feeling highly stressed or unwell
- List your 5 early warning signs that you may be becoming highly stressed or unwell
- List 2 people you could speak to if you feel mentally unwell
- Take the pressure off
Strive to eat healthily, to get enough sleep and to include some movement in your life, seek human connections, but also give yourself permission to fail from time to time.
If you are having a bad day, or even a bad week, that’s fine. Accept it, give yourself a hug (or better, ask for one if you can) and promise yourself that you will try again tomorrow.
And finally, if things are becoming too much, reach out and ask for help. At Instinctif, we have a number of trained Mental Health First Aiders, as well as access to an Employee Assistance Programme. See if you have anything similar in your organisation or check the following for advice and support:
I hope these tips on how to navigate times of uncertainty will be helpful as we all embark upon the next marathon in our lives.
Dr Christelle Kerouedan is a Partner in Instinctif’s Healthcare and Life Sciences team, and is a qualified life coach.