In the humanitarian sector we’d be calling the pandemic a protracted crisis by now. And this one, even with a vaccine on the market, still has an uncertain future. Uncertainty is like a petri dish for anxiety. Anxiety flourishes during times of uncertainty. Some people thrive in situations where the unexpected can happen, and for others it takes more energy to navigate such an unclear playing field.
The pandemic means that many of us are working from home these days. You could be an HR person supporting your client base remotely, a leader who is trying to manage your team, or a team member simply trying to keep the wheels turning amid all your other commitments. Everyone, regardless of position, needs to feel seen, needs to have efforts acknowledged and needs to feel a sense of belonging.
I am neither a psychologist nor a therapist. I have no medical training and I am not a scientist. But after 23 some odd years in the HR field, across private, public and humanitarian sectors in IT, health and commercial industries, on all 5 continents and in many different languages, I have learned, seen, and experienced a thing or two. Experiences that have given me many hours of reflection on how much we have in common, on how much we can learn from and support each other, if only we would reach out that hand.
Here are three things I practice with my teams, colleagues and personally; whether working from the office or in remote settings:
1. Connect with your own stress and emotions
A serious health scare a couple of years ago, involving a long and ongoing series of appointments, tests and surgeries has forced me to pay more attention. To pay more attention to what’s happening inside my body, inside my mind, and to the interaction between the two.
One thing is to say that it’s ok (more than ok, it’s healthy) to feel shit sometimes, and to say so; but what do you do about it? How do you work that stress through your body and out of your body so that you can move on?
I have learned that a variety of things is effective for me. This toolbox, if you like, is something I constantly mix up for myself to maximise the effect, depending on what I feel I need most at the time. These range from journaling, writing lists, making a simple calendar plan for the day or week, to breathing and mindfulness exercises (Calm and Headspace apps are great resources) including meditation or mantras, exercise, therapy, rest, or just doing the next right thing.
2. Practice self-compassion
In this climate, where it’s easy to say that everything is going to hell, we have got to maintain that voice of optimism and positivity, that balance of hope and acceptance, and build it up wherever we can. We are so often our own worst critic; and need to act more as our own best friend.
Thousands of neural pathways are literally being formed each time we have to figure out a new problem or come up with a new solution or relate to a new set of COVID related restrictions. And although the bathroom scales might suggest to you that you are not using that much energy, your brain is working overtime.
Exercise self-compassion. If you are not as productive or as effective or as motivated as you usually are, instead of beating yourself up over it, take a step back and see just what these new circumstances and environment are demanding of you, in all its complexity. Don’t put yourself last on the list; taking care of yourself matters.
3. Connect with others through giving feedback
Regardless how self-sufficient we think we are, receiving or giving some concrete feedback, and showing or getting credit for the ordinary as well as the extraordinary can have a huge impact.
A colleague was standing in for our boss and ran our team meeting. She dealt with all the agenda items and was able to move issues forward, having received team input. For a person like me, who needs to see action and hates getting stuck in endless discussions and consultations, this was a very productive use of time, and I told her so.
Running an effective meeting, not such a big deal, right? I didn’t think much of it at the time, but it later came back to me that sharing these things had helped boost her confidence and know she was on the right track in what later became a full-time acting role for her. Never underestimate the impact even the smallest piece of positive feedback can have.
We need to lift each other up, cheer each other on, champion our colleagues, peers, clients, customers, and yes, even our bosses.
Boiling it down
Being in crisis is hard. It is also an opportunity for development. Empowerment comes from realising that we do have choices even when we feel that we lack options. Working from home over time is wearing for many of us. Practising self-compassion, being generous to others, and being honest with yourself about how you feel, can help you build the resilience you need.