Personal resilience and managing stress are fundamental to our wellbeing during these difficult times. Greater uncertainty, remote working, and physical or social isolation all bring with them their own pressures. But while the current situation may be unprecedented, there is a range of tools that we can adapt and apply to support us during these unusual times – increasing our resilience and ability to manage how we navigate this uncharted territory.
Tool 1: control the controllable
One of the main causes of stress and anxiety for human beings is the feeling of loss of control, which can be exacerbated when coupled with passive thinking (‘I can’t do anything about my problem’). The act of taking control is in itself empowering and crucial to finding a solution that works for us as individuals. The trick is to identify what’s in our control and what isn’t.
The first tool you can use to support you are the two circles of control, adapted from Stephen Covey’s book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. The inner-circle indicates what is in our control, while the outer circle highlights what is not. Focusing your concerns on the inner circle helps directs your energy towards what you can influence, preventing you from expending energy on items outside of your control.
For example, many of us currently can’t control where we work as we’ve been instructed to stay at home. However, we may be able to control our workspace. In my case, I use my ironing board as a standing desk – not just for amusement, but because it helps keep muscular-skeletal problems at bay. I’ve also gathered my house plants onto my desk to create a more pleasant working environment.
As well as reorganising our working environment, many of us may also need to reset our workdays to deal with the unpredictability of current home life. Familiar challenges, such as managing workload demands, may need to be balanced with new challenges, such as home-schooling or general childcare, which isn’t necessarily within our control.
What is in our control, however, is our ‘commute’ and how we separate our working day from our evening. Establish a clear routine to enable you to mark the end of the working day. Shut down your laptop and put it away, switch off your work phone, go for a run, take a shower – do whatever’s needed to mentally signal to yourself that you’re now off the clock.
Tool 2: your new 5-a-day
The NHS provides 10 stress busters for workplace stress; we’ve condensed them into our own 5-a-day.
- Work smarter, not harder: Working smarter means prioritising and focusing on fewer goals rather than multi-tasking. Are you a morning lark or a night owl? I’m a morning person so, where possible, I schedule afternoon meetings. Talking is easier than creating a document. In the current environment, working smarter also means adapting your working style to factor in the number of plates you’re spinning. If you have children at home, can you adjust your working hours around them?
- Positivity and gratefulness: You cannot, and should not, try to feel positive all the time. Recognising and accepting negative feelings is an important, healthy way of managing stress. However, we can practice adjusting our attitude to build resilience. Accept what you cannot change. In stressful situations, take a breath and objectively observe what’s happening. Walk to a different room or make a cup of tea to reflect – you don’t always need to respond straight away. Look for one thing which is going well or is humorous in a difficult situation. Picturing my day like a BBC sitcom immediately lightens my mood. Even better, identify one thing you can learn from the situation.
- Social connections: There is strong evidence to suggest that feeling close to and valued by other people is a fundamental human need that contributes to us functioning well. The current distancing measures are physical not social distancing. Evidence also shows that people who help others, through activities such as volunteering or community work, become more resilient. Simple approaches such as calling someone instead of emailing, organising virtual post-work drinks and checking in on colleagues and asking how they are can be beneficial for them and you.
- Look after yourself: Continued learning through life builds confidence, which s inversely associated with stress. Can you use the lockdown to set goals that interest you? There are free courses online (e.g. Coursera) and art galleries doing virtual tours. Importantly, create clear boundaries between ‘work’ and ‘home’. Designate a separate area for work and you’ll find it much easier to close the door and switch off. Also, recognise if you are working more. This article on panic working is a great summary of how this can creep up on you. Introduce boundaries gradually to help them stick, e.g. stop checking email for two evenings to start with.
- Health: Be active and avoid slipping into unhealthy habits – both physical and mental. Take the opportunity to exercise outside daily, explore online class options, reduce social media time, particularly when reading news on COVID-19, maintain regular sleep patterns and avoid too much unhealthy food.
Taking my own advice
Having used these tools with colleagues and clients for a while, now more than ever, I’m personally reflecting on how I can adjust my daily habits with these learnings in mind. Managing my personal resilience is increasingly important as I support two parents in the high-risk category and a partner working in the NHS. I’m hoping to emerge from this phase more resilient and better at managing myself in times of uncertainty and change.