2020 A year like no other
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic loss of human life worldwide and brought an unprecedented challenge to all of our major systems from public health, travel, food security and the world of work. The economic and social disruption caused by this pandemic has been devastating: tens of millions of people are at risk of falling into extreme poverty, millions of enterprises face an existential threat and nearly half of the world’s 3.3 billion global workforce are at risk of losing their livelihoods. At the time of writing 72.3 million worldwide have contracted the virus, with 47.3 million recovered and.1.61 million deaths.
Where ever you are in the world reading this today you will be living with your own experience of this global story, its impact on you, your family, community and your own workplace wellbeing.
For many of us continuing to work we were hit these past months with the double whammy of gratitude that we can work and the impact a huge range new stressors from the significant changes in how we do our work. Most of us have rolled with the punches, done what is necessary, adapted to new practises, managing to keep up our focus and productivity
These pre Christmas weeks are the natural time for us to take the foot off the pedal in our professional workspace, to review and reflect on the past year and to make plans to support our ongoing wellbeing and flourishing during the year ahead.
I am writing this blog especially for you if you have been working through the pandemic, adapting and changing your practises as required. This fast paced change in this time of global crises is heavy work. I am inviting you now to press the pause button, take a moment and to reflect on some actions you might take to support your own wellbeing as we come to the Christmas break and the end of the working year.
Our individual journey through 2020
We are living through an unprecedented and uncertain time, requiring each of us to navigate our way, as best we can, through this rapidly evolving global health crisis. We know that with things changing so quickly, the resulting uncertainty and unpredictability can take a toll on our mental and physical health.
Managing our emotions and supporting each other in the professional space of our work environment can be challenging at the best of times. This is why, more than ever now, we each need to find a specific way that works for us to regularly step back, take a pause and be proactive in looking after ourselves and others, finding a way that works for us to support our own workplace wellbeing. I know that this isn’t easy, particularly in a time when we are busy, stressed and coping with significant challenge and change, and I want to support you with this. In this blog, I am concentrating on mindful actions rather than mindful practises and here you will find five different practical actions you can take to strengthen your own wellbeing, as well as supporting loved ones, family members, your colleagues, and friends.
Each of these mindful actions takes an evidence-based approach to offering you practical tools and techniques to help manage uncertainty, reduce anxiety and stay connected and grounded. The practise of mindfulness helps us to be more skilful in cultivating greater and more objective awareness of our own emotional landscape, the emotions of others, and the changing external circumstances we are attempting to navigate with more grace and ease.
By taking these mindful actions we give ourselves more choice in how we respond to the various challenges we may face and we become more skilful in the ability to more consciously choose where we place our attention.
Understanding how the COVID-19 pandemic related stress might affect our mental health.
The COVID-19 pandemic is to say the least a challenging event. Some people might find it more worrying than others. While it has affected all our lives in some ways, some of us are finding it more worrying and disturbing than others. Over the period of this past year you might have experienced some of the following:
• increased anxiety
• feeling stressed
• finding yourself excessively checking for symptoms, in yourself, or others
• becoming irritable more easily
• feeling insecure or unsettled
• fearing that normal aches and pains might be the virus
• having trouble sleeping
• feeling helpless or a lack of control
• having irrational thoughts
The first thing to know is that there is nothing wrong here. Each of these experiences are normal responses to such an event as Covid19. It is likely that for each of us our experiences within the COVID-19 pandemic will include a variety of unique stressors associated with life and work. From losing an existing job and potentially a sense of identity to significant work changes maybe including working remotely, and perhaps deciding whether to stay in a role that poses potential risk of exposure to the coronavirus, we are all grappling with uncertainty and stress.
The need to develop new coping skills to manage the myriad stressors associated with COVID-19 is more important now than ever days.as we each struggle to find our own way to workplace wellbeing in these strange While work related stress is usually focussed on managing working relationships, concerns about job security, and anxieties about job performance, now in the latter part of 2020 the major source of work-related stress is how to navigate all these issues in the context of a pandemic. With physical isolation mandates in place, every business that provides a service has been impacted. Temporary closures and huge changes to work practises has led to new experiences of stress manifesting as boredom, loss of routine, unclear productivity expectations, inertia, depression, and anxiety. We know that mental health concerns and continued stressors compound each other over time, setting in motion a vicious cycle that offers fewer opportunities for us to access support when we are experiencing these new levels of stress along with the loss(at least for now) of traditional organisational structure and routine.
So, how does coping with work-related stress change in a time of pandemic and new workplace challenges? Surprisingly the answer is: not much!
Coping with stress of any kind requires an awareness of the stress response and an understanding of how the human body strives to maintain equilibrium in times of significant change and challenge and experiences of real or perceived threat.With this understanding of how our body responds in times of challenge, we can intervene in the stress response and support the relaxation response. When we have a clear understanding of the physiological stress response and its effects, we can begin to intentionally engage the same physiological system to relieve unhealthy stress and promote relaxation, peace and yes even happiness at work no matter what the external circumstances.
Stress Gets Bad Press
We tend to think of stress as a bad thing. A certain amount of stress however is essential for our normal functioning and wellbeing. Stress gets us up out of bed, to an appointment on time, and allows us to find the energy to cope in a moment of extreme challenge. At the basic, organismic level, a stressor is considered anything in our experience or perception that requires the body to adapt. Anything from a lack of sleep to financial worries or coping with a never ending to do list, to questioning our purpose and meaning in life can initiate the stress adaptation response, also called the “fight-or-flight” response or the survival response.
Our habitual response to stress is simply our ’old brain’ response, doing what it can to keep us safe.
In this ‘old brain’ response when a perception of threat registers through our senses as atypical, the stress adaptation response is initiated. The brain communicates with our hormonal system and releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which serve as chemical messengers and instruct the body to prepare for fleeing or fighting. Functions such as digestion, reproduction, higher-level cognitive functioning, and immune functioning that are not essential for survival are suppressed. We are not able to think clearly and focus instead only on threat.
Though this response is automatic, we can with just a little effort learn and practice strategies to break the cycle, reverse the hormonal messages, and engage instead the relaxation response.
Understanding The Stress Response
So we know that the ‘old brain’ or sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for the “fight or flight” response during any potential danger.
The parasympathetic nervous system or the ‘newer brain’ response on the other hand inhibits the body from overworking in times of stress and actually restores the body to a calm and composed state.
Mindful actions are one way to notice when we are stuck on fight/flight or freeze mode and to learn how to strengthen the parasympathetic response. The following five mindful actions are simple effective ways you and support yourself now to find more balance and calm as we come to the end of this tumultuous year.
Mindful Action One:
Acknowledging challenges that have come with significant change
It is ok not to be ok,
Allow yourself to notice what is here, now for you,
Listen to your inner voice ( tired, stressed, overwhelmed, happy) and respond to yourself as you would respond to a very close friend in the same situation.
Mindful Action Two:
Redefining our boundaries in work
Establish physical space – conducive and supportive- and leave work here,
Establish digital boundaries,
Establish time boundaries ( including breaks, chats, one thing at a time, time for white space).
Mindful Action Three:
Practical steps to support sustainability of the work
Schedule and prioritize,
Build in breaks including time outside,
Learn to be ok with an unfinished to do list, an unmet need.
Mindful Action Four:
Acknowledge our own suffering – self soothe
Self Care in support of leadership in a time of disruption,
Know what supports your self care and commit to this,
Be kind to you,
Stay connected to others – not an interruption but key to the ongoing well being and resilience for both you and those you support.
Mindful Action 5:
Self Care to Resilience
Might be taking a long bath, a lovely walk or watching a great movie –whatever you identify as positive self care for you,
Also involves noticing what is happening in me , acknowledging my suffering and failures showing kindness and compassion towards myself .
Sometimes involves making challenging decisions – setting boundaries, saying no, – refilling my own cup,
Includes surrendering to what I cannot control and taking action in the areas where you do have choice.
Step by step to Equanimity
Equanimity is the wonderful quality of being able to live from inner peace and calm. Small mindful actions can help us to replace stress with this sense of inner calm infused with the following qualities:
– Inner Peace
– Balance and Calm
– Detached but not Indifferent
– Rather an engaged, compassionate activism
– Core skill of Mindful Leadership.
Apart from the five mindful action steps above you can also manage stress and support your wellbeing by deliberately slowing down. Counter intuitive I know but maybe adapting the ten zen things below over the next few weeks will be your route to finding your own inner calm. To begin with you might even read through the ten zen things slowly and deliberately.
Ten Zen Things
1. Do one thing at a time
This rule is simple to follow and is about focus.
When you’re doing something, focus completely on this. As the Zen proverb says, “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.”
2. Do things slowly and deliberately.
Don’t rush. Keep things simple. Take your time and make your actions deliberate, not rushed and random.
3. Don’t move on to the next task until you’re finished.
Once you’ve completed the task you’re focusing on, then you can move on to the next task.
Too many times we get close to finishing but then leave things at the last minute. This creates a problem for us down the line.
Instead, keep focused and finish the task off so that you can move on to the next task.
4. Do less
This isn’t about being lazy. It’s about being selective with the tasks you choose to focus on.
It’s important to do things that are productive and help advance an overall strategy or mission.
Be mindful about what you’re working on so that everything adds value in some way.
5. Put space between things
Don’t schedule things so close together. Then you won’t have time to unwind and reflect on what you’re doing and why.
Having a more relaxed schedule helps you to manage yourself and create some space for when tasks take longer than expected.
6. Develop rituals
Rituals help to provide a sense of importance on things you’re working on. If it’s important enough to have a ritual, then it’s important enough for your focus.
7. Designate time for certain things
This is simple but deceptively important.
By creating a specific time for certain tasks, you ensure they get done on a regular basis. This helps you to create momentum in your life and gives you time to work on other important tasks.
For example, have a time for bathing, a time for work, a time for cleaning and a time for eating. It will help you develop a routine and you’ll be much more productive.
8. Devote time to sitting
In the life of a Zen monk, sitting meditation is one of the most important parts of the day.
The meditation practice is really just about being present. You can do this at any time, just sitting down and observing what’s happening around you, and how you feel in your body without thinking too much about it.
9. Smile and serve others
Zen monks spend part of their day in service to others, whether that be other monks in the monastery or people in the outside world.
It teaches them humility, and ensures their lives are devoted to others.
You can do this in your life as well, by focusing on helping others in your community, doing charity work or just generally being kind to people around you.
10. Make cleaning and cooking like meditation
Cooking and cleaning are two of the most important parts of a Zen monk’s day.
They are both great ways to practice mindfulness and can be excellent rituals to perform at set times.
Put your entire focus into these tasks, concentrate and do them slowly and completely. It may change your entire day, and create much better conditions for your life.
Wherever you are in the world I wish you and your loved ones a safe, peaceful and happy Christmas. I leave you with a quote from a favourite teacher –
“ Moment by moment we can find our way though ”