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Staying calm in the whirlwind

What a difference a week makes. Most of us are now working remotely and the country is in virtual lockdown - evidence of just how quickly the Coronavirus is affecting every aspect of our daily lives. If we are feeling unsure about how to respond - that’s because this is unlike anything we’ve encountered.

As organisational psychologists we have a view on the impacts of a crisis like this on the workplace. How it affects people and teams, their leaders - and the pressure it’s certainly bringing right now.

We’ve been listening over the past few days and through these conversations we think we can share some tips. We hope they can help you understand how you and those around you might be feeling, keep a focus on what’s important and bring some badly needed calm.


Stay in the here and now

There is a lot we don’t know - and that means uncertainty. This vacuum brings a lot of competing opinions and judgements which, when we are trying to make sense of it ourselves, just brings more to try and work through.

If you worry too much, where is the cut off point? Where do you stop? Trying to pay attention to every opinion or scenario will lead to overload. So, please stay in the here and now. Do not think about too many steps or days ahead. Focus on what you are doing and how you are feeling now. In truth that’s the only thing you can really influence, so being more in the present will help you save some badly needed energy for the future.


Decisions change, it’s OK

This is a fluid crisis. You’ll make decisions each day about what you think is the right course of action or what you can achieve - it’s OK to change these if things change. Too often people agree to something and then feel they have committed to it and can’t change it. That leads to more unnecessary stress and, in this uncertain environment, that’s not helpful.


Manage your own energy

Don’t get dragged into other people’s dramas around this. With the stress and worry that many people are experiencing people will, for their own reasons, look to get others to agree that they are right about what needs to be done or what people should do. They’ll want you to agree with their view on how bad this is, or how their situation is worse, how they are doing the right thing etc. That might make them feel better, but what about you?


Stay focused on what is real for you

One way to manage your own energy is to focus on what is real for you. If you feel OK you are OK and don’t need to feel guilty about that. If you feel concerned, acknowledge it but don’t let it control and dominate your thoughts. Ask yourself what you are concerned about, is it real, likely and what, if anything can you do about it?


Tolerate more than you might want to

Be more tolerant of other people’s (and your own) behaviours at this time. People are likely to act out their fears and show behaviours that are not normal or helpful. Do your best to understand and work with them rather than judge or attack them. This is especially true for leaders - whether in organisations or in families.


Acknowledge pressures - including your own

At all levels in organisations, people will be coming to terms with a very different situation than ever a week ago. People have family pressures, financial pressures - businesses and mortgages are on the line. Then there are societal fears, restriction of movement for example.

In these situations people’s output and capacity will reduce and looking to do too much ‘business as usual’ can be detrimental. Acknowledge the pressure you see in others - it is almost certainly a by product of the stress they are under. And, don’t forget to include yourself. You are under pressure too, how is that affecting your decision making?


Keep active

At times of stress, the temptation is to reach for coffee or chocolate for a quick morale or energy boost - but these are short-lived. Movement and activity can help to reduce the stress levels on your body which in turn increases levels of wellbeing and productivity. It’s still safe to walk outside in open spaces - or use an exercise bike at home. Even a walk around the garden can lift your spirit and change the way you feel for the better.


Stay connected

We are being asked to start a prolonged period of social isolation - so it’s really important to find ways to stay connected with friends, family, and colleagues. Simply talking to other people can help normalise how you are feeling and also provide a distraction from your own thoughts. Visual communication like video calls (such as Skype, Facetime, Zoom and WhatsApp) while working from home fights isolation while keeping teams engaged.


Laughter is OK too

Don’t be afraid to laugh, have fun or enjoy yourself. It can feel inappropriate or you can feel guilty or judged for doing it but there are very beneficial reasons why you should. It can be helpful to release stress and also normalise life - something that we could all benefit from.


Look to the future - this will pass

There will be a time when this will have all passed and, hopefully for most people, they will be able to regroup and get on with their lives. It can help to get an anchor on a time in the future when all of this calms down - which will help you have some solid ground to stand on.


Help from LinkedIn

LinkedIn has made a number of resources available for free to support how people and organisations cope with the crisis caused by Coronavirus. If you are working remotely, whether you’re new to remote work or not, and whether you’re leading a team or part of a distributed team - there are courses that could help. This includes tutorials on learning Skype and Zoom - to help stay connected. Find out more here.


In conclusion

In difficult times it’s understandable to focus on the actions you think you should take - which makes it easy to neglect the emotional aspects. Whether leaders, team members or just people getting through each day, we feel the pressure to make the right decisions. The reality is that we need to pay as much attention to what is happening around us - to ourselves and others. People we know won’t be behaving as we’d normally expect - we are all under different pressures, some of which we impose on ourselves without realising it.

By recognising these pressure points and making the time for the actions that will release some of it - through contact, communication and even a little laughter (it’s allowed), we will all be a little more calmer and equipped for the days ahead.


Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash


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