I’ve received many positive reviews on workshops on staying “mentally fit” during COVID. These sessions were delivered for the staff and faculty of a few colleges/universities. Here are a few highlights from the session to help combat job stress.
It’s worth noting that stress is helpful. Stress is what kept our ancestors alive. We wouldn’t be around without stress. However, even though we no longer have to deal with the threat of sabre tooth tigers eating us, our modern day stresses often seem just as dangerous.
In these challenging times, many are having their mental states tested. It is interesting how we are often ready to take care of our physical health, yet when was the last time that you prioritized your mental health? Whether you’re an employer or an employee, faculty or staff, (or really anybody), we could all use a little help on the “mental fitness” front. Here are a few of my favourite helpful concepts.
The first step is to admit that you have a problem. You may not be on a 12-step program to recover from addiction, though you may be stressed from work, constantly changing circumstances, uncertainty of the future or a number of other anxiety-inducing thoughts many of us are having during lockdown.
Take a note of when you have those thoughts. Or think back on your day/week and identify those moments of stress and anxiety. If you have stress in your workplace you might not be able to remove the factors that cause it, though you could change your perspective. Start with Awareness then you can shift your perspective.
“For there is nothing good or bad and thinking makes it so” -Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 2: William Shakespeare
Here’s a thought: COVID is neither good nor bad. Our thoughts about COVID make it good or bad.
Wait, how can I say that when people have lost loved ones? Could that loss turn into gratitude for the times you’ve spent with that person or the people that you still have around you? Could you give it meaning so that you can move on and thrive instead of just surviving? I’m not saying that you have to, I’m just asking if you could.
Go through those points of stress and anxiety that you recorded in Awareness and see if you can change your perspective. Gratitude can be a helpful tool to change that perspective.
- “I have so much more work now that everything has been moved online” can turn into “I’m so thankful I have a job”.
- “I lost my job due to COVID” can turn into “I can find my next new opportunity and chapter in my career”.
- “I have no idea what the future holds” can turn into “I’m excited about the infinite opportunities and possibilities for the future”.
While it might seem like semantics, consider if your thoughts become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Wouldn’t you rather have better thoughts to be fulfilled?
Think of perspective as your “mental COVID mask”. You may encounter negative thoughts, though with an awareness to reflect and potentially change your perspective, you can prevent those thoughts from “infecting” you and ruining your day.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom” -Viktor Frankl
If you’re with me so far, you might be asking yourself: How do I change my perspectives?
Something out there (or maybe in your head) happens and you often just react to it. Sometimes in a positive way. Sometimes in a negative way. What if you took some time to reflect?
I use the acronym STFAR to help with the reflection process:
- Stimulus: Something that happens. That something could be outside. Or sometimes that something is inside your head.
- Thought: The Stimulus triggers a thought. Sometimes conscious. Often not.
- Feeling: An energy in your body that comes from the Thought.
- Action: What you did as a result of that Feeling (which could be doing nothing)
- Result: The outcome based on what you did (or didn’t do).
Let’s put this into practice.
What comes to mind when I say COVID?
For many, it is THOUGHTS of stress. Cabin fever from having to stay locked down. Missing summer vacations. Loss of opportunities.
Those thoughts may cause you to FEEL sad, lonely, angry, and even more stressed.
The ACTION you take might be to eat to distract yourself, escape in your social media feed, or watch a streaming service to numb the stress.
However, the RESULT is a few extra COVID-pounds gained.
Let’s try that again while intercepting thoughts and changing perspectives.
What comes to mind when I say COVID? Let’s find a beneficial perspective.
For some, the THOUGHT of not having to commute comes to mind and having more time to do what you want to do.
With that thought you might FEEL more motivated to exercise or learn that skill you’ve always wanted like speaking a new language or the ukulele or whatever that is.
Hopefully that feeling is enough for you to take ACTION and start practicing your Spanish/Mandarin, chord positioning or strumming.
The RESULT is a new skill plus a sense of achievement on the growth.
While being aware, and changing your perspectives may seem challenging now, consider that if you were training to run a marathon, you’d slowly but surely be able to run a kilometer, then 10, then 20, then 42 and beyond! With practice, you can do it.
“Knowledge is only potential power. It becomes power only when, and if, it is organized into definite plans of action, and directed to a definite end.” -Napoleon Hill
Mental fitness is not about just knowing a tactic or strategy. It’s about putting them into practice consistently and over time. Being aware of your thoughts can be hard enough. Let alone constantly changing your perspective on the thoughts that don’t serve you.
The key is to prioritize time. I use the concept of “non-negotiable time” to help. That’s 60 mins daily (or 30 mins or as much time as you can manage) to invest time on these and other helpful mental fitness activities. Just like you might take time to go to the gym, take some time to go to the “mental gym”.
Use part of your non-negotiable time to reflect on your awareness throughout the day. As you reflect on your thoughts, look to change the perspectives for the thoughts that don’t serve you. Turn those thoughts and perspectives into action towards whatever result that you want.
Meditation is another great practice to help with your mental fitness. Think of it as practice to increase the space between stimulus and response. When meditating, you focus on your breath, your thoughts, a word or something else depending on the type of meditation. Mediation exercises your focus on the present moment.
Even simple mindfulness exercises where you pay attention to mundane activities (I.e. washing your hands), or use your non-dominant hand to do something (I.e. brush your teeth), could help you put your mental fitness into practice.
Start your path to mental fitness with awareness. Take that awareness and change your perspective. Use the STFAR model to help reflect and change your perspective. Allocate time to “exercise” and put your mental fitness activities into practice. When you do so, you’ll probably find that you’re less stressed at work, as well as less stressed at home. Especially in these trying times. They have worked for many others.
Why not give it a shot?
Luki is a career coach and likes to say that he has found his purpose helping others find theirs. A former management consultant and campus recruiting lead, he shares his SIWIKE Stuff I Wish I Knew Earlier through books, podcasts, videos and other content. Connect with him on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/lukidanu/ or Subscribe on YouTube to access other content https://youtube.com/focusinspired