By Bob VandePol, MSW
The fact that we have no clearly visible finish line adds to the ambiguity and resultant tension. What has become clear is the fact that this is a marathon and not a sprint. We are going to need to intentionally exercise personal and organizational resilience strategies to effectively complete this “long haul.” Underline Intentionally. It will not happen unless we make it happen.
When faced with highly stressful life events, the following strategies have been found to help people cope.
Take care of yourself physically.
Sleep, rest, exercise, and nutrition help your body recover; especially because you don’t feel like it. Get outdoors and move.
Courageously and aggressively face the stressor.
Resist any temptation to ignore the ramifications of this very serious situation. Instead, carefully appraise the seriousness of the problem without magnifying it out of proportion or pretending it doesn’t exist. This strategy includes being highly selective regarding your sources of information. Many news reports heighten stress by using inflammatory, sensationalized language and perspectives. Seek out information from scientific sources. Follow medical, governmental, and workplace guidelines.
Focus upon me, me, me produces an identity of victimhood. We are all in this together. Identify how you can contribute and do so.
Avoid other unnecessary changes in your life.
Make major life decisions when you are at your best; not reactively. Instead, reserve what energy you do have for dealing with the stressor at hand. Work and home have been highly disrupted. Stabilize your work and home environments as much as is possible during this unique situation. This will likely mean adapted roles and asking for help.
Take inventory of your personal coping responses.
What has worked for you in the past? Confidence is a valuable ally in combating stress, and it builds on memories of past successes. Review successes you’ve had with other stressful life situations. Recall some of the specific things you did to cope. Do them.
Take time out to rest.
Our lives got harder and stress is exhausting. At least once or twice a day, take time to decompress by relaxing — perhaps by listening to soothing music, taking a walk, gardening, reading or exercising. You could also choose to perform a more formal relaxation technique such as deep breathing or meditation that quiets your mind. In times of stress, the mind makes things appear worse than they are by creating endless versions of impending disaster. Because the body can’t tell the difference between fact and fantasy, it responds with heightened physical response. You can calm both your mind and your body by keeping your mind in the present, which is seldom as stressful as an imagined future or regrettable past.
Spend time with supportive good listeners.
Talking helps. Positive social support that encourages as well as provides feedback is helpful. Intentionally seek out those who will speak truth with you and set necessary boundaries with those who will not. Whereas social distancing limits options for these conversations, use technology to stay in touch.
Practice your faith.
If you participate in a religious faith, seek out your faith mentors and take time for prayer and quiet meditation. Talk to God. Faith, hope, and love prevail.
Gratitude reduces stress.
Keep your power.
Yes, there are many elements of this pandemic in which we are powerless. Do not let that sense of powerlessness generalize to all of life.
- Do what you can to stay involved in somewhat of a regular schedule and familiar activities.
- Focus upon what you do have control over rather than what you do not.
- Engage in concrete, easily-achievable tasks.
- Commit yourself to a reasonable course of action to deal with the stressor.
Action is a powerful stress-reducer. Research shows that the body lowers its production of epinephrine, a powerful stress hormone, when a person shifts into action. Don’t avoid taking action because you fear you’ll make the wrong decision. Remind yourself that there are many different ways of successfully dealing with a stressful situation. Let go of what you cannot change and intentionally engage in tasks where you do have some control.
Avoid mood-changing drugs and alcohol. Sometimes tragedies lead to additional tragedies.
Talk with your work group and manager about how you can function productively at work. Do the same with your family at home. What does “I got your back” mean in this very unique situation?
Ask for help.
Reach out to professional resources such as clergy, medical, and behavioral health professionals.
Bob VandePol, MSW serves as Executive Director for the Pine Rest Employee and Church Assistance Programs which provides Critical Incident Response services to business, organizations, schools and universities as well as faith communities.
Active as a keynote speaker, Mr. VandePol has published and been quoted in business and clinical journals, co-authored book chapters addressing workplace response to tragedy and has been featured as subject matter expert in numerous video training series. Mr. VandePol can be contacted at 616.258.7548 or firstname.lastname@example.org