We all know that we’re going through a very difficult period right now, and we are looking for ways to manage. In my role as a coach, I’ve been speaking with my clients who are all trying to get through this as constructively as possible.
However, fear rears its ugly head on a regular basis for some, and many others are experiencing a heightened sense of anxiety. People who are used to feeling effective and “in control” now find themselves dealing with the unknown. Indeed, due to the particular characteristics of Covid-19, we have never before been bombarded with so much information about an imminent disaster, yet known so little about how it’s going to play out.
Our emotions and thoughts can race through our minds and impact our bodies, leading us to places that we know are not rational.
The one thing that we can control right now is how we handle ourselves.
How do we manage our emotions and thoughts so that we can maintain as much constructive optimism as possible and have a positive impact on those around us?
Here are some suggestions on how Emotional Intelligence can help during these unprecedented times:
1. Name the emotion(s) that you’re feeling.
By doing this, you can take control of what you’re feeling—and why—and more effectively manage your emotions because you will be focusing on the specific one or ones that are impacting you. It’s difficult to control a generalized sense of anxiety or “fear”. Other emotions get bundled in. Perhaps you’re feeling “overwhelmed” and this is manifesting itself as anxiety. You can take concrete steps to manage the sense of “overwhelm” by making a list of what you actually need to take care of and then see where you can delegate or postpone some of these activities. Maybe you’re experiencing feelings of sadness, and when you take a deeper look, you discover that because of social distancing, you’re feeling isolated and lonely. By acknowledging your feelings of loneliness, you can take steps to lessen your sense of isolation by reaching out to others and connecting virtually.
The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence Mood Meter App is an excellent tool to help you hone in on which feelings you are really experiencing. I use it with my coaching participants, and it is extremely effective.
2. Name the stories that you’re making up about what’s happening right now.
We all make up stories about our situations that may be quite removed from what’s actually going on—and we believe our stories. We also have an unconscious bias to focus on the information that supports those stories. We make assumptions about things that lead us to conclusions – and then we act based on those conclusions.
What stories are you telling yourself right now? Are these stories helping or hurting you? If they are hurting, go back and do some fact-checking—perhaps the story you are telling yourself is more dire than the facts really support. (For example, with stories of panic buying of toilet paper, articles have sprung up in publications reassuring people that we are not, in fact going to run out!)
3. Ask yourself, “How do you want to handle yourself during this time? What is the impact you want to have on other people?"
We know that emotions are contagious—we actually “catch” emotions from each other. This is especially true when you’re in a position of authority, whether at work or at home. This is not to say that emotions should be excluded from conversations. It’s critical to acknowledge that we’re all experiencing difficult emotions, but we have a choice in how we react to them. We can acknowledge and deal with them to the best of our abilities and focus on staying calm and thinking clearly. This will reassure others and they will want to follow your lead.
4. Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself with care and compassion.
We may be so focused on trying to make sure that our families, friends, colleagues and clients are all ok that we forget ourselves in the mix. Don’t forget to set aside some time for yourself and make sure that you are doing what you need to do to stay at your best during this stressful time. (It doesn’t need to be anything “big”. For example, fifteen minutes of online yoga, going for a run, enjoying a cup of tea in peace, a virtual coffee break with a friend... whatever makes you feel that you are taking care of yourself as well.)
Jane Reichman Van Toch is a specialist in strengthening individual, team and organizational performance. She is a faculty member of the McGill Executive Institute and currently teaches on several popular programs including Powering Growth through EQ and Essential Management Skills.