There’s no doubt we live in challenging times. Our news feeds are already overflowing with opportunities to feel anxious and daunted by the difficulties we face today and the big unknown that is the future. I won’t dwell on those here – there’s good chance we’ve all already spent way too long doing that already.
My focus is instead on helping people to manage the impact of uncertainty on their own lives and to move forward with purpose and positivity. With this in mind, I’ve put together a ‘FACE up the Challenge’ toolkit to help all of us to stay mentally fit and resilient over the coming weeks. Based on four the cornerstones of Focus, Adapt, Connect and Enrich (FACE), the hints and tips below are designed to help you take positive action and actively manage your mindset over the coming weeks.
Focus is the first cornerstone of the FACE up to the Challenge toolkit.
While we can’t control the situation we collectively find ourselves in, we can always choose the way we as individuals, families and businesses respond to it. It can be hard to stay focussed when our minds are flooded with new information, a long list of worries and an even longer list of things we feel we should be doing. But there are some simple steps we can take to minimise the noise and make the best use of our time.
- Human beings have a fundamental need for autonomy and control, which is undermined by the current restrictions on our daily lives. By focussing on the elements of the situation that are within our control, such as our own behaviour and the way we implement the lockdown rules, we regain a sense of power and influence that is very important for our mental wellbeing. This moves us away from feeling like a powerless victim, and towards feeling like an active and valuable participant in the world.
- Focus on one big goal at a time and make a plan to achieve it. The very act of defining a goal and writing down your next few steps will help to keep you clear and focussed amidst the chaos around you.
- Celebrating your achievements along the way, no matter how small, will help to keep you focussed and motivated. This is likely to be a marathon not a sprint, so recognising the small wins is a great habit to get into now.
- It’s important to maintain a routine and structure during the long days of homeworking. Making a plan for each day and setting goals, however small, will help you to stay motivated during the coming weeks. Scheduling in time for self-care, such as exercise and relaxation, will help to keep you well and resilient during uncertain times.
- Focussing your media consumption on quality news sources, limited to twice a day, will help you to spend your time and mental energy on positive things you can influence, rather than becoming overwhelmed by the huge volume of bad news that we can do little about (other than staying at home and washing our hands of course). And if you want a good night’s sleep, it’s best to avoid watching the news for at least a couple of hours before bed.
Adapt is the second cornerstone of the FACE up to the Challenge toolkit.
Human beings have a fundamental need for security and certainty, which is compromised in any uncertain situation. After a couple of weeks of lockdown we are all still working out what our new normal looks and feels like. It’s OK to feel overwhelmed or anxious in this situation, and there are positive steps we can take to feel better about what’s going on around us.
Acceptance is the first step. We need to accept the facts about the situation, rather than fighting against them, before we can truly adapt to the new situation. Fighting with the facts by complaining or wishing things were different ties us to the obstacles we face and uses up a lot of our mental and emotional energy – energy which could be much better diverted to making plans and taking action that moves us forward.
Once we’ve accepted the facts about how things really are, staying open to different ways of doing things, trying new things and actively looking for alternatives to the things you can’t do at the moment will all help you to remain positive and resilient. Maintaining a flexible and open-minded approach is likely to open up more opportunities and better outcomes.
Mental flexibility is a critical component of resilience and is more important than ever during challenging and uncertain times. Reframing the way you think about things so that obstacles become opportunities is a great skill to learn. For example, if you are self-isolating alone, reframing your thoughts to emphasise that you are not really alone, that you have lots of meaningful contact with people online and over the phone, will help you to feel much more positive.
I ask clients the following questions to guide them to frame their thoughts more positively:
- What lessons can you learn from this situation? What will you learn about yourself? What new skills will you learn? How will you grow as a person? What stories will you have to tell in 3 years’ time?
- Third person: What would your mentor or hero do in your situation? What would your best friend advise you to do? How would your favourite superhero deal with this?
- Opportunity: what new opportunities does this situation present for you personally and professionally? What new skills does it enable you to learn? Which long-delayed decisions or moves will this encourage you to accelerate? What’s the best possible outcome here? What could you think or do instead of what you’re thinking and doing right now?
Connect is the third cornerstone of the FACE up to the Challenge toolkit.
Relationships are one of the most important foundations of our mental wellbeing. Human beings are social and tribal creatures, and thrive on regular social interaction. We have a fundamental need for emotional connection and to feel part of a wider community. Being isolated or alone is alien to us and can be very demotivating or stressful, and the pandemic is making this a bigger issue for more and more people.
Luckily we live in an age where technology allows us to connect with people all over the globe with the click of button. Interaction through Zoom, Skype, Whatsapp or Houseparty might seem strange at first, but it’s important to recognise that this is real connection and it absolutely counts as social interaction. So if you’re feeling isolated, or if you know someone else who might be alone and vulnerable, then make the first move and given them a call, or invite them to your online quiz or choir or yoga session.
Some of my clients are choosing to go old school, by going back to pen and paper and writing cards to their friends – just to say hello and that they are thinking of them. Reaching out to others has never been easier, and there is plenty of research to show that helping others provides a real boost to your own wellbeing too.
Some families are grappling with the other side of this same coin and are trying to manage the hugely increased amount of contact that they are suddenly having with members of their own household. Human beings have a basic need for privacy, as well as a need for connection. So there is clearly a balance to be struck here. Daily check-ins with your loved ones around the breakfast table and open communication about how everyone is feeling, what’s working well and what’s working less well, will help to keep things harmonious.
Enrich is the fourth cornerstone of the FACE up to the Challenge toolkit.
Physical and mental wellbeing are tightly interwoven. To stay mentally fit and strong, we need to be good to our bodies, nourishing them with fresh, clean foods, getting some exercise every day and prioritising good quality sleep. Self-care has never been more important, especially if we need to serve others. Keeping our immune systems strong will mean we are better placed to help others when they need us most.
Maintaining a positive mindset in these challenging times may take a bit of homework. One thing I encourage my clients to do is to write down everything they are grateful for, and to add to this list daily. Over time this creates a positive habit, training the brain to look for things to feel comforted and uplifted by, which is a powerful antidote to worry and anxiety.
Keeping our minds active and stimulated over the coming weeks is also hugely important. Learning new skills, such as a musical instrument, a new language (try Duolingo) or improving your culinary skills, can be very motivating and contributes to good mental health. Taking time out for fun and relaxation is also critical. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. We need time out sometimes to sharpen our minds so that they are up to the challenges ahead.
There has never been a better time to reflect on what our minds and bodies need to stay strong and resilient, and to prioritise those things. Staying mentally fit and well during these challenging times may take a little extra work, but it is entirely doable, and can even be enjoyable if we frame it in a way that feels both realistic and empowering.
If you like the FACE toolkit and would like to book an online or telephone coaching session me, please call me (Cheryl) on 07977 230573 for a free 30 minute phone consultation. I’m also offering a free one hour Discovery session to the first 10 NHS workers and to the first 10 elderly or vulnerable people to approach me.
So remember to stay focussed, stay flexible, stay connected, invest in your mind and body, and most importantly, stay safe everyone.
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