What we can do to acknowledge where we are, get unstuck and work towards moving forward.

Currently, we are several phases into the COVID-19 crisis. Even so, the truth is that we are still experiencing a wide spectrum of emotions and thoughts depending on where we are personally at: physically, mentally and emotionally. We may feel on top of things and normal one minute and broken down and emotionally wasted the next as a result of need to adapt to ever-evolving change. Alexis Rockley, a positive psychology-certified coach and fellow human I found on Facebook says, “Your plans, creativity, energy, focus and motivation are on a Yo-Yo right now because your brain believes you need to be EXTREMELY ADAPTIVE.” Your brain is trying to deal with current conditions, and it’s having to stretch and adapt in ways that perhaps it hasn’t had to before.

In a webinar entitled Habits for Working from Home: How to Adapt Your Workplace Routines for At-Home Success, VitalSmarts VP of Development and Delivery, Emily Gregory explains that the reason behind why you might feel stressed, tired, overwhelmed, anxious, frightened and discombobulated is because your mind is drawing 100% on your energy resources to deal with an ever-changing situation. She cites findings from Wendy Wood, a habits researcher, which states that on an average person’s day, nearly 40 percent of the day is spent in routine habits; those times when we tend to go on “autopilot”. In autopilot instances, your brain has already created a path which it follows and the path, and processing needed to do the task at hand, is familiar, quick and easy. At these times, your brain uses less energy because it knows the path and has already established a reliable connection. But with the upheaval of our lives during this COVID-19 time period, many of those same daily habits (and the timing of those habits) that we are used to and conditioned for are different, and this causes our brains to seek out new brain paths in order to get the results we are desiring to achieve. This expends more energy.

Justin Hale, one of the VitalSmarts Getting Things Done Training Program lead designers, suggests that we take a second to look at “productivity”. During this COVID-19 time we’ve already been productive. We’ve been busy producing fatigue and stress. We’ve technically been 100% productive. So, rest assured, we aren’t broken and unable to be productive during this time, we are just more “frozen in inaction” than we care to be. 

But what about all the mental stress and emotions we are dealing with? Alexis Rockley says, “Those all over the place feelings you’ve been having? They are symptoms of stress not personal failures of yours. Do you feel flakey and inconsistent? That’s because your brain doesn’t know what news to brace for next, or what next month will hold.”

We are being asked to have serenity, productivity and wellness under sustained disaster conditions and that is a tall order! You and I have experienced significant change. Acknowledging this; it is now time to give ourselves the grace to practice self-kindness. “Self-compassion can take many forms, but in the current moment, it could include letting go of perfectionism. We don’t have to be the perfect parent or student or worker. We may need to give ourselves permission to slow things down, breathe, and at points, do very little,” says the authors of Radical Healing in Times of Fear and Uncertainty. “Go easy on yourself,” recommends Jason Spendelow, author and psychology PHD, “Highly distressing life events usually entail a complex set of psychological issues to navigate through. It is perfectly normal to be on a roller coaster of painful thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in such situations. Self-compassion is critical here; you are trying to cope with weighty issues. Acknowledging this fact can help put your psychological responses in context.” 

How, then, can we get unstuck and back on track? Emily Gregory suggests that we need to up our recovery accelerating activities. She suggests building new sustainable habits into your day and re-engineering older habits to suit the current circumstances. If you choose more good habits and build those into your day, you will begin to free up some of that energy to focus on things that really need more of your brain power. Re-engineering and implementing some autopilot activities will give you more energy and lead to less stress and overwhelm. Aisha S. Ahmad reminds us that, “given time, your brain can and will reset to new crisis conditions, and your ability to do higher-level work will resume.”

We need to stop the inner dialogue that leads to beating our self-confidences up, triggering feelings of inadequacy during this time. Maybe start by asking yourself some helpful questions. Instead of keeping us down, the types of questions you ask yourself should move you into action and move forward. Tasha Eurich, author of the book Insight, suggests that instead of asking “why” questions we should ask “what” questions in order to make progress. Here’s an example: Question: Why do I feel terrible? Revised Question: What should I do instead?

Regardless of where you are at right now, you are being presented with an opportunity (even if it’s hard to see, at times, in this COVID-19 impacted situation). It is an opportunity for positive change, growth and development if you deem it so. So please stop and take a moment to acknowledge where you are and how far you have come. Try to be kind to yourself. “When we are able to be kind to ourselves,” shares The Psychology of Radical Healing Collective, “we are able to strengthen our compassion for others.” With a little bit of self-kindness, continued acceptance of where we are and a bit of work to get unstuck, we can move forward and come out of this better than before!

By Kerry Tay McLean, Ombuds Program Administrator
University of Colorado Boulder Ombuds Office