Whatever high-impact role you’re in – whether you’re a lawyer, accountant or consultant who manages a team or a parent with young children, perhaps both – things like anxiety, burnout, constant worry, and even depression may be par for the course. The difference now, however, is that there is a global pandemic and at the time of writing this, we’ve been in lockdown since the middle of March trying to work remotely with the kids at home 24/7. I don’t know about you, but things are still pretty turbulent right now and it’s taking a toll on our mental wellbeing. Mental health is a serious business, especially if you have a partner, children, and/or colleagues depending on you to be strong and to give them support. Not staying on top of yours can seriously affect your wellbeing so how can you stay positive for others when you are scared and worried too? Put simply, it takes looking in the mirror, acknowledging the truth, and making the right changes. Here are the best ways to stay positive.
1.) Acknowledge your own anxiety and worry and let it go
It’s a scary situation that we find ourselves in right now. Even though lockdown restrictions are being gradually lifted, there are still so many unknowns and with no clear end in sight, it’s normal to feel uneasy and anxious. Feeling this way is not unhealthy, it’s pretending that you don’t that is toxic. Squashing down fears, whether because you’re afraid of them or because you need to be strong for someone else, only keeps them at bay. In the long term, it doesn’t make you feel better because you will suffer from the physical symptoms of anxiety which can be quite debilitating. As anxiety, panic, stress, and/of fear builds in the background, it usually ends up coming out in the worst of ways and far more intensely than if you had just dealt with them in the first place. Right now, many lawyers, accountants, and consultants are worried about how many clients they are potentially going to lose as a result of CV-19; many may be worried about how this will affect their career progression to partner and the big picture of the firm. If they have children as well, they may be plagued with home pressures too such as the natural guilt of how much screen time the kids are enjoying right now… (And don’t ask me how much time my kids are spending on YouTube and Minecraft right now) As we said, all these feelings are normal, it’s keeping them in and squashing them down that is bad; that’s why the first step to being there for others is to deal with your own feelings first so that you can let them go. We like to use the analogy of the ‘oxygen mask’ to convey why this is so important and it makes it very easy to understand. To be strong and positive for others when you feel scared and worried too, you need to be at your strongest; you need to have as much energy as possible so that you can give some to others. Just like the oxygen mask, it’s only when you put yours on first that you can effectively help others. If you don’t, then you run the risk of not being able to help anyone. The same goes for your energy. If you don’t concentrate on your own mental health first, you’ll be tapping into your energy reserves when you try to help others and very soon, you’ll have nothing left to give. To help you deal with your worries and fears so that you can effectively let them go, here are a few things that you can try:
- Seek community and support as much as possible, and confide in someone. Don’t try to figure things out by yourself, it’ll only amplify how you are feeling. Talking to someone else will help you gain perspective so seek support from someone you can trust or try online support groups and resources such as an online therapist. It can be something as simple as a daily positivity call with your colleagues. Not only does it allow you to check-in with each other, but it allows you to share fears (because a problem shared is a problem halved) and gives you a dose of positive energy to start the day.
- Remind yourself of the facts rather than getting sucked in by the fiction. The constant bombardment of the news and talk of the pandemic is overwhelming. Make sure to get your information from reputable and factual resources like the government website or the NHS coronavirus page. These are actually useful as they tell you about the practical things that you can do (things that will ease your anxiety).
- Limit your exposure to news and social media. While staying informed helps you feel more in control, it can also fuel anxiety which exacerbates panic. Stick to one interval a day where you catch up on the news such as after your workday and before you start settling down in the evening.
- Create a new daily routine for working from home. Structure and control are so important right now so plan your new daily routine to help you feel grounded. This not only helps you to maintain a sense of normality, but it also allows you to carry out these activities subconsciously which gives your already overactive brain a well-needed break.
- Prioritise self-care to look after your mental health. Don’t forget to plan time every day to relax and recharge. This can be doing a certain hobby that you love, such as reading a book or gardening, or doing something that makes you feel calm, such as reading a book or meditating. You need to take time out for yourself, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed, so think about what would help. Maybe it’s doing some yoga in the morning or taking a few minutes in the day to practice mindfulness breathing.
Useful resources to help you:
- 16 proven strategies for coping with a big life change
- The Lawyer, Accountant, and Consultant’s guide: How to create a new daily structure when working from home for the first time
- Your ultimate guide to leading your team during the Coronavirus – even if you are all working virtually for the first time
2.) Train your brain to be more positive
Our brains are wired to protect us and sometimes this can do us more harm than good. Take the global situation right now as an example. Our brains perceive the virus and anything that could cause us to catch the virus as a threat. This ‘threat’ stimulates the sympathetic nervous system to initiate the “fight or flight” response which many of us are familiar with the side effects of, primarily an increase in adrenaline, an increase in heart rate, sweaty palms etc. If this isn’t bad enough, our brains are also wired towards negative bias. This means that we are more likely to notice, respond and dwell on negative stimuli. Again, this is an evolutionary protective measure as at one point in the world, this attentiveness was literally a matter of life and death. Those who were more attuned to danger and who paid more attention to the bad things around them were more likely to survive. While the fear response is normal, it can severely impact how you think, respond, and feel if activated for a prolonged period of time. So how can you overcome it? The bad news is, is that it’s not as easy as just ‘thinking positive thoughts.’ The good news, however, is that the brain is an amazing organ and it can be trained. It’s going to take time and a lot of effort and patience, but you can learn how to switch off this response when it’s not needed. Here are some things that you need to be doing regularly to train your brain to be positive:
- Acknowledge how you feel – as we said previously, pretending you don’t feel worried or scared won’t work so try self-confession instead. Feeling how you feel doesn’t make you weak or broken, denying them does, so try embracing them. This may not feel positive to begin with, but it will help you come to terms with the reality and prepare you for wanting to make positive changes.
- Accept that some things are out of your control – the reality that we are all faced with right now is that we are powerless over the effects of CV-19. The difference between people feeling positive and negative about it is that, positive people are accepting that they can’t control certain things and they are managing by focusing on the things they can control. Negative people are getting overwhelmed by their worries of not being in control and they are becoming paralysed by this. The sooner you accept this new reality, the sooner you can ease the discomfort you are feeling and focus on one thing at a time.
- Believe a positive attitude is a choice – people aren’t either positive or negative, the difference is that people choose to find positivity in difficult situations. If you truly believe that your attitude is a choice then you will find it easier to control how you feel regardless of what’s happening around you.
- Make a conscious effort to think positive thoughts – in moments of panic or negativity, get outside and go for a walk. Listen to calming music until you can take your mind away from what you’re worried about. Now spend time focusing on things that make you feel safe, accepted, and loved. Over time, it will become natural for you to think about how fortunate you are rather than succumbing to fear or anxiety.
- Eliminate negativity from your life – one of the most effective ways to stay positive is to get rid of certain things, people or habits, anything that harbours negativity and is a drain on your energy. You may not be able to eliminate some completely, but you can limit your exposure to them and you’ll see a huge difference to your wellbeing.
- Practice looking for positivity – even with all of this stress and negativity that is happening around us, in every person and every situation, we can find something that’s good. We just have to look for it. To train your brain to be positive, start to think about something positive wherever you are and whatever you are doing throughout the day. This will refocus your brain’s attention in the immediate which reduces your anxiety and it will foster positivity in the long run as you start to do this naturally.
- Make note of the positive things in your life – we all tend to notice the negatives far more than the positives, so start marking the positives as they happen throughout your day. If something goes right, celebrate it. If someone does something that makes your day, thank them. By acknowledging everything you are grateful for in the moment, you’ll soon realise that far more good happens than you realise. What’s great about this technique is that you can’t be in a state of fear (negative) and gratitude (positive) at the same time, so if you practice gratitude as much as possible, it will help ease the bad.
- Develop better habits by stimulating your reward system in the brain – negative self-talk serves no purpose other than to make yourself feel worse so start recognising when you feel bad and what is making you feel that way. When you recognise these moments, immediately do something that makes you happy, reframe the situation or practice gratitude. This ‘reward’ that you give yourself stimulates the release of dopamine and serotonin (happy hormones) which over time, will help you develop healthier patterns. Put simply, this is a ‘positive reinforcement’ technique which trains you to think positively and develop positive habits.
3.) Share your wisdom with others
After you acknowledge and deal with your own anxiety and fear so that you can start thinking positively, only then can you start to be there for others. By dealing with your emotions first and letting them go, you’re making sure that you have the strength and energy to be able to help others without it being at the expense of your own health. Now you have the best ways to stay positive, tried and tested and you’ve seen the effects that it has had on your wellbeing and productivity, you can share these with others. You can help them adopt the same strategies that have given you such a strong positive outlook on life. What’s great about this step is that it not only reinforces your own training, but it will help others become more resilient and better able to support their own wellbeing too. If everyone around you is striving to be positive, then it will be far easier to remain positive yourself. To help share your knowledge with others, here are the best ways that you can help them:
- Call them regularly and really listen – with weeks of lockdown and social distancing measures being extended into the foreseeable future, communication has never been so essential. Help others satisfy their social needs by checking in regularly and listening to how they are.
- Help them reframe things in a positive light – if they are struggling with their situation and are feeling very negative about the outlook, acknowledge their feelings and help them reframe them. Share some of your techniques and ways to stay positive.
- Recommend what works for you – if you share your similar struggles and how you overcame them, this could be what that person needs to let their own feelings go. If what works for you is exercise, mediation or healthy eating recipes, share with them and help them to do these consistently too. It might just make a difference having someone they know who is doing it too.
- Be empathetic – when helping others with their feelings, try not to dismiss how they are feeling as wrong. Be empathetic to their situation and approach it as a problem-solving task together.
- Try to be kind and compassionate as much as possible – how many times has a nice comment or gesture turned your day around? Happiness is infectious so aim to spread kindness. Tell someone they look nice today, praise them when they’ve done a great job, tell them that you love them or appreciate them, send flowers or a gift to someone, write letters or notes to them.
Useful resource to help you:
You need to do all 3 steps consistently
Even if you are scared about the current situation, you can find the strength and energy to remain positive for yourself and others. You just need to be doing these 3 steps consistently. If you deal with your own feelings, train your brain to be positive, and help others adopt healthier strategies too, if you do these every day, you’ll soon find that these become a part of your routine without you having to even think about them. How do you support others? What are your best ways to stay positive?