When the COVID-19 shut down started, I started to look at the way that I was living my life and examined some of the areas that were causing me stress. I embraced the “quiet time” and used it to focus on improving. It was good, a bit recharging, and the impact has been positive. I have spent the last month doing ZOOM calls with teams, organizations, and athletes. It was important to me to get the support out, to help people cope with the uncertainty, and not get overwhelmed with the pain and suffering we are all seeing. I hope the impact has been as good on the teams that I have been serving as it has been on me.
I have found that I am putting in 12-hour days in the office. And I am loving it.
My normal days are filled with so many activities that the one aspect of my practice that I have somewhat overlooked has been my connection to myself. By teaching others, I have been teaching myself on this crisis, my response, and how to deal with the uncertainty. I absolutely love working with my clients, teams, and organizations and having the focused connection has been emotionally powerful. Thank you for allowing me to reconnect.
Recently, I hosted an Instagram LIVE with a good friend and fellow psychologist – Dr. Kevin Chapman. Dr. Chapman is a practicing clinical and sports psychologist in Louisville, KY and is a specialist in anxiety disorders. To say he is a specialist though is selling him short. Dr. Chapman is without a doubt the finest communicator of experience of anxiety I have ever been around. I learn so much just listening to him.
During the IG Live, Dr. Chapman laid out a brilliant strategy to combat the uncertainty, fear, and anxiety we are all experiencing right now. Before I get to that, here are few things that you have to understand about the current emotional state you are likely in:
- Anxiety and apprehension are completely normal. The feelings that you are having are actually adaptive to face the challenges and uncertainty that is before you. The arousal you feel in your body and the racing thoughts need to be accepted, not suppressed, and in doing so, the problem solving strategies will start to appear.
- When you cannot identify a problem-solving strategy, your mind switches to worry – while it is uncomfortable, the mind thinks it is actually doing something productive because it is keeping you active and focused on the concerning problem. It is not letting you forget about it. But worry is normally worse in things we cannot control, so we have a problem that starts to develop. The more you worry, the less you can find a solution, and the less you can control the events, so it cycles.
- As anxiety and worry build, you start to have more and more body tension or physical stress feelings, such as shortness of breath, tension headaches, and fatigue. The core of this is your breathing often becomes shorter and not as refreshing.
- Learn to take a series of deep breaths – Box breathing or diaphragmatic breathing – will help. Inhale through your nose on a 4 or 5 count, hold it, and exhale on a 5 or 6 count. Do this 2 or 3 times and it will help your body slow, drop the overall psychophysiological arousal, and slow your mind down.
- When you feel the worry or anxiety, use it as a cue to breathe and in doing so, you learn to accept the worry and not fight it. Breathing will clear the mind over time and you will be a better problem solver.
- One last thing, as a society, we will ENDURE this to EMERGE better than ever. It may take time, but you can do it. It is like being a kid all over again and being grounded to your room, but use this time to learn to identify the strategies to manage your anxiety and worry. It does work.
Ok, let me explain Dr. Chapman’s strategy. He called it FIGHT COVID-19.
F – Focus on what you can control
With all the crap going on in the world, you can only control what you can control. Do not waste your energy taking on the stresses of the world that you cannot influence. Getting into political debates or disease management strategies on social media will not help anyone. No one will change their mind so why waste yours.
I – Interpret your Negative Thoughts
Your mind triggers negative thoughts to draw your attention to the threats in your life – both internally and in the world around you. The problem with negative thoughts, though, is that one brings in another and so on. It is like inviting a friend to a party, but that friend brings five others that you do not like. It is a problem that builds. Learn to listen and interpret your negative thoughts instead of reacting to them. For the most part, they are only 5-10% true and if you learn to look at them without judgment, they go away.
G – Grab some Mental Flexibility
For my athletes, I have found that the ability to work through hard times, the ability to redirect attention, and flow with what is happening are the most powerful mental skills. I call it Mental Flexibility. It is about taking what you have and adjusting to what is happening. When you are mentally rigid, you do not give yourself the power to use the tools that you have. As a human, you have amazing skills to adapt. Use those skills by riding the waves of emotion right now and if you cannot find toilet paper, use the old catalogs in your house. See, mental flexibility!
H – Healthy Behaviors Last Longer
It is time to start some healthy behaviors. Start with the easiest of going for a walk at night. It does not have to be a power walk, but stop and take in the nature that you have around you. Pay attention to the environment and listen to yourself. Resist the high calorie, high sugar foods right now. Your brain wants them because it will use it store fat for your future needs, but make better choices.
T – Teach Someone
Now that you have learned a powerful coping strategy, teach someone you love about how they can FIGHT COVID-19 and the negativity out there.
If you need anything at all, please let me know. You’ve got this. We will ENDURE this time and become better in all that we do.