Feeling overwhelmed and gripped by fear, worry and uncertainty? Trying to navigate this new reality thanks to COVID-19? You’re not alone.
One of the most important things we can all do for our mental health is to develop an attitude of gratitude. If that sounds too simple when you’re struggling with working from home, working on the frontlines, being laid off and all the other challenges related to this quarantine life, please hear me out.
When we can do that, it helps us deal with stress and anxiety, and that in turn helps us with our mental health and even our physical health – science has proven that stress is a huge drain on our immune systems.
You may not be feeling gratitude right now, and that’s okay.
Start by practicing gratitude, by noticing the things you feel grateful for and building time for a gratitude meditation into your daily routine. As with all skills, the more we practice gratitude, the more it becomes a habit. Some folks find it helpful to think of three things they’re grateful for when they start and end the day.
(Pro tip: Try starting your day by thinking of three things you’re grateful for BEFORE you check the news on your phone. They can be small, simple things like enjoying a hot cup of tea or coffee or having a hot shower – or they could include bigger things like your relationships, work and unique skills or abilities.)
If you like making lists, you’ll probably find it very satisfying to start a gratitude list. Others might find it very helpful to keep a gratitude journal. (And if you’re never tried journaling, consider starting a journal now because our coaches will tell you it’s the one leadership habit you can’t live without!)
Here are five reasons why and how an attitude of gratitude can help us face uncertainty:
- We can’t control what’s happening, but we can control how we respond to everything. At Padraig, that’s one of our mantras. I think this is best explained with shifting perspective from being STUCK at home to being SAFE at home. Words and context are powerful, so if we can reframe things more positively, it helps us cope. Instead of focusing on the worst news or how the worst leaders are handling things, think about the way researchers around the globe are working together to figure out this virus, how to best respond to it and to develop a vaccine. Consider all of the heroes and helpers in this time of crisis and what they’ve done to make a difference. As leaders, we can show confidence in the talent and skills of our team members to solve problems and tackle challenges together. We can share a word of thanks and a compliment. What can you control about your attitude right now? What could you do to help someone?
- This is temporary. It’s harder to deal with situations that don’t have definitive end dates, but we will get through the pandemic. Things might be different going forward, but we’ll figure it out. If you watch the news or engage with social media, you’ll see stories celebrating the simple joys like people reconnecting with family and friends online or banging pots and pans to celebrate frontline workers. Some folks are enjoying slower starts to the day, a return to writing letters and many have adopted rescue dogs or cats. What are some positives you will remember from this time? You might want to add those to your gratitude journal so you can look back later and remember the good things. Take it one step further, what can you do to make some more good memories?
- Sometimes it takes a crisis to see the best of humanity. Many arts organizations and musicians are sharing their creative gifts with the world for free, like this beautiful cover of Lean on Me by Canadian musicians. People are sharing love with family, neighbours and friends with “ding-dong-dash” deliveries of home-baked goodies and groceries. Some neighbourhoods have decorated their windows with hearts or hidden painted rocks so that children and families can enjoy scavenger hunt walks. What ways have you noticed people caring for each other and the community? What could you do, no matter how small, to make a difference?
- It’s possible to train our brains. In times of anxiety or stress, our thoughts can run amok and usually tend to head toward the future. Take a deep breath and focus on the present. Re-label and reframe those negative feelings so you’re not just focusing on the worst-case scenarios. Ground yourself with the 3-3-3 rule of finding three things you see, three things you hear and three things you can touch. That’s a common technique to step back from anxiety. Then think of three things you are thankful for. Calming down that fight-or-flight response helps to reduce feelings of anxiety and make it easier for us to be positive and build an abundant mindset. Sometimes examining facts and focusing on what we do know (instead of what we don’t know) helps us to “de-catastrophize” our perception of a situation. How can I rewrite the script that’s playing in my head? What can I feel good about right now?
- Positivity is contagious. It’s hard to be positive if you’re surrounded by negativity. Reach out to your circle via social media, an email or a group call and ask everyone to share what they’re thankful for right now. It’s very uplifting to share reasons for gratitude. Connecting with other people is also a way to naturally boost all those feel-good hormones, so nurturing a digital community is important during this time of isolation. Think about not only group chats but watching online concerts, having online parties or streaming a funny comedy show or movie (laughter is the best medicine!). Because coworkers, friends and family members are probably feeling the strain from things, too, make an effort to offer supportive responses and contribute positive topics of conversation. What are those around me grateful for? What inspires me to gratitude or makes me feel grateful, too?
Even as we weather this crisis, there are still moments when we can find joy, comfort and even have fun. If we work on an attitude of gratitude, we can keep our spirits up (and the spirits of those we lead!) and have the mindset to Keep Calm and Carry On.
What questions above really resonated for you?? What can you do to help yourself practice gratitude? What can you do to help others see the good?