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Swimming the Sea of Stress

Finding Balance in the Age of COVID-19

As 2020 continues, we are seeing a consistent theme with the professionals we speak to everyday. The stress this year is putting on many people is extraordinary. While stress can be helpful in the right amounts, too much for too long is very unhealthy. It can cause severe damage to your health, relationships, and career performance.

Despite the Groundhog Day effect this year has brought, there have been a whole new assortment of stressors for professionals to deal with. Here are the most common ones:

  1. Job insecurity. Despite the rebound from the lockdowns earlier in the year, many companies have shifted into a long-term cost cutting, with more corresponding layoffs to follow. Middle management and younger workers can expect to take a hit, and more senior workers may find themselves forced to retire earlier than they had planned.

  2. Always on the clock. The dark side of working from home is the temptation to be working all the time. So far during the pandemic, people working remotely are averaging 48 minutes more per workday than before. It can be tough to leave the stress of the office when you never leave “the office”– especially if you are trying to remain “essential” to your company (see 1, above).

  3. The kids. With schools going remote and most day-care facilities shut down, parents suddenly found themselves trying to salvage the semester, take care of kids, while keeping their job. With many school systems going to full or partial remote learning in the fall, this challenge will continue. Even college-age kids are in limbo – with parents deciding if they want to pay full tuition for a remote learning experience or have their kids take a gap year. Many are working “split shifts” – taking care of children for a portion of the workday, only to return to work after another parent tags in or after the kids have gone to bed. Reducing available free time.

  4. The parents. Many people are of at that point in life where their elderly parents are in the high-risk group for the virus. Having to keep their parents safe & functioning, especially from multiple states away is a challenge.

  5. The bad news cycle. The news is wall-to-wall bad news every day and it is overwhelming. Social media is even worse. While the world is not ending, it sure can seem that way.

  6. Social isolation. No amount of Zoom meetings or Netflix watch parties can make up for the lack of social interaction of going into the office, having a beer with friends, or going out into the world and doing things. The introverts might be enjoying things, but many extroverts are going crazy.

  7. Being an “Essential Employee.” Many jobs cannot be done remotely. The people who must venture into the world daily have the added stress of getting infected and bringing it home to their family.

  8. There is no playbook. Whether you are in Human Resources or the C-Suite, nothing like this was ever covered in business school or on a SHRM certification. Most people do not like to operate without some framework or expectation of what is to come. We’re flying blind with no instruments right now, and the risk of making a bad decision is weighing on many leaders.

  9. Relationship stress. Have you ever been on a long road trip? The first few hours or days are fun, but then the fun wears off and you have hundreds of miles to go. That’s where many couples are right now.

  10. Unrealistic expectations. You might have had grand plans to learn to bake, lose twenty pounds, read more, do crafts with the kids, and get that promotion during quarantine. The stress of NOT living up to those expectations is real.

If you are feeling one or all of these new stressors, you are not alone. You don’t have to be the only one trying to figure out to cope with the stress. Here are some strategies to try:

  1. Set realistic expectations and goals. Accept that on some days just getting through it is a win. Instead of setting a goal of “losing 50 pounds” try setting smaller goals like “I will walk for twenty minutes a day, three times this week.” Build on those goals.

  2. Communicate honestly. Be honest with your spouse, manager, and family about what is going on in the various facets of your life. If you have a good boss, they should be understanding if you are trying to work and have the kids at home. Your spouse will be understanding if some days you need to get take-out instead of cook dinner, or maybe just need some alone time. Don’t just default to “I’m fine” if someone asks how you are doing.

  3. Practice self-care. Give yourself a non-negotiable baseline for each day of diet, exercise, down time, and sleep. Be realistic – but prioritize those things over distractions like Netflix, Facebook, television, etc.

  4. Multitask appropriately. I generally think multitasking is a bad idea – but there are ways you can maximize your time. For example, listening to an audio book or podcast while taking a long walk with the dog knocks out three things at once. I keep a duster handy and dust my office when on a conference call.

  5. Compartmentalize. The opposite of multitasking is single tasking. Try to focus on one thing at a time – don’t bounce from email to work project to social back to email to work project. You’ll spend all day being busy, but never get anything accomplished.

  6. Go on a news and/or social media diet. Get over your FOMO (fear of missing out) by cutting down your intake of the news and social media. You’ll survive. Find more constructive use of your time and attention like reading, exercising, or having meaningful conversations with people.

  7. Set boundaries. Chances are work will take as much time as you want to give them. Want to work 6-6? Great. Want to spend all weekend responding to emails? No problem. Chances are nobody will notice if you don’t do those things. This is where you need to communicate with your manager as well. Like you won’t answer non-urgent email in the evening or weekends. If they balk at that, time to find a new job.

  8. Take control of your calendar. If you only take one piece of advice from this list, do this: take control who or when people can put things on your calendar. Block out times you need to get work done. A favorite tool of mine is to use to respond to requests to chat. If it is that important, they will book the time. If not, they won’t. You’d be surprised how much of a filter that can be. Don’t spend 30 minutes crafting an email that a two minute call can accomplish.

  9. Batch tasks. Batching is a great way to get tasks done – for example, meal prepping or paying bills. You can make yourself five days of lunch in the same time it takes to make one. Clean out your in-box two or three times a day instead of whenever an email gets in.

  10. Practice empathy & patience. We are all going through this together, one way or another. Some people are walking a much rougher path than you. Be patient, and kind whenever possible. Be thankful to those making life possible right now – from keeping the shelves stocked to all of us as healthy as possible.

I hope that throughout this pandemic, you are finding some bright spots, and coping as best you can.

If you are ready for your next career move or are looking to hire for your team, we’d like to hear from you and talk about how we can help. You are not alone. We see you.

Do you have any tips or techniques you have found to relieve stress? Let us know in the comments or send us a message.

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