Caring for Yourself and Your Team During COVID-19
We are living in unprecedented and extremely stressful times. I feel like we’re extras in the movie, the “War of the Worlds.” Many liken it to the stress we felt during 9/11/2001, mixed with the stress of the market decline of 2008. However, I want to encourage you all to hold onto hope. From the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, I think few of us realized the gravity and seriousness that we are currently facing today, let alone tomorrow. However, lest we forget the times of struggle before when it seemed we were at a loss and then somehow we survived?
As adults, we tend to feel guilty when we’re unproductive, when we cannot stick to our plans and what we had in mind, or if we feel like we are not pulling our weight on the team. Mix that with the weight and anxiety of becoming or being sick, and we might just have a bonafide case of anxiety on our hands. That “out of control” feeling can manifest itself in many different ways. Because of this chaos and uncertainty, we must do our best to remain positive about the future, while accepting our current reality. Times are different - but times of uncertainty and change can have the biggest impact on us as individuals.
“Mental and emotional stability are the pillars of making good life choices. This is anchored in emotional awareness - thinking rationally and identifying reasonable solutions to our problems. When we do this, we have a sense of security, can predict our futures and in turn, feel in control of our lives overall; however, the coronavirus has been a worldwide gut punch, throwing our lives out of balance and control.” Julio L. Benezra, LPC, CCTP of Alegre Counseling and Consulting Services
So, what CAN we do in lieu of our circumstances? We must listen to our inner voice and acknowledge that our feelings are real and valid. The anxiety or worry (or both) we feel in association with COVID-19 is normal. Meditation and mindfulness help – so does an attitude of gratitude. Every day, try to name one positive result, no matter how small or large, or one thing you are truly grateful for.
5 steps to keep your sanity intact
Julio L. Benezra, LPC, CCTP of Alegre Counseling and Consulting Services, a personal friend of mine offered to share his expertise of actionable steps we can take to ensure the health of ourselves and families. Research shows that people tend to overestimate how they’ll be affected by negative events and underestimate how well to cope with and adjust to difficult situations. Here are some important, yet basic steps you can take to maintain perspective and reduce the existential angst we are all facing. Prioritizing these behaviors during the coronavirus crisis can go a long way in improving your psychological well-being and bolstering your immune system.
- Stay informed but limit your exposure: It’s important to stay up to date with the latest news and updates, but no more than 30 minutes per day. Make sure you are getting it from reliable health sources, such as the CDC or World Health Organization (WHO).
- Get adequate sleep: Research shows that most adults need 7 to 9 hours per night for a healthy and productive lifestyle.
- Stay active: Experts recommend 150 minutes of moderate exertion (walking, biking, gardening, etc) per week.
- Stay connected, virtually: Social distancing is important during this time. Be sure to stay connected with important people in your life via phone, social media or virtual meetings.
- Practice mindfulness: An old Chinese saying goes, “if you are living in the past you are depressed, if you are living in the future, you are anxious, if you are living in the present, you are at peace.” It is critical to focus on the present, especially during these times.
What does it look like to connect virtually?
Jennifer Forrester, an instructional designer and facilitator in ON Semiconductor’s learning and development department, is a colleague of mine and offered to explain how she is building culture virtually and connecting with colleagues, perhaps more than she did before. Below, she shares some of her personal experiences:
“Quarantine.” “Social distancing.” “Work from home.” To an introvert like myself, these words sounded like my perfect situation. I’ve been preparing for this my whole life! I can handle being at home with my dogs alone all day just fine, at least I was right for the first few days. My stress was low, I was getting work done and I was able to spend time with my husband and dogs. However, similar to how COVID-19 can be dormant in your system for two weeks before you show symptoms, the pressure of being alone for most of my days started to build. All of my escapes were somehow impacted by COVID-19.
I started to feel the stress of being home in isolation and as the news broke that quarantine would be extended, coupled with a recent injury I was facing, I started to struggle. While I was on a call with one of my team members discussing how we were now going to launch a program virtually, I opened up and said, “I’m so stressed already,” - my coworker agreed. Then, in perfect timing, my coworker and I got a calendar invitation from another member on our team titled ‘L&D virtual happy hour’, and we both cheered. As a team we engaged in email banter as the end of the day approached, which eventually evolved into our virtual happy hour and everyone wearing funny hats.
The impact it had on our morale was significant. We all came together and laughed the whole time. Pets were shown, children were introduced and for a moment, it felt like this pandemic wasn’t happening. It was amazing to see how something as small as a virtual happy hour was able to impact our morale and attitudes so largely.
We’re living and working through a scary moment in history and something most of us never thought we’d see. Finding structure and order in the chaos is something all of us need to stay sane. Maintaining connections and growing culture isn’t at the forefront of people's minds and that’s understandable, but how can leaders be both effective in production and in sync with their teams? This is important. With that in mind, here’s what my team and I are doing to find sanity in this insane time and becoming more connected than ever before:
- Fun Fridays
- In a discussion with my manager in our weekly one on one, we talked about how other companies are dealing with this social separation and decided that for our team, we’d partake in ‘Fun Fridays’. This is a weekly meeting where we come together as a team for an hour of laughter as everyone shares something that made them laugh this week. Only one rule - no work talk.
- Your meetings to engage with your team do not have to be only serious and related to work, especially in times like this. Try to find time to be with your team in a way that isn’t work-related. In the office, we take advantage of our quick sidebars to and from meetings or chatting on breaks. Culture is what you make it. We can feel isolated or we can reach out and connect in new ways and in the world of work from home, we need to be intentional about connecting.
- Video Lunches
- After our first virtual happy hour, I started to think about ways to capture that feeling again. So I started looking for opportunities outside of work for others who might have ideas on how to connect, which morphed into video lunches on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We can vent, problem solve and connect virtually to help with the feelings of isolation. A large part of these conversations centers around how we’re keeping ourselves sane and trying new ideas after each meeting. As a group, we talk about how work is going, what some of our struggles are and most importantly, we spend time laughing.
Both of these are easy to implement and go further than you think. It’s an opportunity for the team to engage, connect and bring some normalcy back into our everyday lives.
As an introvert, I thought I was equipped to handle isolation like this. I recognize now how much interaction I took for granted. I can no longer pop over to a colleague’s desk, meet friends for lunch and Friday night happy hours are out of the question. Something I’ve learned in this pandemic is to be intentional, to seek help when I need it, ask friends to talk more and to virtually connect with my team on some level a few times a week.
Being in tune with your body, mind and needs during this time is more important than ever. Let’s all reach out to one another, in a responsible, socially distant way and share our gratitude and positive thoughts and energy with one another. Try to find some humor in it all as laughing is known to raise endorphin levels which scientists say contribute to our arsenal of disease resistance. Consider sharing jokes and gratitude with others. Here’s one of my favorite jokes: “How long is this social distance thing supposed to last? My husband keeps begging me to let him in the house.”
Focus on yourself, your wellbeing and how you can help your local community out – and remember, we are all in this together.
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