First published on Refinery29 on March 19, 2020.
The novel Coronavirus is more than a pandemic. It’s a worldwide invitation to panic.
Over 100 countries have now reported cases of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of this writing. Last Friday, President Trump announced a national state of emergency as the number of cases continues to grow at a rapid rate in the United States. We are in uncharted territory here as the virus continues to spread with a speed and unpredictability that has health officials and governments around the world bracing for the worst.
Anxiety is understandable. These are scary times, especially if you’re a senior citizen or have established respiratory or pre-existing health issues. At the same time, it’s important to remember that worry isn’t a helpful state of being for humanity at large, or for ourselves as individuals.
The more we give in to hysteria, the more we tend to make bad decisions — in business, government, and our personal lives. Neuroscientists from the University of Pittsburgh have actually shown that panic can penetrate into our prefrontal cortexes and short-circuit our normal decision-making processes.
That’s one reason why it’s so important in the face of any crisis, including a pandemic, to try our best to maintain our mindfulness and composure. Granted, this can be easier said than done when our kids can’t go to school and we can’t go to work and we’re stockpiling food and everyone is stuck at home furiously washing their hands. And yet in some respects, the Coronavirus outbreak may actually make it easier for us to be mindful, to slow down, and to connect with ourselves and our well-being , if only we can recognize the opportunity.
I had this realization while I was looking at side-by-side NASA images of China from outer space, one taken in January 2020 and the other in February 2020. It’s striking just how much pollution has been eliminated from the atmosphere as a result of the slowdown in China’s economy and the travel restrictions that the Chinese government has put into place. Economists might look at those images and see cause for concern: manufacturing disruptions, supply chain issues, a slow-down in international trade. What I see is beautiful blue healthy air for the first time in ages.
This time can be a reminder that sometimes being forced to slow down can have surprising benefits. And I’m not just talking about eliminating pollution. It’s also about having time for self-growth and self-care and paying attention to parts of ourselves, our relationships, and our families that often get pushed to the back-burner in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Following is some food for thought when it comes to empowering yourself with a more calm and grounded mindset as we all battle the changes in reality that the coronavirus pandemic brings.
1. USE SEEMINGLY TEDIOUS MOMENTS AS A TIME TO CENTER YOURSELF
Think about something as simple as having to wash our hands. On the one hand, having to take regular trips to the bathroom faucet to clean ourselves of germs is annoying and a disruption. But what if we switch our mindset and rather than begrudge the exercise we instead take it as an opportunity for self-connection and reflection? It’s twenty seconds where we can take a breath, slow down and have a moment to center ourselves. There’s no rush. We can’t check our phones. We can’t go a million miles an hour.
In order to center yourself in a short period of time start with asking yourself, ‘how am I feeling right now and why?’. If there’s a gap between how you currently feel and how you want to feel then ask yourself ‘what is a small action or mindset shift I can take to move closer towards that more desired state?’ It may be looking for a different perspective on your situation, tapping into your empathy or self-compassion, thinking of a few things you are grateful for or simply reminding yourself that whatever is affecting your mood is temporary — nothing stays the same no matter how difficult it might seem for that to happen.
2. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF BEING FORCED TO SLOW DOWN
Often in life we get hung up on tasks and to-dos, the latest trends and fashions, obligations around work and emails we have to check, much of which is not relevant to our core humanity. When we slow down, we can better connect and become aware of ourselves and our surroundings which has a profound impact not just on our mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing, but also on our ability to lead.
Something that I often remind my clients as a leadership coach is that we have to be able to lead ourselves before we can lead others. If we can lead ourselves to be the person we want to be, if we can manage our inner critic and our emotions and engage with activities that help ground us, if we can show empathy for others and know how to listen and show genuine interest, then we can turn up as a stronger energetic force in the world. This self-leadership is really a practice in developing emotional intelligence, which we now know is crucial to be successful in leading others. When we have a higher EQ we are more authentic and trustworthy and thus people are more likely to be inspired by us and follow where we lead.
3. SELF-CARE: DON’T TAKE OTHER PEOPLE’S WORD FOR IT, EXPERIMENT AND LEARN WHAT WORKS FOR YOU
There are a million articles out there telling us what self-care is and how to practice it but from a coaching perspective there is no right or wrong way to practice self-care. It’s all about experimenting and learning what works for you and the specific challenge you are up against. In order to experiment you need to have an observing mind and take note of your results. You need to make sure you have a support system or at least an understanding of who and what makes you feel supported. When we are taking care of ourselves effectively, we are less likely to project our emotions onto others and emotionally react (instead of authentically respond) to situations. We are more likely to interact with our families, with people in the world, or with colleagues at the office with more empathy and composure which in turn makes you happier and wins you support and trust of others.
As we work through coronavirus together as a global community and on our own as individuals, let’s seize the opportunity that this rare moment presents and practice finding the good in ourselves and each other. If we can emerge from a pandemic not only healthy, but more centered and connected with ourselves, such a harmonious result will be a win for everyone.
Amelia Kruse is a Certified Leadership Coach based in New York working with professionals and entrepreneurs globally.