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I struggled a bit while writing this piece. It’s a strange time that we’re in right now, I’m sure you would all agree. Maybe for the first time in a long history we’re all in the same boat, collectively connected in this moment of uncertainty trying to figure out how to coexist and be with ourselves and one another. Maybe not by choice but here we are, connected and faced with both challenges and opportunities. Possibilities of solidarity, empathy and a higher understanding of how we can be, live and support each other. Note that you don’t have to agree with any of this. If you can distill some good stuff out of this, great. If not, leave it be. We’re all processing this moment in different ways and that’s ok. As I’ve been reflecting a lot about this lately, I took a step back the other week, to reread some studies, and went deep diving into how we humans tend to respond when facing a ’crisis’ and what positive outcomes we can create from it.
When we’re faced with a crisis we are biologically wired to react. We have a psychological and physiological stress response that is there to help us but many times, if we react and stay in a state of feeling overwhelmed due to circumstances which we perceive to be out of our control, it tends to leave us feeling hopeless rather than hopeful and powerless rather than empowered. However, if we can manage to pause and reflect rather than simply register and react, we stand a much better chance to not only see things more clearly but also in a light that project possibilities of what it can be rather than what we fear it is.
There are a number of ways in which we can chose to process this moment and all that is happening around us. What I want to focus on for a brief moment are those ways that can provide a more positive outcome and refuel our systems so that we can show up in a better way, for others and ourselves. It’s inevitable that our external circumstances will affect and influence our inner world but how it will affect and influence us, well that’s undoubtedly up to us. Without complicating this too much, let’s focus on a few things that we all can practice and implement in order to help ourselves and each other to remain calm, action oriented and peaceful as we move through these challenges ahead.
Focusing on what we can control. Fact is that the only thing we can control is ourselves. In psychology there is a concept called ’Locus of control’ which refers to how strongly we believe that we have control over situations and experiences that affects our lives. Basically, it aspires to explain our tendencies to either believe that we are helpless, without blame, and not in control of our success as well as failures as opposed to attributing these outcomes to our own efforts. Why is this important? Well, it has a major impact on our lives when it comes to how we cope with stress, find motivation and take action.
If we can manage to focus on the things we can control (our state of mind, feelings, actions, how we treat ourselves and others, how we invest our time etc.) and let go of things we can’t control (virus, shut downs, restrictions etc.) we will create more balance in our bodies, decrease stress hormones and anxiety and improve our ability to focus and recover. In the end that’s what we would all like to do, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s hard. But it is possible. In these times, when a lot of things are going on which we can’t control, this is an essential skill that we need to practice in order to not get caught up in a state of stress but rather find a better way to cope with the environment that we’re in. Many people find it helpful to write down all the things that are controllable. Try it out, put pen to paper. To help you get rolling, start by finishing these sentences:
1. I can control...
2. To create more of this, I will...
3. When I do this, I will feel...
Consuming news and implementing a filter. Be mindful of what and how much news you consume. Of course, there’s a need to stay updated regarding different decisions being taken on state level (that concerns you) but try to limit your ’newsfeed’ to include only the absolute necessity. All the other information is mostly noise that will not contribute in any way, shape or form to your wellbeing nor will it make it easier for you to recharge, recover and feel like your best self. Create and set your own boundaries, resist the flashy headlines and focus on the here and now.
Journaling and creating space. Journaling is a great way of creating a safe space, clearing your mind and letting go of worried thoughts. There are a number of benefits, like reducing stress, improving memory, communication and immune function but also strengthening your emotional functions, calibrating your brain and moving away from thinking in ’spirals’. Preferably this is good to do when you wake up, first things in the morning but any time is better than no time. Take around 30 min and simply get your thoughts down onto the paper. Don’t ’correct’ yourself, try leaving the critic outside and remember that there’s no right or wrong. This is your free space. As a guidance, try starting out by finishing these four sentences:
1. Today I feel...
2. Today I need...
3. To give myself what I need I will give myself permission to...
4. If I get stuck I will remember that...
Meditate in your own way. Owning our state of mind and calibrating our thoughts and feelings so that we can better handle whatever is going on around us is a huge benefit in life. Many people ’fear’ sitting down and just being with themselves simply because that’s something many of us are not used to. That’s OK. However, the answer is not avoiding it but rather moving closer, staying curious and reminding ourselves that whatever might pop up will not hurt us. It is there to help us. Meditation can be whatever you want it to be. I meditate on a daily basis. Some days I just feel like sitting quiet, not listening to anything or saying anything. Just focusing on my breathing and being aware of my heart beating. Other days I need to be more ’active’ which for me means repeating mantras, listening to a guided meditation or amping up my frequency and energy level by breathing in a more fast paced pattern and maybe even moving my body in some way.
Since the 1950s hundreds of studies have been made on meditation and its scientific benefits to our human systems, both physiological and psychological. This simply means that we know that meditation plays a huge role in a number of things ranging from reducing depression, stress and anxiety to increasing a more healthy sense of self (identity), compassion, self-acceptance, concentration and even repairing our brains. So why not give it a shot? We’ve got nothing to lose! A good starting point, that I recommend to all my athletes that are new to meditation, is a simple breathing exercise:
Inhale for 5 sec
Hold your breath for 2 sec
Exhale for 5 sec Hold your breath for 2 sec
-Repeat for 3-5 min and expand by 1 min every week.
Routines will grow your roots and your roots will create your stability. Structure and routines provide a sense of order and sometimes even emotional security. At a time like this, when many of us can’t go to work and our everyday lives are somewhat disrupted, this is a really good way of having something to lean on and creating a good space at home with our families. A few things that I try to implement in my everyday routines:
1. Getting enough rest: staying loyal to my bedtime and getting up at the same time every morning, at least 8 hours in bed. If I have to compromise and sleep less, I try to squeeze in a 20 min power nap at lunchtime.
2. Exercising: moving our bodies at least 30-60 min every day is good for both our physical and mental state. Don’t underestimate a simple home workout. There are a lot of inspiration out there at the moment since many people have had to move their training routines into their own homes. Stay inspired and be open to trying out some new stuff. If you can, be outdoors as much as possible. All research out there points to the same thing, nature is healing. So, use it!
3. Diet: it might be tough to stay on point with all the ’healthy habits’ at the moment, I get it, but if you’re going to focus on one thing when it comes to food and nutrition I would urge you to stay away from ’stress snacking’. My nutrition coach Mike Molloy (@M2performancenutrition) wrote an article the other week concerning ”How to not eat your whole pantry during the quarantine”. I urge you to check it out, it’s a good read!
4. Goals: every day I make an A-B-C list of the goals I have for the day, things I want to get done. The ’A’ stuff is the highest priority and I can’t move on to the ’B’ stuff before ’A’ is done and so on. This is a great way to stay focused and doing one thing at a time. Having a method which you follow saves lots of time rather than trying to multitask and running around like a chicken without a head. Try it out for a week! I’m certain that you’ll get a lot more done, feel a greater sense of accomplishment and by the end of the day be way more relaxed as well.
5. Free time: it’s as important to make room for ’recovery time’ as it is to make room for work time. Set aside at least one day every week when you’re completely OFF. If you can avoid having scheduled times for that day, great! If not, don’t worry. Just clear the day as much as possible and do more of the things that makes you happy.
Love is the antidote to stress. I cannot emphasize this enough. When we’re feeling stressed, we have a tendency of isolating ourselves from other people, even the ones we love. This is a mistake, let me tell you why. When we’re stressed the antidote is a hormone called oxytocin. This is what we crave and need but simultaneously deprive ourselves of. You see, we produce this hormone when we spend time with the people we have a close and intimate relationship with and feel really closely connected to. So, in these stress inducing times keep this in mind and make sure to create space for the people you love and amp up those feel good hormones! It will do you good, I promise. If you can’t physically spend time with them then set up a Skype call or Facetime. This is the time when we need to connect more than ever, and you and I are no exception. There’s nothing that makes us happier than when we can make others feel better so make a habit out of it, show that you care. Reach out a hand, pick up the phone and check in with your colleague that you know might have a hard time right now or send a loving message to your parents. Contact your local Red Cross organization and let them know that you can help out. However, you can be more caring, just do it. Everyone might not be willing to receive it but that’s beside the point. What matter is that you’re trying and doing rather than being passive, and that’s what we need.
Like I said, it’s a strange time that we’re finding ourselves in right now but it’s also a time of new possibilities. What we choose to focus on is what will continue to grow, so let’s do our best to make sure that we nourish and expand the most inspiring parts of ourselves, our businesses and one another. We can prepare for and address the tough times while still hoping for and expecting the good times. As the late O Carl Simonton said,
“In the face of uncertainty, there’s nothing wrong with hope.”
What can you make of that? In the midst of it all many of us have lost some really important resources, and that should be acknowledged, but many have also been given the most valuable resource there is. The very thing we usually claim to lack the most. Time. So what can we use it for? What if this is your time? Your time to reconnect with your dreams, your time to revive that creative flow you once lost, your time to realize that idea you knew could turn into a beautiful business, your time to go back to school or your time to write that book. You don’t need an excuse to be optimistic and go after that thing that makes you feel most alive, but if you needed one, I’m giving it to you now. You see, we need your good vibes, your bad ass ideas and unique personality right now. Maybe more than ever. So please, don’t hold back. Stay inspired, keep caring, continue to show up and we’ll all make it through stronger and better because of it.