The deadly novel coronavirus has affected working people worldwide. As nonessential businesses have shut down, millions have lost their jobs, taken drastic pay cuts, or been forced to work from home alongside their family members. Empty shelves and shortages of everyday supplies such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer have turned a simple trip to the supermarket into an anxiety-fraught ordeal.
Like a gas leak, this toxic emotional environment permeates the atmosphere of our homes, where people are trying to work in spaces formerly dedicated to living, relaxing, relating to friends, and rearing children. Dealing with stress and finding meaningful ways to connect are necessary for negotiating this difficult season. In these instances, a good coach or marriage counselor can serve as an intermediary for an effective discussion of your issues or resolving conflict.
Would you like to stay connected with family members and fellow workers in the midst of social distancing? Keep reading to learn simple strategies to get the most out of conversations at work and at home. And most of all, how to lower your stress and anxiety during the uncertainty of this pandemic.
Structure Time and Minimize Interruptions
If you are still working from home, some of the best advice I can give you is to structure your time. Schedule blocks of time that you will be available for interactions with your kids and/or spouse. Give structure to your children’s days so they feel secure knowing what activities the day holds in store for them.
For example, my daughter-in-law realized after the first week of homeschooling that her kids desperately needed structure similar to their normal school days. She put together the following schedule: three hours of school work with three different subjects followed by lunch, time to read or listen to music, time for an art project, quiet time, then recess (time to run outside or play inside), half an hour to read and, finally, screen time (computer, iPad or phone). This enabled Mom and Dad to work on their music (which is their career) and not go crazy.
Schedule time to answer calls, emails, and texts at a designated time of your choosing. I find it helpful to record an answer to this effect on my voicemail: “I will answer check messages and return calls at 12:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. today,” or “I will get back to you as soon as I can. Your call is important to me and I look forward to talking to you.”
Control distractions and noises as best you can. When I am making calls and my wife (an editor) is working nearby, she wears her noise-canceling headphones and—voilà—no interruption. She purchased them for air travel pre-COVID-19 but now swears by them as a means of increasing focus and productivity, and minimizing interruptions.
Rest is vital. After a couple of weeks of teleconferencing several times a day, I realized I needed to take 15-minute to half-hour breaks after an hour or two of meetings. Once I learned to rest, I stopped getting headaches, fighting fatigue, and snapping at people. Stand up and stretch, take some deep breaths, maybe walk up and downstairs, or walk outside for a while.
Take mini breaks. Have fun. Rest your body and brain.
Keys to Connecting Interpersonally with Others
Marriage counselors tell us to be aware of our tone of voice, body language, and how we say what we say—that is, how we look and sound to other people. When discussing highly emotional topics, use the pronoun “I,” rather than the accusatory “you” to begin sentences. Avoid the phrases “You always” and “You never.” Be self-responsible. Then use the next tool to communicate your message most effectively.
Closing the Loop is a tool my wife and I teach in our six-hour Communication Connections Workshop. One person (the sender) talks while the other person (the receiver) listens attentively. The sender shares their message; the receiver hears it and repeats it to the sender in their own words. After hearing how the receiver perceived the message, the sender may clarify, and the process continues until the sender says, “That’s it.” Then it is the receiver’s turn to be the sender.
Marriage counselors call this “active listening”—active in that the receiver hears and responds verbally rather than with grunts or trying to fix the other person. Why is this so important now with COVID-19? It communicates value and that you are really listening to your partner. With so many virtual meetings happening during this season, people need to feel understood and know that someone is actually listening to them.
Call or get in touch with someone by email or text for informal chats. This social connection can be soothing to your soul. It will help destress and relax you. The support of family and close friends—even friends in other countries—can be helpful for you to get out of yourself and think of others. I recently called an old college roommate after seeing him on Facebook. Catching up after forty years boosted my sagging spirits.
Another tool I use as a marriage counselor is the CommuniStar. It is a diagram that helps you define and disclose your thoughts, feelings, desires, intentions, expectations, and proposed solutions or actions regarding one issue at a time. It can help both the sender and the receiver bring clarity as you talk and listen to each other. And it helps you to stay on track to resolve one area of conflict before moving on to the next.
By being proactive rather than reactive in this new environment, you will decrease your stress levels. It is like leaning into a wave rather than letting it crash into you.
Nationally known author and marriage counselor Dr. Henry Cloud, co-author of the best-selling book Boundaries, says, “When we go through a trauma our brain needs to reset. We have brain maps that help us do routine things, and then a crisis happens. Our brain is scrambled.” He goes on to say that a sense of connectedness is the foundation of being a person.
Crisis makes it hard to function. In navigating a global event like COVID-19, you need to be intentional about reordering your life. Schedule in some routine. Gain control of the situation. Make lists—be mindful of what needs to be done next. Create mental space.
If you tend to “catastrophize,” you need to manage the “what ifs.” Making lists and having short-term goals can help.
What is your self-talk? What is your internal voice saying? You need to speak positive things or you may spiral into destructive thoughts (like the golfer who says to himself, “Don’t miss that putt.” Guess what?)
It’s difficult for employees to be engaged at work when they feel stressed and anxious about their personal and family well-being. At times like these, the best an employer or organization can do is to be understanding, empathic, and offer support. To foster employee well-being, give employees autonomy and flexibility to create work-from-home environments that best suit them. Promote activities such as breaks, physical activity, meditation, and prayer.
In times of crisis, priorities can shift quickly. Regular check-in meetings provide an opportunity for everyone to get on the same page, brainstorm ideas, deconflict competing priorities, and establish action plans. When possible, encourage the use of video conferencing so employees can engage in virtual face-to-face interactions.
Create Space for Informal, Fun Interactions
Normally, employees engage in frequent conversations around the office about non-work topics (e.g., sports, TV shows, pets).
Consider how you can move these interactions online by creating games, activities, and competitions for employees to stay connected socially despite being physically separated. Make up ways to maintain social engagement through fun activities. Maybe have an exclusive, private Facebook page or “hang out” that allows employees to share these things with other employees. Some ideas might be:
- Songs about COVID-19: Make up small teams of five to seven in a group. Have them create a parody of a song that everyone would know and sing it for the group live or taped.
- Recipe Sharing: Give an opportunity to share favorite recipes and connect with colleagues in the kitchen, providing continued inspiration as everyone exhausts their go-to meals.
- Friday Spirit Days: Provide an opportunity to ditch the sweats and dress up based on themes that change weekly, and stay connected through photos. Give a small prize for the best dressed.
- Guess that Baby: Hold a weekly contest to identify colleagues by their baby photos and compete for points and a grand prize.
- Workspace Photo Competition: Invite employees to submit fun photos related to social distancing (e.g., pictures of your home office, new “co-workers,” comfiest work outfits).
Incorporate these tips into your COVID-19 world to help you, your co-workers, and your family get through this crisis.
Remember, if you feel as if your life is getting out of control, call on the services of a good marriage counselor or life coach to help you sort through the issues and restore mental and emotional order to your soul.
Let me know how these strategies work for you. Email [email protected]