With COVID lockdown restrictions being lifted and businesses looking to adopt new working models, transformational life coach Olivia Wynne, founder of OA Coaching, hosted a lunch and learn event to discuss how we can build our resilience and overcome anxiety of what comes next.
We rarely ask ourselves how we’re feeling. Instead, we tend to get sucked into daily life, into the constant grind of our work and responsibilities. At a time when we’re being faced with challenges we’ve never had before, we have an opportunity to take a breath, to take a step back and check in with ourselves – to start to change the way we feel before we absolutely have to. For example, we might ask ourselves questions such as:
What did you learn about yourself during the past year?
What were the biggest challenges that you had to overcome and how did you do that?
What are you fearing the most about life resuming again?
What changes would you like to feel and see in yourself?
Emotions can coexist. We can have days when we’re struggling and also have more positive emotions within us. It comes down to what mental health means to you. What you feel constitutes positive mental health could be very different to what someone else feels. Taking a step back to understand the way we feel allows us to normalise it. When we normalise, we start to accept and when we start to accept, we can make positive changes.
“More than half of adults (60%) and over two-thirds of young people (68%) have said their mental health got worse during lockdown.” Mind, 2020
The impacts of a pandemic
The physical impacts of the pandemic include fatigue, sleep disruption, altered sleeping patterns, cravings, gut issues, weight loss or gain, worsening of chronic health issues, and trouble concentrating and focusing attention. The emotional impacts can be even more severe:
Fear of socialising – There’s a pressure to socialise in the way we did before. Some friends might be really comfortable with returning to public places and socialising with large groups of people again, while others don’t feel comfortable at all.
Physically going back to work – You might wonder how you will work in a busy office again after getting used to working in your bubble, how you will cope with distractions, what you can do to make yourself feel more confident.
The unknown and lack of control – The only way to make an unknown known is by doing it. Everything about the way you view the world was once an unknown. We experience things that were unknown and then label them as safe. We can’t control external events, only how we feel about them – respecting our own boundaries and doing things that are good for us.
Re-expanding our worlds – The fact that we’ve adjusted to not seeing people shows that we can adjust our worlds back again, accepting that it’s okay to have a different pace. In a new working environment that may involve a mixture of home and office working, there may be a couple of things we used to do that we don’t want to do now.
Anxiety around change and capability – Recruitment went from a difficult period with not many jobs on the market, to suddenly being overloaded. We need to look at how we can manage the new workload in ways that relate to us, so we can start combatting that uncertainty.
How anxiety works
Anxiety arises from overestimating threats and danger and underestimating our ability to cope. Our brains are still quite primal. We still have the same system we’ve always had, that innate fight and flight response. It’s important to understand when your anxiety is keeping you safe and when it’s becoming a hindrance, a projection of fear.
We can become attached to labelling experiences and situations, which makes it harder to move away and see another perspective. Humans naturally fall into black and white thinking. When you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Where does this negativity bias come from? The evolutionary perspective shows that this tendency to dwell on negative information more than positive information is a way the brain tries to keep us safe. We need to balance acknowledging our feelings with an awareness that the human brain naturally looks for threats.
“The truth is, bad things don’t affect us as profoundly as we expect them to. That’s true of good things, too. We adapt very quickly to either.” Daniel Gilbert, American psychologist
Positive ways to reframe negativity bias
It takes an average of 66 days for a new behaviour to become a habit. If you feel reluctant to try something new because it seems to have little effect on your life from one day to another, remember that incremental improvement will eventually add up to a huge difference. Small, digestible shifts in mindset are so important. The human brain can’t change very quickly, so it’s all about making manageable changes and relating them back to your everyday life.
You might ask yourself questions such as, how am I going to cope? How am I going to adapt again? What if I can’t cope? What if I am the only one feeling like this? Understand what resilience looks like for you as an individual. Think about what specific steps you need to take in order to overcome a challenging situation.
“Resilience is fundamentally underpinned by the concept that it is not so much the hard times we face that determine our success or failure as the way in which we respond to those hard times.” Rachel Jackson and Chris Watkin, The Resilience Inventory
One useful way of reframing your negativity bias is to construct a timeline of resilience, where you write down four events that have required you to deal with change in the last six months. Add your emotional associations with each event – for example, fear, anxiety and anger. Then write what you learned. This will help you recognise the strengths you showed in each situation, such as adaptability, pragmatism and optimism.
It can be hard to stay motivated during so much uncertainty. When you feel a lack of control, look realistically at the things that are in your control. What are you potentially worrying about? Can you affect that? If you can’t, find a way to accept it and let go. Focusing your energy on things you can control will help you feel more empowered and stable.
You can train your mind not to follow negative biases. When you become aware of a negative thought, tell yourself that you’re not going to identify with it. Instead, you’re going to become the observer of your own thoughts. Ask yourself if there’s another way of looking at this thought. This helps you cultivate a sense of empowerment and a realisation not only that you have done this before, but that you can do it again.
“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.” Steve Maraboli, author and behavioural scientist
By understanding the way you look at your daily challenges, approaching them from a different angle and focusing on the things you can affect, you can make significant changes to your mindset and wellbeing to help prepare you for the world ahead.
Olivia offers general life coaching for clients across the world, focusing on topics such as fear, anxiety, belief systems, self acceptance, goals/purpose and narrative work. If you’d like any more advice about building your resilience and overcoming anxiety of what comes next, please contact her for an informal chat or check out @oa_coaching.