The change in life brought about by COVID-19 is now more familiar to most people, but the uncertainty of how long this will last, how will it impact the future, and even how to manage in the next few weeks is a source of anxiety and stress.
Here are a range of tools to help you manage your mind to cope with uncertainty at this time.
Circles of Influence and Control Model
A useful model to use to help us gain some sanity and put things into perspective is the Circle of Influence and Control model which is a tool created by late educator Stephen Covey.
Think of the control model as a way to help us focus on what we can control, what we can influence, and what is out of our control. By understanding these three levels or layers, we can focus our emotional and mental energy on the things we can control and influence while limiting the time we dwell on the things that are out of our control.
- Direct control – the things that are in our direct control are things we determine for ourselves. For example, we can choose our daily schedule, what we want to prepare for meals, and how we exercise daily while following social distancing requirements. We can also choose to reduce our risk of exposure by washing our hands, sanitizing surfaces in our homes, and wearing a mask when we go outside.
- Influence – these are areas in our life where we can provide information or opinion to assist or inform others. In the sphere of influence, we do not have full direct control, but we have the ability to provide input. A Mum can influence kids to adjust to social isolation and feeling safe, a neighbour may influence an older person on the street to stay indoors, or we can provide encouragement to others through social media.
- No control or influence – big picture issues such as school re openings, governmental policies, or when workplaces will reopen are all examples of items outside of our control or influence.
With this model in mind, consider how much time you spend on items in the direct control and influence spheres or layers. This is an effective use of your emotional and mental energy, and it helps you to recognise you are still in control of most aspects of your life.
Focusing too much time and attention on the sphere of no control or influence develops a sense of frustration and victimisation. Watching the news or constantly reviewing posts on social media becomes a cause of anxiety as it often seems like the world is out of control. These habits make people fixate on areas where they have no control.
Limiting access to this type of information, which is almost always negative and utterly devastating to watch, only reinforces the sense of uncertainty and anxiety. Consider limiting your viewing to the 5 pm briefings for the headlines and setting limits on your social media exposure.
In addition, find friends, family members, and coworkers to talk to about positive and engaging subjects. Take your mind off COVID-19 throughout the day helps to reduce anxiety. It allows you to control the topic and the conversation.
Tips for Reducing Anxiety
In addition to setting barriers or boundaries, there are some very effective strategies we can move into our sphere of control. These strategies are also useful in building structure to our days, and structure provides comfort and familiarity that helps in reducing anxiety over uncertainty.
- Sleep – stay in a sleep routine, even if you have been longing to binge on that television program. Regular sleep is essential for emotional and mental energy, and it helps to alleviate a low mood, anxiety, or depression.
- Nutrition – structured, healthy meals three times a day are vital for both mental and physical health. Avoid falling into the junk food and packaged food trap and try to focus on fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean protein at normal times.
- Exercise – physical movement is directly related to hormone management in the body. Try to get outside for a walk at least once a day and consider adding in some of the free video workouts available online. This can be a fun activity with the kids, just look for a dance workout or try something new like yoga.
In addition to sleep, nutrition, and movement, we also need to meet our emotional needs. Think of these as your 5 a day- just like your nutritional 5 a day.
These are tools recommended for supporting your emotional well-being, and they include:
- Purpose – set a goal for yourself each day and carry through. These goals can consist of cooking for the family, calling a friend, walking with the kids, or other specific, purposeful activities.
- Connection – find a way to connect with someone on a social level each day. This is particularly important if you are staying safe at home alone.
- Self-Care – find time to do something for yourself each day. It could include journaling, meditating, reading, going for a walk, or spending time playing with the kids or a beloved pet. These are things that make you feel good.
- Escape – try something new or something you regularly do that allows you to escape from the constant negativity. Perhaps take up a hobby or try something new you saw online.
- Stay in the present – thinking about all the “what ifs” causes anxiety and worry and clearly moves you out of your areas of control and influence. Instead, focus on what is present today. Be mindful of the things you can see, hear, smell, and feel helps you to stay present and grounded.
Mind your language
Choosing the right words is important to how we see a situation. For example, are you stuck at home or safe at home? Are you experiencing the loss of the old or the possibility of new options?
By choosing language that is positive and looking for the good in the situation, we can change our mental outlook on the situation while still remaining reality-based. Think about how you are using language to yourself and others, and if the words you are choosing are creating anxiety or providing a more positive and calming impact. You might find it helpful to reflect on:
How can we rephrase certain words so they can help us feel more positive and in control?
A fresh perspective
The world has changed over the last few weeks and many of us have had an opportunity to use our time differently. The world may feel very strange at this point. It is essential to take the time to savour the small moments throughout this time. Enjoy the everyday things in life. These are often the things you were too busy to have time to consider in the past. Linger over breakfast coffee, enjoy a luxurious bath, reach out and connect with someone, and take the time to appreciate what you have at the moment.
The ability to tune in to the benefits in your life not only helps with positive emotions and positive mental outlook right now, but it also has a flow-on effect.
Positivity is a mindset that doesn’t just come to us when we need it; it’s something we must practise daily, especially at times like this.
Nishi Mehta is the co-founder of CM Talent and social enterprise Career-Mums. She has a wealth of experience in people management and combines this experience with being a parent to inspire employers to improve their gender diversity. CM Talent help employers attract, retain and develop gender-balanced teams with services including family care leave coaching, leadership development programmes and flexible working consultancy.