Covid-19 is stressing American society and us all in fundamental ways. The obvious and most important impact is the potential loss of life, particularly for the frail elderly and medically compromised folks among us. Not to be overlooked are the psychological, emotional, and financial stresses arising from the uncertainties surrounding the spread of the disease.
Many creative solutions, healthy behaviors, and adaptive attitudes can mitigate the stresses related to current uncertainty and risk. Everyone one is hunkering down and adjusting to mandated safety protections meant to slow infection rates. Staying productive, engaged, and satisfied with your modified activities will improve your chances for weathering the viral storm.
This is particularly true for leaders. Managing your own emotions and modeling constructive behaviors during crisis periods support organizational resilience and adaptivity. Those are the organizational attributes most needed right now to navigate the coronavirus crisis.
Leadership matters more than ever during crisis periods. Thoughtfulness, clear communication, and calm problem-solving help organizations avoid the “Chicken Little” syndrome of running around aimlessly. Many people will rise to the occasion, making themselves and other well-wishers proud.
People who are not typically thought leaders might surprise others with good solutions and great behaviors, even becoming role models for others. How we react to stress matters as much as the actual stress itself. Staying cool under pressure, openly communicating, and becoming an active problem-solver lead to better outcomes.
Michelle Gielan studied groups under stress and shared her findings in January 2019 Harvard Business Review article titled “You Can Improve Your Default Response to Stress.”  About half of those Gielan studied were Calm Responders. They react to problems with thoughtful understanding and collaborate closely with trusted advisors before taking timely and appropriate actions to address problems.
No one is 100% correct. When conditions warrant, Calm Responders correct course. They are generally happier than others, more successful and exhibit persistence. Calm Responders are good role models for others.
Two other types of response groups, each representing 25% of those studied, emerged during Gielan’s research. She named them “Venters” and “Five Alarmers.” Venters overdo communication by freely sharing opinions on everything. They are not focused on problem-solving or staying cool. Venters dilute important messaging and confuse their audiences who struggle to separate “noise” from signals.
Five Alarmers express their stress, which causes stress in everyone around them. Unfortunately, when they avoid problem-solving, Five Alarmers add fuel to the fire that Calm Responders are trying to extinguish.
Being self-aware and cognizant of individual reaction styles is the first step in moving away from being a Venter or Five Alarmer toward becoming a Calm Responder. Everything gets better as that process unfolds.
According to Gallup, 43% of U.S. workers are remote part of the time. About 5% of workers are remote all or almost all the time. The combination of 80% remote and 20% in-person seems to be the most productive work mix according to Literally Virtually, Making Virtual Teams Work by Lee Johnsen.
Working remotely does require discipline. The following actions make remote work more productive and enjoyable. They help avoid loneliness and burnout.
- Getting dressed in work clothes;
- Creating a workplace location that is conducive for productivity;
- Scheduling breaks or conversations with friends; and
- Periodically stretching physically
Beyond work-specific adjustments, pursing healthy lifestyle behaviors can enhance the experience of working remotely. The Blue Zones Project suggests nine strategies, named the Power 9®, to enrich daily living and extend longevity. I’ve modified these principles to accommodate the challenges of social distancing and sheltering in place create by the Covid-19 crisis.
Move Naturally – Get out in the yard, work in your garden, and get your hands dirty in a healthy way. Fresh air, sunshine, and connection with living things and Mother Earth will do you good. Rather than going to the gym, yoga classes and workouts are available online as well as via Netflix and YouTube. Walk the dog, go for a run, enjoy the sunshine, and smell the spring flowers.
Downshift – Stay informed, but don’t stay glued to the TV. Take care of yourself and relax. Read a good book. Meditate. Keep a journal. Breathe!
Purpose – Now is a great time to take stock of your strengths, skills, and talents. If you’re taking some time off or are stuck at home, why not reimagine your future and start planning how you can live a better life doing the things that you are meant to do?
80% Rule – Eat mindfully, enjoy your food, and stop eating when 80% full—the point when you pause to consider how you will handle the remaining food on your plate. One great way to eat only what you need is to not watch TV, news, or a movie while eating. Focus on your food and really savor it.
Plant Slant – Put more veggies and fruits on your plate than other foods. Your body needs nutrition, perhaps now more than ever.
Wine @ Five – If you can’t get together with friends in person to celebrate your day, try calling them. Many smartphones allow multiple callers on the same call, so connect with a few of your friends and say cheers.
Family First – Take care of yourself first; then look after your family. You’ll be more able to take care of others, and you’ll all feel better knowing you’re helping each other in positive ways.
Belong – While we’re avoiding groups of people, we still need to connect with our communities. If you can’t attend a worship service, look to see if any faith-based organizations offer livestreaming. Connect with fellow congregants, share your concerns, and help one another. How can you help neighbors in need—possibly grocery shopping for an elderly neighbor who shouldn’t go to the store?
Right Tribe – Remain connected with friends who are optimistic and help you to stay healthy and positive. The last thing anyone needs right now is more bad news, so focus on what you can and will do to help one another. Share good news and encourage one another to be resilient.
Follow all the local and national suggestions for safety. Stay hopeful and be an example for those around you. Ultimately, your smart participation will help your community and our nation manage through the crisis more effectively and recover more quickly.
- “You Can Improve Your Default Response to Stress,” Harvard Business Review, Michelle Gielan, January 5, 2017.
- Literally Virtually: Making Virtual Teams Work, Lee Johnsen, Child of the Prairie; 2nd edition, January 1, 2018.