A direct quote from my Mom. She’d always say it when I worried aloud about some perceived (yet nonetheless verrrry real-seeming) impending doom.
In a similar vein, I also heard someone say recently, “Don’t rehearse your troubles. It only multiplies them.” Makes sense, since troubles are not something we want to “perfect” by going over them repeatedly, or trying them out with different voice inflection. Nope. Troubles are best left unrehearsed. We most likely don’t want to know what happens in the next scene.
All good, wise and timeless advice, but far easier said than done. Especially when your regular life becomes one giant fret zone. Ambiguity gets me there instantly. Like I’ve been handed a ticket that says, Fret Zone: Admit One, and I just waltz right in, not sure if or when I’m coming back out. Ambiguity’s sneaky because it’s simply a situation that could go either way. An unknown. And that not-knowing can be debilitating for us natural-born trouble-conjurers. But hand wringing begets nothing more than more hand wringing. It spreads, like a, well, you know. (Do I have to say it? I won’t. I want to. But I won’t.)
And leaders, especially during moments of crisis, are supposed to be pillars of calm and confidence. But how do you project certitude when your own internal warning signals are flashing and beeping like a five-alarm fire.
My uncle Pete was this giant Swede with a strawberry blond fringe and a hug that could crush vital internal organs. He was humble and hardworking and used simple words to convey valuable life philosophies. He said, “When you wake up, get up. When you get up, do something.” See, the other thing about hand wringing is that it can’t be done when you’re rolling up your sleeves. Despite a natural inclination to want to bury your head in the sand (or binge watch something – anything), there’s no better antidote to angst than to just get moving.
My son Chase is also a world-class worry-wart. When he was a toddler, he became obsessed with death. When? Who? How? (And the real stumper, Why?) The best medicine for him was activity, activity, activity – Play-Doh, hopscotch, endless games of checkers, Uno and Go Fish. Getting his hands busy was the best way to divert the brainwaves from focusing on the morbid upset of the day. Same goes here. Engaging in something derails the psyche’s natural trajectory to doom and gloom.
Where to start?
Make a list.
That doesn’t mean a daunting, impossible-to-accomplish, miles long to-do list. In fact, an overwhelming list can backfire, sending you reeling right back to the depths of Netflix, never to been seen or heard from again. So be sure to dose the list with bright spots – mix in some like-to-do’s along with the have-to’s. Maybe start by writing a daily list with 3-4 priority items, 1 thing that gives you joy and 1 item you don’t want to do, but needs to be done. Accomplishment clears mental noise and gives your esteem an oh-so-needed shot of dopamine.
Identify 3-4 people to connect with – 3 professional and one for fun. Communal kvetching reassures you that you’re not the only one with a penchant for chicken-little thinking. With economic conditions so indeterminate, it can calm the chaos to work through budget scenarios – worst to best cases. Make the unknown as known as you can.
Stick to a schedule.
Cliché but oh so true: unscheduled time is the devil’s playground, so in this era of ad hoc office time, make a daily schedule to put order to the unordered. But again, rigidity will be your nemesis. Add some elasticity to allow for pop-up chats, impromptu dog-walks, or time to relocate to the kitchen table for a sans-laptop lunch that’s not just a handful of something from the pantry. This mental toggling keeps you from feeling the slog.
Don’t forget to calm the internal churn while you’re at it. Worry springs from useless self-talk. Lies. Believable ones, but still exaggerated falsehoods. Pro tip: Meditation can vanquish a skittery mind. If you can’t center yourself, there’s about 1,372 or so guided versions on YouTube.
Find the fun.
My kids love to hear me laugh. Especially when they’re the cause of it. Because manifesting joy in someone is a natural elixir. Mayo Clinic’s website notes laughing as a primary stress management tool. It can stimulate your organs, fire up and cool down your stress responses, reverse the negative effects of stress and actually improve your immune system. Not a bad thing right now. Laughing produces natural painkillers and its very nature of connecting you with others improves your mood by default. And shared hilarity is a natural tension tamer. Silly can be a panacea to panic.
When it became clear Fame would be working from home indefinitely, we resumed our morning huddles virtually. And once we got past the initial fascination of peering into our peers’ households or commenting on everyone’s Zoom background creativity, the novelty quickly wore off. So I instituted a schedule of shenanigans – a show and tell/talent show mash-up with events like, “Write a Coronavirus Limerick,” “What’s Your Weird Human Trick?” and “Status-in-Your-Mask Day.”
In these intensely serious times, it’s important as leaders to create lighthearted moments to balance the weight of what we’re hearing and seeing nonstop on the news. Daunting stuff is coming our way anyway – that’s life. So do your team a favor, and manufacture some fun. Be a little (or a lot) ridiculous. They will welcome the distraction – and it’ll give you something new to talk about at the dinner table.
There’s lots of chatter about using this time to take on a new task, master a new skill, or serve the community in a creative, buzzworthy and meaningful way that no one else has thought of yet (still in the brainstorming stages of that one). All of which are lovely, noble, anxiety-inducing thoughts. I think the best we can do right now, is to just to try to do our best better. Push the worrying aside. Keep moving, indulge in some fun distractions – and for Uncle Pete’s sake, just do something.