Crisis Coping Strategies

Treasurers are dealing with stress like never before, perhaps, but then they were always used to being put under pressure, surely, and should be able to cope fine with a bit of lockdown, right?

Well, if 50% of adults and two thirds of children are suffering wellbeing issues due to COVID, as we have heard, then it’s likely that treasurers will be impacted considerably. And one of my concerns, as Chief Executive of the ACT, is that our members may not realise that they’re at risk until they become ill or indeed find that a family member has become ill.

So, if we open our minds to the fact that it could be us next, then we can also adopt some coping strategies that will stave off any potential breakdown or general lack of wellbeing, whatever the crisis we are facing.

Everyone has a different life balance, and many work long hours and don’t mind that too much, although many no doubt do. The difference under COVID is that we feel a different pressure due to our freedoms being restricted, mixed in perhaps with some fear of us or our loved ones contracting the virus, and whilst working from home in another situation might not cause the issue of not being able to separate work from home, in lockdown we’re impacted more. The external pressures weigh on us, and therefore we need to not only take advice as to best practice with ‘normal’ working from home, but also to supplement this with new and more radical strategies perhaps.

If I were to list out the coping strategies I have seen work for people, they would fall into the following categories:

  • Building underlying physical resilience
  • Building underlying mental resilience (and these two are very much
  • interrelated)
  • Creating boundaries
  • Keeping good work habits
  • Developing other habits.

But let’s get a little more specific here, and go through a few of the ‘resilience-boosters’ and other practical tips I have pulled together as part of a ‘toolkit’ for the pandemic that I think we should all be using, whether before or during a crisis. Some are specific to the COVID situation, but many can apply to any crisis. (Resilience here is referring to personal resilience of course, i.e. the ability to spring back from challenges and issues that affect our wellbeing.)

First up: ensure you have enough sleep, nutritious food and lots of water! Some of this will require planning! Might be worth just pausing and asking yourself how you’re doing on this…

Next: get enough exercise – and if you can get out into nature, even better! Apparently we miss our close relationship with the outdoors, as it has changed only very recently, and when we do get closer to nature it has a very positive effect on us.

Try out meditation for a short period each day – this can simply involve looking at an object for a period of time and really seeing it. Ensure your eyes are rested regularly by turning from your screen and staring at something in the distance. Get up and move about, and don’t focus on one piece of work for longer than 90 minutes, otherwise productivity goes down. Take a 5-minute break for every 30 minutes of work.

Focus on being in the present, and not looking too much on what is past, nor should you think (i.e. worry!) about the future for any significant length of time. Ensure you’re not listening to the news too often – maybe only once a day? Make sure you keep contact with at least three friends or family groups at all times – if you start to retreat into yourself this could be a sign that your resilience is lowering and you are starting to suffer ill health.

Try to create a transition from home to office, even if not really commuting – by going for a walk before and after work, by dressing for work then changing at the end of the day when you ‘get home’. And for some, putting on and taking off make-up can signal you are in a different mode.

Some people find journaling helpful – writing down the things you’ve learnt or things you enjoyed each day, and reading them through on a regular basis. This reinforces them and your mind starts to think things are looking up, compared to if you are constantly telling it that these are difficult times.

Switch activities if you feel a low coming on, and go and do a puzzle or cook a meal. Find something that you take pleasure in that is your ‘treat’, though best not to go for the alcohol, chocolates and a film every time! Watch films that you’ve seen before so you know what will happen, especially if you’re feeling stressed – as this reduces anxiety. Being on the edge of your seat is not necessarily the best thing in these times. And remember: alcohol is a depressant – but then a little bit of something can do you good too. Create a home spa, catch up on things you never had time to do around the house – and simply try to be intentional about your day and your choices, and see the self-care elements as vital to both your professional and home success.

Learning builds resilience, so you may want to take a course, learn something new, get another qualification – but if you don’t feel ready for that, then don’t feel guilty. Be kind to yourself. Every time you start to criticise yourself stop, and think kind thoughts.

And mantras can also work. If you tell yourself something 120 times a day you will start to believe it over time – it’s how the mind works. So you can decide: do I tell myself that life is good and I’ll get through all this fine, or do I say it’s all terrible and I’m so upset that I missed my holiday and my dad’s birthday and it’s only going to get worse? Sally Helgesen, world-famous author, talks about just saying ‘oh well!’ when things seem to have gone wrong. Another approach is to quote Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind and say: ‘After all, tomorrow is another day’.

Viktor Frankl, the psychotherapist who survived the Nazi war camps talks about hope as being critical to survival in those conditions. And a sense of purpose. So the more we remind ourselves of our purpose, our ambitions and what we want to achieve in life, and visualise it (as visualisation is a really effective tool), the more upbeat we will be.

And final input for now: think about how you use your time versus your energy, and then tasks or projects versus time. Identify what gives you energy and what saps it; seek out the first and avoid the second. Assign your strategic tasks to your highest energy times, and the unimportant stuff can happen any time. And break up your day into time units, with gaps – and assign time blocks to certain things. That means you may be a little less efficient as you are breaking off and resuming a task, but it also means that one thing does not bleed into another, and you end up feeling behind on everything. You might not be able to finish the task (studies show we always underestimate the time it takes us to do stuff), but you will succeed in completing that time period allocated!

These are some of my observations as to how you can manage yourself in these unusual times. And also remember: a problem shared is a problem halved!

 

Caroline Stockmann
Chief Executive
ACT (Association of Corporate Treasurers)

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