Stress Relief in the Time of Covid-19
They arrived in a fog. Like the survivors of 9/11, only they weren’t covered in white dust, they were covered in shock. It was September 15, 2008, the day Lehman fell. They were portfolio managers and equity analysts – the people who make investment decisions. Their world had just changed forever.
And then they sat down and answered research questions.
I am a market research moderator, basically an insights expert. I listen for a living. What that means is that I talk with people and learn who they are and how they feel, not based on what they say but on the stories they tell that bring their experiences to life. I’ve personally interviewed over 25,000 people in every walk of life, from families in East LA projects to Midwest moms, to posh corporate boardrooms and everything-in-between.
Read More: Can You Script Empathy?
In September 2008 I was there to conduct a study about investment products and services designed to support these investment professionals. What I heard then is what I’m hearing now during COVID-19 research respondents.
“Why did you come today?”
“It’s nice to have something to focus on other than this crisis.”
Psychologists* tell us that the highest stress is when we feel responsible for something that we have no ability to control, and there’s uncertainty all around us. That’s what we are all experiencing now. We may not be the healthcare workers, grocery clerks or delivery people who are literally holding our world together, but we all feel the need to do something, anything. But what?
During times of crisis these are the commonalities I’ve heard and seen through interviews.
- Anything other than this. Develop a new talent.
Stress reliever number 1 – Find something you love and dive in. Gardening, video games, NASA? Spending time on something you love can be deeply therapeutic.
- Contribution. When life seems chaotic, being able to do something for others is one of the best remedies to make everyone feel better. What we found as researchers is that in times of stress respondents really LOVE the idea of being able to help our clients create new ideas or think through new ways to make the world a better place.
Stress reliever number 2 – Find something you CAN contribute or do for someone else. Quoting my friend Candice, “this is a time to give whatever you have an abundance of”. What do you have an abundance of? Time? Attention? Money? Sewing skills? Give that.” Finding ways to lift up others is a great way to feel like you have the ability to make a difference.
- Shock. It’s like being in a car accident. When you’re at the scene, you stay focused and present. When you’re home and out of danger, that’s when the freak out happens because it’s safe to feel those feelings.
Stress reliever number 3 – Take time to let yourself feel whatever you are feeling is healthy. So much of our lives is about NOT being where we are – being on our phones, being strong for our kids, working when we’re tired and scared. If you are worried that you’ll get “stuck,” give yourself a time limit – 15 minutes of full freak out, then go back to your life. From a physiological standpoint, if you FULLY experience an emotion, it only lasts in your body about 90 seconds. It’s when we try to avoid those feelings that they last longer. Here’s an article about how to use the 90-second rule to your advantage.
- Control. The biggest stressor for humans is feeling like you are responsible for something but not having any control over it. Thus, in times of chaos when the world seems out of control, what we crave is a sense of control – “what can I do now?
Stress reliever number 4 – Look for what you CAN control and do that. Make your bed, take a shower. Set a schedule. Don’t make it a long list, just something that says to yourself “I made a promise to do this today, and I did it.” You’ll trust yourself more when you keep those promises.
- Tiny moments. Sometimes you have to look at your feet and not at the horizon. In tough times, the 10-15 minutes between things can make all the difference. If talking with people about how COVID-19 is affecting them, focusing on what they can do to give to others can make all the difference.
Stress reliever number 5 – Find Balance! Are you bouncing between wanting to learn to play the piano, become a gourmet cook and teach the kids physics vs. just wanting to lay on the couch and eat cookies. This is how I create balance:
- The BIG to-do list. Re-organize the closets, sort the comic books, clear out the attic. Make the BIG list and have it at the ready, then do ONE tiny thing in the direction of that list in the 10-15 minutes between other activities. Maybe you take down ONE box from the attic, or sort through ONE drawer. The key is to be as small as possible. Do less than you could. If you were lazy and just phoning it in, what would be the tiniest thing you could do? Go do that. You’ll be amazed at how good you feel at the end of the day.
- The FEEL GOOD List. Write this list when you feel good so you have it for later. You know how when you’re supposed to go out to dinner but you’re just not in the mood, and then that person cancels at the last minute? Free evening! If you felt good and had that free evening or morning or afternoon, what would you do? Keep that list in a place where you will see it during the day, and when you have 10-15 minutes of down time, instead of going on the Internet or watching the news, go do a TINY bit of that thing. Order the seeds for the garden, read 3 pages of that book. Go play with your kids or your pets.
At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong way to go through this. It’s like walking through a giant snow drift. You just have to keep going, then rest, then keep going again. You are not alone, millions of people all around the world are going just like you are. And somewhere out in the world, someone is wishing you happiness and peace as you go. That someone is me!
As a post-script, as I connect with clients during this time, they ask if individuals want to participate in research during a crisis. YES, they do. First, because they are looking for a distraction. Second, many would love to have extra income from market research during this time. Third, giving people a chance to contribute ideas makes them feel in control and that they there is something they can do now. Additionally, now is a great time for businesses to identify innovative solutions.
Whether doing internal surveys or working with market research and insights experts, I encourage you to think about ways you can connect with you those who engage with you to determine how you can better serve them. In crisis we come together.
Stay safe everyone.
*A 2017 NIH study showed that perceiving control over one’s outcomes has positive effects on emotion regulation, motivation, and learning.