Stress level: somewhere around “high”

Demonstrating emotional intelligence is critical when leading in times of crisis.

Those in authoritative roles all around the world are finding their leadership skills put to the test.

Let’s talk about stress.

I’ve been struggling with this post. I started out wanting to write about common leadership skills that are critical for leading during a crisis, and every time I sat down to write, no words came out. All of the conversations I’ve had over the last few weeks have been about how we all feel, and what is our degree of stress. So instead of an academic look at leading during a crisis, let’s talk about what we’re all feeling: stressed.

We are living in the times of COVID-19. All over the world, our work and personal lifestyles have been involuntarily changed in ways that most of us have never imagined. Restaurants: closed; even curb-side pickup is slowly going away. Government service buildings like park districts and libraries: closed. Personal service establishments like salons and gyms: closed. Non-essential retail stores: closed. Grocery stores near me have implemented reduced business hours, and have imposed purchasing limits on items ranging from toilet paper to baby food.

Schools, offices, manufacturing plants: closed, limited in-person operations, or a shift to virtual models. For many office roles, remote work is becoming the norm instead of the exception. IT teams around the world are working tirelessly to boost bandwidth so remote video conference meetings can go on without significant interruption. For those of you whom have never worked remote before and are doing so now, you’ve got the added challenge of finding an appropriate workspace in your home. Many of you aren’t alone in this…how many of you have other adults also working remote in your house, and kids needing to do e-learning, or infants and toddlers needing care because day care centers are also closed? Seems pretty stressful, doesn’t it?

Pandemic. I never considered I’d see one during my lifetime. I am still having a hard time wrapping my head around how this virus can be spread so fast and be so challenging to contain. I recall a board game called “Pandemic” that my husband and I have played with our neighbors. In some way, this game is helping me grasp the magnitude of the COVID-19 situation. It is a collaborative game focused on ending the spread of a disease before it becomes a pandemic. To play, we are assigned a fictitious role with a specific set of skills. We are independent players, yet the board game is won when we collaborate. We capitalize on the knowledge, skills, experience, and super powers of each other’s role to develop and execute a global strategy to prevent further spread of disease, and allow infected areas to recover. For a board game, it’s fairly stressful.

Much of what we knew to be true in life just a few short weeks ago is no longer true today. In times of crisis, stress is expected. Stress because our schedules changed; stress because something was taken away; stress because new responsibilities have been added that weren’t there before; stress because we are afraid of what’s going to happen; stress because COVID-19 is within a few degrees of separation; stress because it has taken the life of someone you know.

Stress in these times can be difficult to manage, and it will manifest within each of us differently. In my body, stress in a crisis almost always leads to finding comfort in carbohydrates. I have thoughts and feelings of doom and gloom, which I talk about to help me return to a level of optimism and harness the power of yet. I might even have an irrational overreaction to something completely inconsequential, like finding my favorite sweatshirt is in the laundry when that was seemingly the only thing that would provide comfort in that moment.

I had a conversation recently with friends about stress behaviors, and how the events of the last few weeks have led some us to find ways to assert our ability to control to a greater degree. Can’t go out to socialize at a coffee shop, can’t watch your child graduate, can’t go see a movie, can’t to this or that? So, we look for what we can control, which provides a sense of security. Someone might try to control specific aspects of household operations, another person might insist a project must go their way, others might take on a passion project, yet others might decide to retreat to a private area for some personal time. All of those serve to find something in which we feel we can control the outcome, and ideally, stress levels decrease for a time.

As so many thoughts and reactions to COVID-19 news updates swirl in our head, it’s not uncommon to be distracted and have trouble concentrating. This week, both my husband and I have been noticeably distracted, and we have been frustrated at each other for not remembering what the other person said in a three-minute time span. Maybe the same is happening in your house, and possibly with others you interact with frequently. It’s not you: it’s stress, and it’s temporary.

The underlying premise of this site is that we are all leaders. We all have a leader voice inside us, and we can all learn how to develop our leadership skills to positively change our lives, and those of others in our influence. In times of crisis, using your leader voice means finding grace and compassion; forgiveness; and tapping into a growth mindset. We are all living in a time when uncertainty is the primary theme on the news. Stress is inevitable.

Allow yourself and others to grow into these changes. None of us are at our best right now. We are all in this together…and like the strategy in the board game “Pandemic,” let’s pledge to share our knowledge, skills, experience, and super powers to reduce the spread of COVID-19 as much as we can.

Lead on, everyone…now more than ever, let’s support each other; we can do this.

If you feel your stress levels are such that you are unable to cope, there are resources in your area to talk about your feelings and help you navigate times of crisis. Please look into counseling or other support services in your area.

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