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  • teresamckee

Proactive or Reactive

By now, it seems to be settling in for most folks that we’re in this state of being for the long haul. For months, we’ve been waiting and now it’s becoming clear that we’re not even sure what we’re waiting for. With all of the people out of work, trying to work from home, working from home with kids that aren’t returning to school, and very few options of anything to do outside of our homes, plus sadly all of the people who are sick or have lost loved ones, it feels impossible to even begin to figure out what’s next.

I know some of you, or perhaps many of you, are going to feel irritated to hear me say that we need to look for some positives in light of our circumstances right now, but is staying focused on the negative serving anyone?

The answer is no, of course, but when we’re worn down, tired, scared, stressed and more, it feels like way too much to be asked to look for a bright side.

Fair enough. But I’m going to anyway, because we’re at a point where we have to start taking some kind of action or to make some choices or to begin to make plans for our lives. We can’t just keep sitting in suffering.

I don’t think asking you to plan out what you want your life to look like right now is reasonable for most people. Things are still in great flux and unpredictable. But there are steps we can take to lay the groundwork for re-entering or re-designing our lives, once we have more information. We can start with considering whether we want to take a proactive approach to whatever comes next or continue reacting to all of the chaos wreaking havoc on our lives.

Reacting to every external event now is like riding a roller coaster every day. It can be nauseating for many. And unfortunately, at least in the United States, we’re adding another daily dose of negativity as the presidential campaign comes to a head. Please, don’t watch the ads!

One way to take a proactive approach, which does not require that we know exactly where we’re going yet, is to think about who we want to be and what that looks like. That provides us with a guide or map to take the next step, and then the next step and many more perhaps baby steps in a direction instead of feeling stuck. It’s the start of moving forward.

Another proactive step we can take is to seriously mind our minds. Let’s face it, it’s extremely easy to go dark these days. We can look around at our external conditions and see everything as terrible. That’s why it’s important to find at least one bright spot and maybe more.

Finding bright spots might help us clarify who we want to be. We could start with something fairly simple, which is to reflect on the last four months and identify what has been a pleasant surprise. Have there been aspects of the shutdown that you found pleasant? I’ve loved not having to sit in traffic every day. And after the first few weeks, I found that I really enjoyed starting my days off more slowly, taking my time in making breakfast or catching up on some reading before starting my work day. It’s such a stark contrast to jumping out of bed and rushing to get ready and out the door to try to beat the traffic. So, part of who I want to be is a more relaxed person who relishes the simple joys in life and I’m contemplating how I can adjust my work once the mandates lift so that I don’t return to the very cranky person sitting on the 405 freeway most evenings.

Perhaps you’ve discovered that you love working from home or that you really enjoy having extra time with the kids or that you experience pure joy in not having to sit in long boring meetings at the office. Maybe it’s relief you feel that you don’t have to listen to a negative coworker all day long.

On the flip side, you can consider what you’ve missed over the past four months. Spending time with family or friends? Going out to dinner or for entertainment? Traveling? You could discover that you loved everything about your pre-pandemic life and feel more appreciative of it.

Spend some quiet time really reflecting on these aspects of your recent life and make a list. You don’t have to take any action on the list yet. Just making the list is a proactive approach to restarting your life.

If you’re out of work, instead of reacting to the potential threats facing you, spend some time considering these same reflections. Identify what you loved about your job and what wasn’t so great about it. Looking at the aspects of the job you enjoyed, are there other jobs or industries that include those same aspects? If you’re in a hard-hit industry, like hospitality, many of those jobs may not return due to so many of these businesses tragically failing now. You might start reflecting on what else you might want to do if returning to your job is not an option. Are there any skills you could be developing now, hopefully while receiving unemployment, that could open more opportunities for you once we’re set free again? There are so many free or low-cost trainings available online that you might just start “window shopping” to see if something appeals to you. Even if you know you’re returning to work at some point, you could work on improving your computer skills while home. I think that’s one skill that we can be pretty certain will be needed everywhere now, whether it’s to assist your children with their remote learning or for all of the new jobs that will become available requiring technological know-how.

We can’t possibly know what’s going to happen, in the short-term or long-term, as a result of this pandemic. You may feel that your job is pretty secure right now, but there is going to be a ripple effect that will change whole industries. Consider this: If enough of us continue to work from home after the pandemic is over, what happens to the auto industry, the repair shops, gasoline stations, auto insurance companies, tire stores, auto parts stores, finance companies and even the DMV? Of course, there’s the other side of that scenario, which is all of the new opportunities that could spring up. In home teaching assistants, increased construction due to home remodels to accommodate working, increased infrastructure jobs for more bicycle or pedestrian paths due to decreased traffic, open-air markets, new gadgets to improve our home work experience, new work furniture designs and sales, and perhaps even cleaner air. I’m making all of this up of course, because no one knows. And that’s the real point. Instead of worrying about what will happen, we need to remember that there is a balance to life and for every event, there is an upside and a downside. We can take a proactive approach to all of this uncertainty by accepting that we don’t know anything for sure, but we can stay open to opportunities.

We can all take a more proactive approach to our mental health now, too. I’m certainly experiencing more feelings of loneliness than I can ever recall, so by checking in with myself frequently, I recognize that I’m dipping into murky waters and take steps to pull my mood back up. Calling a friend, taking a walk, finding a funny movie – even these simple steps can halt the spiral and support me in feeling better. At least for a while. Many people, however, are struggling with more than feeling a little down or struggling with bouts of loneliness. Sadness is a normal human reaction to a problem, a loss, disappointment or a challenging event. I suspect we have all felt sadness at some point in the last few months. Sadness usually goes away on its own or by practicing simple activities like I just mentioned.

While sadness is typically a reaction to external events, depression is more related to internal challenges. Depression can include feeling hopeless or worthless. It can include an inability to function well. It may represent itself as atypical anger or irritability. It may include feelings that life isn’t worth living. Depression frequently produces physical symptoms that may include low energy, aches and pains, insomnia and loss of appetite. Unlike sadness, depression doesn’t go away on its own. If you’ve been very low or sad consistently for more than a couple of weeks, please consider seeking support. You can call your physician for a referral or contact a telehealth agency to speak with a therapist online or over the phone. How you do it isn’t as important as being proactive and doing it. There is relief available.

I recently had an interesting talk with Dr. JP Pawliw-Fry, a psychologist, thought leader on emotional intelligence, author of the NYT bestselling book, “Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most,” and co-founder of the Institute for Health and Human Potential. As an international performance coach, he has worked with the NFL, NBA and Olympic medal-winning athletes as well as senior business leaders at Fortune 500 companies, the US Army and Navy, and the CIA.

He is now also the host and creator of the Last 8% Morning podcast, a morning routine designed to be a useful resource in these unprecedented times. This emotional intelligence podcast brings listeners through three strategies to prepare for the day: mindfulness, movement, and mental training.

Stay mindful. ~ Teresa

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