COVID-19: Five Tips to Remain Calm and Productive in Uncertain Times

Panic is caused by extreme fear in a situation in which there appears to be no way out.  It is emotional claustrophobia – fueled by a sudden influx of adrenaline.  It means something precious is at risk, and the outcome is beyond your control. Panic is that fight-or-flight response that has been hardwired into our DNA since our ancestors sparred with saber-toothed beasts.

Worldwide, this feeling of panic is being experienced by everyone as we deal with the uncertainty of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

But if we want to get where we need to be, we need to remain mindful and vigilant.

These are unsettling times. Everything is changing every minute, but there is still work to be done. We can’t afford to lose our cool.

Accepting the unexpected

I’m an inmate in the Arizona Department of Corrections, but I am also a marketing content specialist for Televerde. Working within the juxtaposition of the business world and the prison yard, we could go on quarantine or lockdown at any moment. But I do have KPIs to meet – and clients to serve – so I must remain focused on the here and now.

Restrictions, regulations, and headlines are changing faster than I can hit the ‘refresh’ button on my browser. These are trying times for everyone.

As someone who knows what it’s like to not be in control of my environment, I want to share what I’ve learned about staying strong in the face of uncertainty.

Stay calm.

In the face of all these changes, you may be getting ready to self-quarantine or work from home for an extended period of time. Take it one day at a time. Don’t waste energy worrying about what will happen three weeks or three months from now. Focus solely on the here and now and the things you can control.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, the best thing to do is to remain mindful and present.

A great way to practice mindfulness is to take a deep breath (or 10). Deep, rhythmic breathing reduces stress, which can increase productivity by about 20 percent.

Karlyn Borysenko, founder of Zen Workplace, outlines a quick five-step meditation you can do anywhere to help you remain calm and focused:

  • Sit in a chair with a straight back, your feet planted firmly on the floor, and your arms uncrossed and relaxed.
  • Inhale slowly through your nose. Follow the breath all the way down your throat, through your chest, and into your belly.
  • When it hits your belly, hold it for a few moments.
  • Release the breath slowly through your mouth.
  • Repeat as many times as you need to until you feel calmer.

Focus on your purpose.

Life on the prison yard is stressful–absolutely nothing is in my control and things can be unfair. Personalities will sometimes clash and situations can be volatile. The only way I can remain grounded in these unsettling times is to focus on my purpose. My purpose is to exceed expectations every day at work so I can ultimately secure employment and build a future for myself when I leave these gates.

Have a clear purpose defined and focus all your time and energy working towards it. Being purpose-driven has been proven to reduce negative emotions like loneliness, stress, and irritability.

Consider making your job your purpose. Focus not just on showing up every day, but really doing your best.

Stick to a routine.

In prison, having a routine is the No. 1 thing that gets us through our time.

If you find yourself working from home or otherwise changing your daily habits, finding a routine and sticking to it can help you navigate through these challenging times. It will make you more productive during your work hours; and also help you detach from work when it’s time to unplug. Here are a few ways to get started with creating your new routine:

  • Identify a designated workspace.
  • Shower and get dressed every morning.
  • Adhere to your regular work schedule.

Ask for help – and help others.

If you’re feeling anxious, depressed, or isolated – you’re not alone. Stay connected to your family, friends, and colleagues in any way that you can. And if you need help, ask for it.

Check-in often with your loved ones and co-workers. Remember: we are all going through this together. By reaching out, you will not only help others, but you will also feel better yourself.

At a time when we’re all teetering on the edge of uncertainty, remember that all this added stress can make us do and say things we otherwise would not.

If ever there was a perfect time to respond to anger or frustration with kindness and understanding, that time is now.

Practice gratitude.

What are you thankful for? Take a minute to run down the list of things you are grateful for. If you’re feeling hopeless or panicked or angry or sad or lonely (or whatever negative emotion has you reeling), practicing gratitude will help you maintain your sanity.

I am in prison. Most people would think that was the end of the road. Might as well throw in the towel. However, I can still think of a ton of things to be tremendously grateful for:

  • My family
  • My health
  • My job
  • My colleagues
  • My future

There are always things to be grateful for, regardless of your background or circumstance.

Final takeaway

In these challenging times, it’s crucial for you to remain present, mindful, and focused.

There’s a saying that has gotten me through some seriously dark times: this too shall pass. It’s as true now as it’s always been. After this crisis is over, life and work will go on. Focus on what you can control in the here and now.

“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”

-Jimmy Dean

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