Feeling lonely and burned-out? You're not alone. Like you, millions of people across the globe are dealing with the effects of a global pandemic that not only affected physical health but deteriorated general well-being and mental health. In the U.S. alone, 42% of people surveyed by the US Census Bureau reported symptoms of depression and anxiety. That's an 11% increase compared to last year. So how do you come to terms with the unknown? With what you cannot control?
Gus Guillen is a Coach, Personality Profiler and Master Practitioner in NLP. Having coached executives from companies like L'Oréal and Louis Vuitton, he is an expert in the psychology of resilience and agility in the workplace. Here he outlines an exercise for anyone wanting to stay centered during COVID-19.
“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans,” I sometimes quote Woody Allen to my clients when I feel they’re going into distress about things not working out - either as they’d planned or anticipated or even ‘as they should’. Usually, it does the trick. We exchange a little knowing smile, and the clouds clear enough for them to recenter, develop or rediscover a personal strategy, or shift to a positive mindset.
Knowing about something; what to do, and how to do it, are necessary, but they don’t always get you to act or reach for that outcome you tell yourself (or others) that you want so much.
Hearing a beautiful distant melody is good; playing it is better. Being it is you becoming unstoppable, you at your best. Then you can become a whole symphony. Below we are going to look at how you can do that.
Here are some practical steps you can take when you start to feel too much fear, anxiety, anger, or shut-down in response to this tough time.
Too much zoom-in
- Do you speak in your head to yourself or to someone - or even to something - a little more intensely than you should?
- Does it feel like you can’t seem to turn it off?
- Do worst-case scenarios keep appearing as big pictures or bright videos in your head?
- Do you catch yourself breathing fast and shallow, tensing up in all the wrong places, adopting wonky postures?
You might be experiencing too much zoom-in.
‘Too much zoom-in’ is where you’ve put the problem so in your face - made it so close and so big - that you can’t see around it or beyond it. And too much zoom-in is the gateway to overwhelm. This is why it’s so useful to go through a little internal ‘me check’ from time to time. Body, heart (feelings), thoughts.
If you feel like it, try it right now.
Take a mindful moment
When you have to stay inside and apart for long periods, you go inside yourself.
I hope by now you may be feeling, thinking, or sensing that when you go inside your own head, there are two possible paths to take:
- One that pushes you towards overwhelm
- Another other that will empower you to manage or master it.
The latter means that instead of it controlling you, you’ll be the boss of it. And if you are the boss of it, you’re the boss of you. Most of us have already done both things - even if sometimes we aren’t aware that we have.
Have you done a quick internal ‘me-check’ since this pandemic started?... If you haven’t, why not do it now? (and if you don’t want, that’s okay too).
To see the situation as it is, it’s important to start where you’re at.
If you did your ‘me check’ and it gave you a feeling, thought, or sense of a life choice; then you’ve already taken steps on the positive path of mastering much more than overwhelming.
If you noticed that you brought the things happening in your body, heart, and mind into your conscious awareness by deliberately directing your attention to them, then you are well on your way to being your knowledge.
Do a mental spring clean
First things first though. A little spring cleaning and an exercise, just to limber up. If you noticed during your ‘me check’ that you’re in too much zoom-in, then it’s time to take charge and clean the house a bit.
You can do that by focusing on the things you can change and making your peace with those you can’t.
For instance, you can’t really change other people, other people tend to change themselves. You definitely can change your reaction to them. You can change systems, just open any modern history book, but it often takes many decades and you need to rope in or join with hundreds, thousands, sometimes millions of others. So, your control over that process is very small.
There is one person you can definitely change, sometimes more quickly than you imagined. There is one person where your control is almost at 100 %.
That person is you.
Let’s start there.
Start with this short exercise
Do all of this exercise for two minutes. One minute for reading through while applying what you’ve read - and the other to keep it going. Some people like to set a timer at three minutes.
If you want, connect positively with your body by sitting up straight while keeping loose and relaxed. Rest your hands on your legs. Breathe in from your tummy - and slow it down a bit.
Ever so gently, direct your attention to your feet and to the breath coming in through your nose. Just those two points.
Your feet may be in your socks, and those socks in shoes or slippers; feel the floor through your socks, through your shoes or slippers, adjusting your posture to be more stable and relaxed if your body feels you should; getting more balanced, hips and spine well supported, feeling your feet more grounded perhaps.
Direct your listening to your breath, as it goes in and comes out, comes in slowly and gently into your tummy and goes out. Fix your attention on the sensation of your breathing. If your mind starts wondering, problem-solving, that’s okay, that’s its job.
Every time you catch yourself doing that, allow your mind to do its thing while bringing your attention gently back to your breathing and to your feet. To your breathing and to your feet. Breath coming in slowly and gently - and going back out.
Energy flows where attention goes.
To pace yourself out evenly, you can say slowly and softly to yourself in your head, “Breathe in, one...two, breathe out; breathe in, one...two, breathe out; breathe in, one...two, breathe out...”
if your eyes want to close, let them close.
Post exercise: E=MC2
Hopefully, you felt a slight change. Hopefully, it was positive. A lot of people say things like, ‘I felt a bit more relaxed.’ ‘A little calmer.’ ‘Some of my tenseness went out of me.’ ‘My mind felt a little quieter.’ And so on. How do I know this? I have tested it on myself almost weekly and with trainees and coachees almost fortnightly. For fifteen years. It seems to work for most people.
What change, however slight, did you feel?
If you felt nothing at all, read the next two paragraphs and try it again if you want. And if you don’t want to, that’s okay too.
For some of you, this will be familiar territory and maybe you’ve advanced way beyond this short modest exercise. For others who haven’t done this sort of thing before, it might seem weird at first. If you like to think things out, you might be asking, ‘What’s the point?’
The main point is for you to experience it directly, so you know it’s real. So that you have direct proof that you can change your state of mind at will - because you’ve just tested it on yourself. And if you can do it, however slightly, in just two minutes, how much more could you do if you spent longer at it and went deeper?
With apologies to Einstein, E=MC2 is also the formula for awareness, the body and emotion:
Energy = Motion x Consciousness2
Why focus on the body and energy so much?
We all experience our bodies having sudden sensations, and occasionally get strong feelings quickly about something or someone out there or in our heads. We occasionally remember dreaming while we slept.
We thus sense, intuitively or intellectually, that there’s a thing called the unconscious. Something that’s not registering in our deliberate and deliberating mind.
We know that there are some things we do ‘on automatic’, that we’re not consciously directing or even aware of, but seem to do them quite well anyway.
We also know that when we’re too emotional- especially with emotions like too much fear, anxiety, or anger, we can’t always think straight - we seem to have greater difficulty solving problems or dealing with tricky situations or challenging people.
The seat of the unconscious is in your body.
On average, your heart beats about 4,800 times per hour. That's 115,200 times per day. That’s about 42,048,000 times a year. Imagine that you live till you’re 80. For the majority of that time, even though you’re not aware of it, your heart executes all this with clockwork efficiency - if you live healthily, didn’t damage it in an accident or there isn’t a genetic fault in it.
Think about how often teams of hundreds of very smart expert professionals helped by the most advanced AI - like a NASA space rocket – make big disastrous mistakes. By contrast, the amazing feat of beating efficiently goes on for millions of healthy hearts, for tens of thousands of years. In recent human history, it’s billions of healthy hearts. Without making big disastrous mistakes.
Over the course of one day, you take 17,000 to 30,000 breaths, depending on whether you’ve been sitting at a screen or watching one - or walking, running, dancing and/or climbing stairs a lot.
How often do we celebrate that?
A lot of that miracle is happening in your unconscious, which is in your body. As are your emotions. And they’re all linked. If you’re stressed out or depressed, if you’re not getting enough sleep, if you’re doing more physical work than you can handle, it’s easier for you to get sick. Just look at the stats on numbers of sick days taken.
Three ways of creating wellness and empowerment
One of the ways you express distress, fear, anxiety and other such emotions is the negative chats you have in your head with yourself, with others or even with something. If you have them in a loop and intensify them, then they’re no longer expressions but an escalation of that distress, fear, or anxiety.
The good news is, even though you sometimes feel you can’t turn it off, you can. One of the ways is to step back from it. The medicine for too much zoom in is zoom out.
Take your mind back to the ‘mindful moment exercise’ where you repeated to yourself in your head, “Breathe in, one...two, breathe out,” and had a slight positive physical and emotional reaction. I hope you experienced how you can direct your internal dialogue to coach yourself into relaxing and untensing a bit.
If that experience gave you a feeling, thought, or sense of a skill you already have that can help you or hurt you, then congratulations. You’ve taken more steps on the positive path towards mastering much more than too much zoom-in or overwhelm.
Self-empowerment isn’t just some idea to debate about, it’s a real internal ability to pick and choose what state of mind you’re in. And to do so quite quickly.
Change the frame, change the game
To go deeper and stronger, you can also reframe. Negative internal dialogue is often looped a victim/persecutor frame which makes you ask yourself unproductive questions, digging yourself deeper into the hole. “How could this happen to me? Whose fault is it? What did I do to deserve this? Why me?”
Zoom out. Reframe.
Change the frame, change the game.
Go to an outcome frame, for instance. Ask yourself these questions:
- What do I need to aim for?
- What resources do I already have?
- How can I get there?
- When, where and with whom?
And most importantly:
- Is there an opportunity/benefit here that I’m not seeing?
Going back to the big pictures and bright videos of worse-case scenarios, the same rule applies. If you make the problem big it makes you small. Where does the power go in that scenario?
Make the negative pictures smaller, drain the videos of brightness and color. Stop them. Turn them off. (these are just a part of the many ways you can mess with them). Reverse the power balance. Game the frame. Make yourself the boss of it. Remember: if you’re the boss of it, you’re the boss of you.
Make sure to do the positive body, internal dialogue, and visualization frame shifts as much as possible during this crisis to stay positive and in control. Do the two-minute exercise. Make it a habit. Expand it. Explore other more advanced ways.
You can now reach out to those you care about.
If you’re in a resourceful, empowered state of mind, you can reach out to people you care about and check in with them, support them in this time of crisis. Create a positive counter-ripple.
Millions of us throughout the world are standing at the same local hour every evening by our open windows and on our balconies, clapping, cheering and whistling for the carers. Connecting with each other through an international language - our body gestures.
Think of the impact of that massive global wave of acknowledgment, support, affection, and respect on the carers. On our often overworked, underpaid, unsung heroes.
Love yourself to better love others. Love others to better love yourself.
Two sides to the same coin.
Not in contradiction, but in reciprocal balance.
Gus Guillen is an Oxford certified executive and life coach and Social Scientist. He is also a certified Trainer, Master Practitioner in NLP and a Personality Profiler. Having trained and coached executives from all functions in North and South America, Europe and Asia for Fortune 500 companies, he is a state-of- the-art expert on the psychology of leadership, crisis, change, resilience and agility in the workplace.. Connect on LinkedIn or send an email