Five Steps to Maintain Emotional Intelligence through the Pandemic
Like so many, I’ve had my good and bad moments during this strange time. I’ve woken up in the morning, and for a split-second, my brain has not registered that the worst of the pandemic is still looming in America… and then it hits me in the pit of my stomach. Other moments, I am overtaken by laughter from a text message, or thoroughly inspired by kindness, and the growing effort to rise-up and help each other. We seem to be more acutely aware of our feelings when our lives have been upended.
This makes the pandemic an emotional inflection point for many of us. When things are going well, we aren’t always inclined to pay attention to our stress response. But now, we are working with our stress, grief, frustration, joy and happiness on a much more raw level, giving us a chance to know ourselves better. I personally refuse to promote an “upside” to the pandemic, however, I think it’s worth allowing unexpected lessons and insights, since we’re in it anyway. If we use this raw exposure to our emotions wisely, it will become a part of our legacy as resilient, emotionally intelligent leaders.
Right now, it’s nearly impossible to hide behind our normal defenses or facades that keep people at emotional arms-length, without unhealthily isolating ourselves. We have been thrust into a state of vulnerability, and it’s important that we rise up to the emotional challenge. Fortunately, there are some practical steps you can take to begin or revisit your practice of mindfulness and emotional intelligence during a time of crisis:
First, do nothing. This is the key step you must take multiple times a day. Especially during disruption, we need to allow ourselves frequent pauses to know where we stand mentally and emotionally. If we are not aware, we become unconsciously reactive, making rash decisions and irreversible comments to people we care about. Take a few deep breaths, reflect, and then proceed.
Second, be clear about control. A critical element of leadership during the pandemic is to know what you have control over, and what you do not have control over. Without this simple clarity, we risk acting irrationally. The most effective method is to draw a circle on a piece of paper: everything within your control goes inside the circle. Everything out of your control goes outside the circle. Focus on your circle of control.
Third, pay attention to your reactions. Disruption often puts us into three primitive and reactive emotional states: fight, flight or freeze. Now is the time to pay attention to which reaction wants to leap out of you, because unless it’s a life-threatening emergency, it’s not likely to assist your next action. Take extra caution to assess your aggressiveness, criticisms, and aloofness, so that you empower yourself to choose your own response.
Fourth, keep a personal inventory of how you’re doing. During the pandemic, many of us have been stripped of our normal ways to blow-off steam. A scientifically-backed method of dealing with emotions is writing down how you’re feeling, as frequently as possible, pen to paper, with no judgement or self-criticism. It will likely help get you out of your head, and back to focusing on what is within your circle of control.
Fifth, take care of yourself first, and then serve others. As a leader, your ability to manage your reactions and form meaningful responses to this moment will be remembered by your colleagues, employees and family. It’s OK to be imperfect right now, and you must take care of yourself first. However, as we move past the pandemic, you can be sure that you did all that you could, within your control, by leaning all the way into the vulnerability of this moment… and then showing up as a servant leader to those around you.
No act of self-care or servant leadership is too small. Our brain chemistry, well-being and resilience are directly linked to how we take care of ourselves, and then serve others. Some of us will redefine our leadership and life as a result of living through this global crisis, carrying wonderful habits forward. We’ve been cornered into this vulnerability by COVID-19, but there is an opportunity to live closer to our deepest values and inspire others to do the same. This opportunity represents how we can work together, for the greater good, as we all navigate this difficult time.