Enabling People and Organizations in Trying Times
Relieving Stress and Anxiety
Prolonged periods of uncertainty and ambiguity can induce high stress and recurring anxiety. While we may not be able to control the external situations we live in, we can choose how we relate to them. The following practices provide us the means to generate calmness, sense of clarity, and other productive states that allow us to function at our best.
When we experience stress and anxiety, they are real. The experience can be codified physically, such as increase in cortisol and an activated sympathetic nervous system. Also, they are temporary. Like dark clouds passing by the blue sky, thoughts and emotions come and go. Being mindful in such moments can empower us to notice stress and anxiety for what they are (cultivating the skill of acceptance) and calmly attend to them through a nonjudgmental lens.1, 3, 4, 5, 6
- Breathe deeply three times while paying attention to your breaths. In addition to manually turning on your parasympathetic nervous system (to feel more relaxed and calm), focusing on your breaths anchors you to the present moment instead of following your trail of anxious thoughts or emotions.
- Label your thoughts or emotions by putting a name or phrase to them as they arise (e.g., “nervousness,” “feeling of urgency”) before releasing them. The practice of labeling them helps us notice thoughts or emotions for what they are and creates a space between them and our sense of self.
- Approach the stress from “getting off track” with curiosity and compassion by framing this as a learning opportunity to bring your focus back to the present. As human beings we constantly get distracted, and each time that happens is a chance for us to cultivate mindfulness by choosing to not judge that experience.
Use the Power of Reframing
Where does our stress and anxiety come from? Originally meant to help us survive when encountering danger, these responses are designed to narrow our view so we become self-focused. In the current world we live in, we can perceive danger in many things. Taking a moment to reframe how you experience stress and anxiety can help us regulate this biological mechanism more intentionally.2, 3, 4
- Adopt a self-compassionate attitude by noticing when you are self-criticizing. Offer an alternative narrative, similar to how you might express empathy to a friend (e.g., “what you are going through is hard”). This approach replaces a stress-inducing narrative with a more accepting and resilient narrative.
- Leverage the energy generated from stress and anxiety by asking questions like, “what can I learn from the stress about my increased workload that will help me better prioritize my time?”
- Come up with one way to “job craft” your current role by tuning into what makes your role personally meaningful and how you can bring your unique passion into the tasks, interactions with others, or your mindset towards your role.
- (Book) Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment in Your Life by Jon Kabatt-Zinn
- (Book) Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
- (Video) “Building Resilience in Time” of Chaos by Emma Seppälä
- (Article) “Four Ways to Calm Your Mind in Stressful Times” by Emma Seppälä
- (Book) Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation – A 28-Day Program by Sharon Salzberg
- (Article) “The Mindfulness Skill That is Crucial for Stress” by Jill Suttie
Continuing the Conversation
We want to hear about the amazing work individuals, organizations, and researchers are doing to enable people and organizations to thrive during these trying times. To foster the sharing of ideas, we’ve created a public Facebook Group: Enabling People in Trying Times. Join the group and let’s find strength in our shared knowledge.