I have two boys; three and five. My wife is an essential medical worker and while I also have a full-time job, let’s just say that’s been challenging to focus on considering I’ve had 4 days of child care in the last 17 weeks. Like so many of you, when this thing emerged, I tried to have the attitude of just taking it one day at a time… rolling with it… no sweat, I got this! Am I right? Ask me how I’m feeling now 😊
We can weather a storm for a little while, but eventually, it will wear us down. Fatigue and burnout are real. As are anxiety and depression. None of these are weaknesses or shortcomings. A large part of them is physiological and they are the reality of relentlessly stressing our bodies without appropriate recovery. The key to sustaining high energy and performance is learning to oscillate between peak output and appropriate recovery. It’s pretty clear this pandemic is going to be a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s time we became smarter with managing our energy, emotions, and expectations.
If any of you are feeling the same way, and if the prospect of potentially having no school or an on-and-off-again school schedule has you wondering how feasible it is to not only work, but more importantly be productive, then I hope you’ll find this series of posts beneficial. Today I’ll introduce and explain the concept, along with noting the four key pillars. In the coming posts, I’ll address each of the pillars more specifically.
“Survive and Thrive” is a critical concept we use within our corporate health, energy, and high-performance programs. Change and adaptation are hard. Whether we are talking about making (and sticking to) significant health and lifestyle changes or whether it’s implementing new work practices; there are times when energy and motivation are high and gains can be made, and there are other times when “life” and disruption get in the way and maintaining those intentions becomes incredibly challenging. Unfortunately, when many people attempting to make change encounter adversity, they give up. Worse still, this creates a chain reaction of negative reinforcement and a sense of failure that lingers in the shadows of people’s psyche and can actually make it harder for them to achieve future goals (check this post out to explore more about the psychological impact of failure).
How do we combat this? First, we need to understand that the pathway to success is not a straight line. There are forward and backward steps, periods of steep gain, and periods where progress plateaus. When formulating an action plan to achieve goals, you not only need actions and strategies for what you’ll do when things are going according to plan, you also need fallback strategies that will still allow you to feel like you are accomplishing something even when the world pushes back. When attempting change, too many people have an “all or nothing” mindset. If they can’t achieve the whole step, then they perceive it as a failure. But there is an intermediary phase… the “holding pattern”. Where you may not be making significant progress, but you also haven’t regressed. This is what we term “surviving” … productively treading water and awaiting your next opportunity to advance.
Why is this so relevant? Right now, there are many people in crisis. According to CDC data, as many as 1/3rd of U.S. adults are currently experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorders. That’s TRIPLE the rate of 11% recorded in the first half of 2019. For many people, now is a time to focus on “surviving” and maintaining critical health, immune function, and energy in order to best manage productive work while also staying healthy. While work-life balance has been somewhat challenging in recent years, it’s been completely obliterated in the past few months. Do we give up? No. We double-down on proven strategies to maintain health and energy and put ourselves in the best possible position to work through this. How do we go about it? We go back to basics and we work on these four key pillars:
1. Exercise (but not too much). The internet is blowing up with 30-day fitness challenges and remote fitness fads. My advice? Ignore the hype. If you need motivation and you find guided workouts are the only thing that keeps you active, then go for it. As for fads, now is probably not the time to try and find your six-pack or train for your first marathon. The goal right now should be exercising to optimize your health and energy (both physical and mental). For most people, that’s frequent, but moderate exercise (e.g. walking, hiking, low-intensity jogging or cycling, and low-intensity resistance or body-weight training). The benefits of exercise fit a bell-curve. Too little and you don’t get the benefit, but too much, and you can also do damage. Increased risk of injury, elevated cortisol (stress hormone), impaired immunity and even cardiovascular damage can all result from extended excessive exercise. I’m not saying you should never try to get stronger, improve your fitness, or set goals to complete an athletic event… but under the circumstances and considering the other stressors in our lives right now, perhaps now is not to the best time to pursue those things.
2. Prioritize sleep. Easy to say… harder to do. With a finite time to fit everything in to our day it can be challenging to allow a solid 7-9 hour sleep window. However, the importance of sleep for our immune system cannot be understated. In addition, sleep is imperative for memory, learning, and creativity. Poor sleep leads to increased stress hormones, increased fatigue, and also reduces our ability to regulate emotional reactiveness. In short, while we may think that we need to work late, the reality is, the quality of your work (along with your physical and emotional health) will be compromised if you aren’t getting adequate sleep. Perhaps productive quality is more important than work quantity, at least for now.
3. Smart nutrition. What we eat fuels our bodies. To put it simply… eating junk makes you feel like junk. Some studies indicate that healthy diets rich in fruits and vegetables can improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. Given the alarming rise in these conditions in the past few months, this should be reason enough to ensure you’re eating fresh. But of course, there are all the other benefits of nutrient-rich diets that help our immune system, ward off inflammation, and of course, reduce risks for almost all chronic health conditions. So yeah. Diets are always important… but especially right now.
4. Proactive mental and emotional health behaviors. The three pillars above can all positively impact our mental health and emotional wellbeing. However, under current circumstances and given the impact of this pandemic on our mental health, both immediate and predicted long-term (learn more by requesting a copy of our whitepaper here), some easy to implement and deliberate strategies for practicing gratitude and mindfulness will go along way.
While I’m sure these four pillars may seem obvious, the content and conversation we will have within them will help you understand their necessity. These aren’t just things you should “kind of know” and be trying to implement in order to be healthy in general, there are specific strategies and benefits within each of these pillars which are critical to optimizing physical and mental resilience during this pandemic. Beyond that, they can also help you build behaviors and a foundation from which to grow and thrive when we all emerge from the other side.
If you found this post helpful and wish there was something you could do for your employees, then why not contact us and ask about our resilience and other health and wellness programs?