In these unprecedented times, many people are finding themselves scared, confused, angry, or some combination of all of those. Those with an interest in business or leadership may be fascinated by the organizational behavior and economic impacts of this crisis, while also feeling guilty about having those feelings. If you’re wondering how to feel or how to react, that is totally normal. The truth is there is no “correct” way to feel or react to a situation like this.

Most of you reading this likely work in the knowledge economy; that is, your professional value is largely determined by what’s going on above your shoulders. If your brain power is being diverted away from work and those whom you love and pulled toward anxiety, the negative effects can cascade across your personal and professional life. My goal with this guide is to help you build emotional strength and reduce emotional distress through several tools that can be collectively described as mindful self-care.

Tool #1: Raise awareness of your thoughts and feelings

Think of yourself as a scientist, on the hunt for interesting data about your thinking. Our brains are evolutionarily wired to prioritize keeping us safe. Although we face relatively few physical dangers in our modern lives, our brains are still equipped to try to protect us through a variety of factors including stress.

It’s OK to admit to yourself that you are scared, if that’s the truth. It is not, however, OK to act on those feelings inappropriately by yelling at coworkers or being overly reactive at your staff meeting. By playing the role of scientist with your own thinking you are able to distance yourself from immediate stress, examine it, and decode it. I encourage you to fact check your scared brain, as our minds can sometimes lie to us to help keep us safe.

Tool #2: Accept your true feelings and self-regulate strong emotions

Leaders calm themselves down first so that they can be available to assist others and do their jobs. But how do you do this when you’re scared? Recognize the feeling, inquire into it, and don’t attach to it.

Does “I made a bad decision” actually mean “I feel confused about what’s happening”?

Does “I’m an idiot” actually mean “I feel scared”?

If so, acknowledge the true feeling and examine its root causes. Consider healthy strategies for coping: breathing, self-soothing, focusing and being present, doing a short meditation, or getting a brief nature fix.

Tool #3: Plan mindfully

After you have examined your thoughts through that scientific lens and reframed them in a way that makes them more manageable, you can further reduce uncertainty by planning mindfully.

This sort of planning reduces uncertainty and directs behavior. In the midst of so much upheaval what you can control is you: your meals, your sleep, your self-care, etc. By making healthy, sustainable promises to yourself and keeping them, you will build self-esteem and confidence. If you find you are unable to meet the promises you’ve made to yourself (whether that’s to get to sleep at a better hour, to meal plan three days per week, to meditate in the morning, etc.), scale them back and simplify. Retry your plan until you can keep those promises to yourself. Build from there.

In summary, thoughts are like programs running on the computer that is your brain. Much like a computer with too many programs open strains its CPU, your brain will struggle with an endless barrage of thoughts. Although we need those programs open, we need to optimize through awareness of thoughts and feelings, self-regulation, and mindful planning.

About Dr. Rausch: Dr. Georgi A. Rausch is an Associate Professor (Lecturer) in the Department of Management at the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah. Her research looks at innovative communication pedagogy and developing community partnerships in higher education. She teaches topics such as public speaking, business ethics, and technical writing to a broad variety of audiences and enjoys making these topics accessible, relevant, and engaging. You can connect with her on Twitter @Utahg

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