Last week I wrote a post about the idea of saying physical distancing instead of social distancing. I was amazed at the positive response I received from people agreeing with the idea. It made me think about the need for some positivity right now, and how practical words/strategies make a difference. With that in mind I’ve started to put together some quick and easy to follow ideas about this unprecedented challenge that we are all trying to manage and get through together.
These are 3 things you might be experiencing:
1) Feeling isolated (lack of oxytocin)
This is a perfectly natural response to what is happening. We have survived millennia through social contact, cohesion and support. We are social beings, and you cannot expect your brain to switch off this need, so remember this feeling is totally normal.
Our brains naturally release oxytocin when we’re around people, when we trust others, and when we touch (this one not so easy right now). We crave this chemical, and it feels really good! So try committing to three points of contact per day with friends, family or strangers. A call, a video call and a chat with a stranger whilst walking the dog will help your brain adapt, but you must commit to it every day to feel the benefits. Video calls with your family will definitely help increase oxytocin and improve mood. Zoom and Shype are both great tools for group chats and have free starting packages.
Also, it is a useful reframe to remember that while we are physically distant, we are socially closer than ever in this stressful time.
2) Feeling anxious (increase in cortisol)
Again, this is totally normal. Your brain looks for threats whether you like it or not. As humans, we naturally have a negativity bias, so even before the coronavirus, we were primed to always look for danger. Coronavirus will be tapping into these ancient, defensive parts of our brain both consciously and unconsciously, and this will naturally cause cortisol (the stress hormone) to rise. If you’re feeling irritable or emotional, it may well be that your cortisol is rising, which causes adrenaline to be sent to your organs and your limbs.
The best way to reduce these is to exercise. You must get outside or at least count a few thousand steps around your house to notice a difference. Any kind of fast, quick exercise will be very beneficial. Even shaking out your limbs to disperse adrenaline is helpful.
3) Feeling bored (lack of automation and working memory drain).
First things first, I do not believe that boredom is a bad thing. Let me ask you something – when did you come up with some of your greatest ideas? On holiday? By a pool? Sitting quietly somewhere? I believe we have lost the art of appreciating boredom, and we no longer have the time and ability to stop, think, rest. We just don’t do this anymore.
Having said that, I know that keeping moving is also great for mental health. My point is there should be a balance here. Don’t panic if you have some quiet time over a cup of tea. The task can be no task!
For the rest of the time, my top tips would be to spend at least half an hour a day learning something new (which I would do at the same time as another activity, like having a coffee at 11am to create the conditioned habitual behaviour) and keep to a schedule. This helps your working memory (concentration and attention) execute tasks as efficiently as possible, because precious resources are not being lost trying to constantly order and think about what you are doing. Automating as much as you can through strict scheduling will allow more time for creative thought, and hopefully that precious time to be bored!
Everything you are feeling is physiologically and psychologically normal, so please don’t worry. You also have all of the tools to improve the negative effects of these feelings. Nature was designed that way. It gives you the stress, but also the tools to deal with it. Small behaviours are therefore crucial because they create disproportionately big benefits if practiced every day. A few minor adjustments can have a major impact in reducing the stresses that you are naturally going to experience.
I often like to think about the one thing I can do today that will make a positive difference to my health, life, or career. What’s yours?
Anna Petts, Assistant Director,
Organisational Development & Learning at London Business School