Whatever business you are in, the last 12 months has thrown up some unexpected circumstances and experiences – often challenging what we thought we knew about ourselves, our businesses and our communities.
For a lot of us it’s felt rather like walking a tightrope while juggling rather too many balls – health, work, home schooling, technology, finances and of course, mental wellbeing – it’s a lot.
Welcome to the mess in the middle, that indefinite space between the acute crisis – in this case the arrival of Covid -19 and all it bought with it last year, and resolution -where the crisis is over, uncertainty is resolved and critically, you’ve made peace with what’s happened and your role in it.
Depending on how you deal with stuff it can be tempting to just push through, keep going and going, or to melt under the duvet and pretty much everything in between – sometimes all on the same day!
To survive the mess in the middle you need to think about how you look after yourself and those around you, while balancing all of the demands on your time and energy. In many ways your survival depends on how well you learn how to preserve your emotional wellbeing.
I like to think about emotional well-being as a bit like your bank balance – it fluctuates, sometimes its flush, sometimes its tight, either way you can’t ignore it.
Keep taking out without putting anything back and you will finish up overdrawn and eventually bankrupt – in humans this looks like unwell or burned out, by the way.
Small deposits regularly create a reserve you can draw on in those times you need a bit extra.
Knowing how to keep your balance fluctuation within a manageable range is the key to this. So, spend some time getting clear about what fills you up and what drains you – who fills you up and who drains you and then ensure you are putting enough into your wellbeing account to cope with out-going demands.
This takes both compassion and resilience.
Compassion is about connection, acceptance and kindness towards yourself as well as for others. Humans are innately compassionate. Our brains are wired for connection and belonging, you get a neurochemical surge – or natural high – from acts of kindness and feeling connected. This builds your resilience and fills your emotional bank.
So, if we are wired to be compassionate, how come we are so judgemental?
This also has to do with brain chemistry – intrinsically we are designed to reside in rest and restore mode – or parasympathetic nervous system. But our more adrenaline-fuelled lifestyle, ie always accessible, information overwhelm and to some extent the never-ending choices we have, all lead to an over-stimulated nervous system, operating in low level fight flight mode (or sympathetic nervous system). This makes us more fearful, more anxious and even potentially more aggressive. If you add in the uncertainty and potential threat the last year has brought it’s no surprise we are seeing judgemental behaviours.
Judgement plays an important, if unhelpful, role in reducing fear. If you can judge another as different, eg they’ve a different background, made different choices or behave differently, you can distance yourself from the threat – they are not like me, so this won’t happen to me.
In simple terms this alters your brain chemistry. In the very short term this might calm your brain a little but in the longer term it usually just gives you more to worry about, because once you’ve created that difference, that distance, you break connection and compassion thus reducing your helpful brain chemicals. This othering of people, or even whole communities, effectively turns them into a threat – and in extreme is the basis of many of the ‘isms’ we are collectively working so hard to heal.
So how do we fix it?
I believe there are a few things we can all do to navigate the mess in the middle.
1. Look after our own emotional bank balance – aim to put in more than you take out. Know what fills your wellbeing account and try to work some of that in every day. Sleep well, eat well and exercise enough to take care of yourself. Know your limits and step back when you need to. We can all put ourselves last some of the time, especially during a crisis, but we can’t do it all of the time.
2. Pay attention, both to yourself and to those around you – explore your attitudes, judgements and stories and seek to understand where others are coming from, in order to connect and not judge. This builds empathy, reduces misunderstanding and is good for your neurochemistry. In short be kind.
3. Contribute where you can – again good for your neurochemistry, helping (not just fixing) gives you a dopamine hit which is great for your emotional bank balance.
Each of these helps to build your resilience. You choose where you put your emotional energy – although most of us default to unconscious habit most of the time. When you get intentional about how you show up, how you interact with others and what you focus on you feel more in control and some of the uncertainty subsides.
Put simply, learn from what’s gone before, concentrate on what you can do something about and resist the temptation to catastrophise.
Written by Lynda Holt
CEO, Brave Scene