When Things Don’t Feel Right

My family, team and I just finished week two of being homebound. You probably did too, or maybe you are several weeks or months ahead of us. 

Lately, I’ve started to feel the sadness, frustrations, and loneliness of being homebound. I miss my friends. I miss going to the gym. I miss going out to eat. I miss hugging people who I love. 

In the past, I’ve had a roadmap for getting back to feeling “normal” when I’m down. Yet, the problem with this current season is that the worries about the future feel so profound. We’re constantly worried if we’ll get sick. Or if we’ll have a job. Or if we’ll be isolated in our homes for another month—or another year. I know that I’m not alone in this experience.

And, when I start to have these feelings, I try to think (and even obsess) about the future, perhaps in an effort to control the present.  I worry about how long we’ll be stuck in our homes, or if I’m going to get this virus, or how my kids will be affected.

Yet, in order to be effective in each sphere of our life, and get through this as best we can, it’s vital that we stay present. It will help us be better partners, leaders, and parents. Here’s how I’m working on staying present during this unique time.

First, Some Science

Last week, Ashley (my wife) shared an episode of one of her favorite podcasts with me. The podcast is the Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos. In this particular episode, the interviewee, Bill Irvine, made a point about how to work through our anxiety about the future when it comes up—we have only five seconds between external stimuli and our brains becoming permanently fixated on that particular topic for the following minutes to hours. So, if we experience something that could negatively impact our emotions (i.e., we learn that a customer won’t be paying), we only have five seconds from that initial anxiety-inducing event to reframe our thinking in order to keep our brains from becoming obsessed and running with that thought (i.e., believing that our business is going to fail because we lost that customer).

Here are the best tangible examples I’ve found to quickly reframe my thoughts when I start thinking about COVID-19, work stress, or home pressures in this season.

With COVID-19 Fears—An Example of What I’m Doing to Stay Present

My personal fear-inducing stimuli: Say I hear that a friend of mine is diagnosed with COVID-19. It causes my brain to become fearful of the coronavirus and its future implications for my work, family and personal health.

In those first five seconds, I’m doing the following: I realize that I am feeling anxious and identify what I’m anxious about. While it’s normal to feel this way, I begin the reframing process. I remind myself over and over again that I can only control what’s happening at this very second. I can’t control what is going to happen next week, next month or next year. Or even what will happen in the next minute. And then, I ask myself questions like these:

Am I taking steps at this second to protect myself?
Am I taking enough precautions?
Am I currently doing anything that could expose me to the virus?

Outcome: If the answer to these questions is “yes”, then I’m doing everything I can to protect myself. I tell my brain that I’m doing my best and that it’s time to move on to other things that need my attention.

With my Team—An Example of What I’m Doing to Stay Present

My personal fear-inducing stimuli: I hear or experience deep anxiety from a member of my team.

In those first five seconds, I’m doing the following: I recognize what I can and can’t control. I can’t control how my team is showing up emotionally for work, how GAN’s members and partners are doing, if our clients will make it through the economic downturn, if the U.S. government will provide a stimulus strong enough to help, or if the startups we’ve invested in will have enough sales. I can only control how I’m acting and responding to external stimuli at this very second. And then, I ask myself questions like these: 

Am I checking in on my team enough?
Am I providing rhythms for my team to feel as connected as we can be?
Am I getting enough rest so that I show up well for my team so that I can meet their needs during this time and be emotionally present?

Outcome: If the answers to these questions are “yes”, I’m doing my best to show up well for my team. I don’t need to spend any more mental energy focusing on my team.

With My Family—An Example of What I’m Doing to Stay Present

My personal fear-inducing stimuli: Something happens to cause me to worry about my kids’ behavior, my wife’s perception of me, or how long we’re going to be homebound together.

In those first five seconds, I’m doing the following:  I remind myself that I can only control what’s happening at this very second. I can’t control my family’s moods or perceptions. And then, I ask myself questions like these: 

Am I creating rhythms that allow each of us to feel some sort of normalcy?
Am I creating a daily agenda that keeps me focused?
Am I getting enough alone time?
Am I spending enough intentional time with my kids?
Am I checking in on what my wife needs and the ways I can love her more?

Outcome: If I’m doing each of those things above, I am doing everything in my power that I can do. I can then release myself from feeling the pressure to be everything to everybody and not take on other people’s anxieties, frustrations or fears. I’m doing everything I can to show up well for others.

All of these examples are just that—examples. And I would encourage you to see what stimuli are causing you to have the most anxiety in your life, evaluate what you are thinking and feeling when an anxiety-inducing stimulus occurs, and remind yourself that you’re doing enough at this very moment. Perhaps the anxiety is telling you that you need to do something different, but at least you’ll know after asking yourself those questions about whether or not you’re doing “enough” in this season.

Finally, A Bonus

There are many benefits to meditation. One significant benefit is that meditation actually helps you practice reframing your thoughts. That way, you’re not having to practice on the fly when real anxiety-provoking situations actually come up. Make sure to check out the introduction to meditation classes on Headspace or Calm if you haven’t already. 

Overall, this time isn’t going to be easy. It takes a while to reframe thoughts as they emerge. But, by taking a proactive look at how we’re showing up in the world, we can stay exactly where we need to be—present.