Fewer people are flying right now, but think back to the last time you were on an airplane, even though that may seem like a lifetime ago. The flight attendant instructs you “to put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others.” I believe that advice applies to leaders during this COVID-19 crisis.
Now is the time for leaders to become self-aware and introspective and have uber self-care. Just like on an airplane, you need to take care of yourself first before you can properly lead a team through these unprecedented times.
Here are 15 ways to practice self-care:
- Practice Mental Fitness
As I’ve written before, “Mental fitness is your ability to remain in a neutral-to-positive physiological state for the vast majority of your day, regardless of what your environment throws at you.” We’ve certainly been thrown a huge curveball as of late, but now is the time to flex those mental muscles. The process starts with managing your thoughts, which influence your moods and ultimately result in your behavior.
The first step in managing your thoughts is to be self-aware of those thoughts and how repetitive they actually are. Research shows that the average person has up to 60,000 thoughts per day. But 95% of those thoughts are the same thoughts you had yesterday, and 80% of them are negative. Use your phone’s Notes app to record your thoughts for one week. You’ll start to notice patterns that you can then address by redirecting negative thoughts into positive ones.
- Practice Physical Fitness
Exercise affects the brain, and therefore cognitive thinking, in many ways. Your heart rate increases, which pumps more oxygen to the brain. It also releases hormones, which create an environment for the growth of brain cells. Most gyms are closed or at limited capacity right now, but you may be able to schedule a video conference with a personal trainer. There also are plenty of at-home workouts available through fitness apps and on YouTube.
- Find a Work-Life Balance
This is easier said than done when you’re working in the same space where you eat, sleep and watch TV with the family. The line between work and home is currently blurred, but maintaining a balance between the two can help you manage stress. Put a routine in place, and set boundaries for yourself such as an end time to your workday, and turn the computer off then. Avoid checking your work email from your phone once you’ve unplugged for the day.
- Be Engaging During Video Conferences
Video conferencing is the new normal of conducting work. Be more thoughtful about being engaging so that your meetings are effective. Think about your word usage, your tone and how you’re expressing your feelings. Make a conscious effort to smile more and to nod more to let people know that you hear them.
- Do Something Restorative
Everyone has different opinions on what is rejuvenating during stressful times. For me, it’s spending half an hour in a hot bath while meditating right before I go to bed. For you, it could be reading or listening to a podcast that’s not work-related. Whatever it is, make it a ritual at the end of every day to set you up for success the next day.
- Get The Right Amount Of Sleep
If you’re exhausted, you can’t take care of others. I’ve been going to bed earlier thanks to those long soaks. If you need motivation for hitting the sheets earlier, try setting a specific bedtime for yourself and adjust your nightly ritual to wind down at least an hour prior to your deadline. That includes shutting down all digital devices!
- Be Mindful About Food And Alcohol Intake
Most of us are cooking at home more right now, and we have more access to food and alcohol. Although the temptation may be higher than normal to imbibe in food and drink, showing restraint will help keep you healthy. When you wake up with a hangover or eat foods that make you feel sluggish, your body is not performing at your optimal capacity, which will affect your ability to lead others effectively.
- Boost Your Immune System
We should all be doing everything we can right now to bolster our immune systems, from taking extra vitamins to meditating and exercising. Of course, your doctor knows best, so if necessary, schedule a tele-health session.
- Limit Your News Intake
The current situation is changing quickly, so it’s important to stay informed on what’s going on in the world. However, when we constantly watch the news, it can evoke feelings of fear or powerlessness. Set a limit on the amount of time you’ll spend watching the news or reading articles online so you can focus on other activities.
It is possible to be socially connected while being physically distant. Host a virtual happy hour, family dinner or game night using Zoom, FaceTime, Skype or Hangouts. Be social with your colleagues as well by hosting a virtual team lunch or happy hour together. Bring some fun to your regular meetings by having everyone introduce their pets or have an ugly sweatshirt Friday dress code.
- Declutter Physically And Digitally
Use this extra time to finally tackle those organizing projects. You don’t have to go as far as Marie Kondo, but now is the perfect time to organize your home office and get your closets tidy. It’s also a good time to do a digital clean up. Touch up your LinkedIn profile, unfollow people on Facebook who don’t make you feel good, organize your computer files and finally get that password protector you’ve been considering.
By clearing the clutter, you will be more efficient. You’ll no longer need to expend mental energy in finding missing items from your desk so you can be more productive and efficient.
- Do Something
Now is the time to start learning that skill or hobby you have always wanted to try. Fancy yourself a baker? Don’t just binge-watch The Great British Baking Show, feed your creative side by baking some bread. Kneading that dough can be a great way to relieve some tension.
- Do Nothing
It’s okay to allow your body and mind to rest during quarantine. Even relaxation can be productive.
- Embrace JOMO
We’re missing out on a lot in our lives right now. Instead of dwelling on all of the events, trips and activities that have been canceled, try to find the “Joy of Missing Out.” Learn to appreciate this time of cleared calendars.
- Seek Professional Help
If you find yourself in a depressed state or are constantly feeling anxious, ask for help. Many therapists offer remote psychotherapy sessions, and they can help you build a plan to manage your thoughts.
When we are stressed, overwhelmed or anxious, we have less energy to take care of ourselves. Don’t try to tackle this list in one day. Be proactive by adding just one positive action to your life. Pick one of the tips above that speaks to you and focus on that one thing for one week. If you feel like your life has been enhanced by the change, it will be easy to continue that as a new habit and move on to another positive change in your life.
If you could use help managing the stress in your life right now, take advantage of the last offering of our deeply discounted virtual Stress Management workshop coming up in July. You will learn MindMastery in order to:
- Manage stress and ruminations
- Increase capacity to focus
- Reduce fatigue and increase energy
- Manage communication and relationships more effectively
- Handle daily stressors by calming the body
Learn more about Stress Management Training
This article was originally published on Forbes.com as a Forbes Coaches Council post.