The global spread of COVID-19 is affecting us all. Companies shift to remote work – by now, 98% of intivers worldwide work from home – and individuals try to deal with ever-changing government policies and their upended daily routines. Earlier this week, we spoke to Anna Schattovits, a psychologist, certified coach and intive’s Learning & Development Business Partner. Anna specializes in motivation and personal development, conducts training for intivers and recently has been teaching us how to deal with unprecedented stress caused by the global pandemic. 

We’re all experiencing many challenges right now, as people, employers and employees. How to cope with anxiety in the face of global health emergency?

I think this question may no longer be relevant. What we’re dealing with at this point is a mix of anxiety, anger, frustration and many other emotions. 

To understand what’s happening to us, it’s important to take a closer look at the mechanism behind fear. There are three components to fear: a thought, physiological response and a certain behavior. We hear some news, we immediately think and feel something, and then behave in a certain way.

Physiological response comes first and it’s easy to observe: Your heart starts beating faster and breathing speeds up.

When we experience this reaction, what do we do?

The best thing you can do is to pause for a second, stop and observe: What’s happening to me right now? What am I feeling and how does it show? We need to calm down first to be able to focus on our thoughts and actions. 

You can consider:

•          breathing exercises and other mindfulness techniques (you’ll find plenty online),

•          observing your surroundings for a moment and focusing on any given object (think of its shape and color, notice the structure, details, anything you see, until you calm down),

•          practicing meditation, yoga or pilates (if that’s your piece of cake),

•          going out for a run (if it usually helps you get in contact with yourself, and if going out is possible at all).

OK, so I take control of my breathing and cool down. What’s next?

Resist the urge to check media updates regarding the pandemic. Some of us have developed this daily habit now and there’s nothing good about it. Instead of curbing the fear, we feed it.

We should practice screening our thoughts better and make sure we’re pushing away the catastrophic ones. Our brains right now are having a hard time distinguishing between our thoughts and hard facts. Let’s not forget – what we think is happening is exactly just that: Your thoughts become your reality.    

In short: Only facts matter, so let’s stick to them?

Exactly. Let’s avoid the typical traps of making easy generalizations or falling into disempowering patterns. 

How can we keep the dark thoughts away?

By looking at the actual support we’re all getting. We’re not alone in this. Let’s think of the great job the medical services are doing now and everyone who supports us. Let’s foster a positive attitude: Times are challenging, but I’ll make it. I have the knowledge, skill and support – I’m going to be fine. 

Is there a positive side of fear?

If we’re worried about so many things right now, it means we value them. It’s a good moment to understand how family, friends or our health are important to us. I think that in difficult times we might start paying more attention to how we live and make some positive changes. 

Should we limit the use of social media? 

It all depends on individual response. If after a couple of minutes of scrolling you realize your heart is racing and instead of laughing at memes you’re getting more and more anxious, drop it. 

Let’s be rational, let’s listen to official announcements and keep in touch with our friends, making the best possible use of social media. Seeking “exciting headlines” is not something I’d recommend to anyone. 

If self-isolation policies last longer are extroverts in a worse situation than introverts?

Actually, I don’t like this labelling in the first place. We’re not ‘either this or that’. We’re all on a continuum and thinking in such patterns is very limiting. If we’re more on the extrovert side, let’s use this opportunity to get to know ourselves better, to get in touch with our feelings. 

What are your tips for this temporary imprisonment?

First off, let’s not call it imprisonment! Our thoughts shape our feelings and our response. Let’s treat the officially announced measures as our task. Some say that we’re helpless now. That’s not true! Social distancing is our mission for the time being and when we see it as mission, it helps to cope. 

Another thing is organizing ourselves. We can divide our homes into sections for fun, work and relaxation/sleep. Even if we live in a limited space, it’s still possible to put down some rules, make arrangements and stick to them. We can also stick to our rituals or create new ones. Introducing a structure to our lives is beneficial, not just in difficult times.

How to be more efficient when doing home office?

Watch out for distractions and make sure you keep away from extremes. You shouldn’t be sitting in front of your laptop for 8 hours straight and then suddenly realize you didn’t even have dinner. On the other hand, when you work – work, don’t load your washing machine or think of doing a quick clean-up. It’s best to try and stick to your usual office rhythm and make sure you get up every now and then to clear your head and have a proper lunch break.

I’ve seen a meme with a woman sitting at the table with a laptop on and two kids tied to her legs, sitting on the floor with their mouths covered with tape…. Well, that’s not the way to go when you have small children, but I understand that home office tips might make some parents laugh. Can’t say I have great advice for parents on HO – it’s a question to a parent. Also, let’s all remember about exercising, even if we can’t go out. Our bodies and our brains need that.     

Can you think of any benefits of online meetings that replaced all F2F communication at work?

As we can’t meet in person now and that might last a bit, we’re more eager to listen to one another. I find it natural that we’re more focused now and open to dialogue just because we all miss this natural, close contact. As a result, these online calls may actually turn out to be more to the point and efficient than we would expect. 

Some of intive’s offices organize “virtual coffee meetings” – open slots on internal communication channels that allow for casual discussion that we’d have in the office by the coffee machine. What other ideas have you got for surviving the social distancing mode?

I recommend playing with words. Writing is a great way of dealing with emotions. You can start a journal or try writing a letter. When was the last time you did that? 

At intive, we’ve started preparing webinars and video trainings on how to cope with the current situation. We shifted our work to remote-first mode and along with it, some of our usual classes went online, like our short meditation sessions and improvisation meetings. We’re doing our best to adjust, and to do it fast.

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