Like millions of other Americans, I’ve been working from home to responsibly practice social-distancing as our world navigates the COVID-19 pandemic. Our People and Great Work team at O.C. Tanner recommended attending a lunch and learn webcast sponsored by the University of Utah.

Especially important in this time of remote working and uncertainty of when we can go back to normal routines, Georgi Rausch, an associate professor of business shared terrific insights about the power of self-care and mindfulness. These habits are practiced by successful, high-functioning leaders in organizations. She says that the brain is a super computer and our thoughts are sentences running through, like clouds in the sky, thoughts come and go.  

Your brain wants you to feel safe. For most of us, we live mostly absent from physical danger, but there is a lot of psychological danger in our world that cause stress. When we feel stressed, Rausch suggested, that we react by saying, ‘this is so interesting,’ as a way to prompt us to be more aware of our thinking, to notice patterns. Have a look in your brain, especially if you feel angry or scared and learn what you are thinking. Talk to your brain and tell yourself you are safe. She wisely suggests that we take care of our own business before even thinking about getting into someone else’s.

Anxiety plagues many and Rausch defined this as a constant struggle to avoid feeling what you have to feel. Our brains tend to choose anxiety so that we don’t have to do fear, or so we don’t have to do sad. Instead of choosing the struggle to avoid a feeling, choose to “feel it!” Turn of the struggle switch and say, “I’m scared…and that’s ok.” Self-care isn’t easy, but we need to be willing to do the difficult things. Anything in your life that has made you proud or strong, hasn’t been easy.

Rausch suggests practicing and seeing self-regulation as a mental strength. You can calm yourself down and don’t need a beer or other poor coping strategies to do it. Feelings are human and do not last forever. They are weather patterns.  Feel the feeling but resist the urge to act it out on anyone else.

As we choose to feel, we initiate a chemical cascade of hormones our bodies. This is why it doesn’t feel good, so it’s important to give yourself 10-minutes to feel them, let them flush out, and click off the struggle switch. Imagine an analogy of placing a bit of salt on your tongue. The salt doesn’t taste good, but it will dissolve, go through your digestive system and flush away.

Ask yourself gentle questions as you process feelings. How does sadness feel? Where is it located in your body? What does it feel like? Does it have a color? Does it have a texture?  Negative emotions are constricting to the body and add tension that can compromise the whole system so as you feel the feelings, relax them.

Unfortunately, to avoid this work, many go to maladaptive coping strategies like alcohol, drugs, sleep aids, sugar, tech binge as they look for a quick fix and immediate gratification. The healthy strategies are more intentional and absolutely doable. Healthy includes self-soothing and breathing, telling yourself it’s ok, I am safe, I am human. Talk to yourself vs listening to yourself because when you are upset, your brain may not be thinking clearly. Focus your attention to be present and simplify technology (ie cut out bingeing on games or news).

Go through the HALT vital sign checklist to resolve something physical that may be affecting you (are you hungry, angry, lonely, tired – if so, address it by drinking water, taking a nap, doing a short medication, moving in place for 10-seconds or getting a nature fix outside. Make a plan for things you can control like meals, sleep and self-care before the moment of crisis hits. As we keep the promises, we’ve made to ourselves, we build self-esteem and self-confidence.