We were delighted to welcome three of our own Obelisk consultants, who balance their work as lawyers alongside running their own well-being practices, to our latest Obelisk Live. Sharing their advice and practical tips for making it through to the other side of lockdown, and beyond, were Emilia Yau, financial services lawyer and counsellor, Julian Harris, in-house counsel and coach, and Vrinda Sharma, in-house counsel and therapist. For those of you who prefer to read rather than listen, we’ve distilled their advice into 10 top tips.
#1 Embrace your vulnerability
This is an exceptional time, with consequences for the macro environment that are still emerging and impacts on our liberty and security that most of us haven’t seen before. Our bodies are equipped with an effective “Fight, flight, freeze” response to threat, which was very useful when we first evolved and were facing direct physical threats but can have a negative impact on our physical and mental health when we are confronted with a huge range of more nebulous dangers as we are now. We will each respond differently, but can all benefit from understanding and accepting that it is OK to feel scared and vulnerable right now. Emilia explained how naming and defining these emotions can help us to calm our physical adrenaline response and protect our mental health – you can find her slides here.
#2 Design a routine that works for you
Six weeks into the UK lockdown, most of us will have settled into some kind of routine. Think about your typical day, is it working for you? Are their changes you could make with the intention of boosting your sense of security? Creating our own routine builds a sense of solidity and predictability into our day which may otherwise be missing right now. Check that you are making the most of opportunities for reflection or mindfulness, for exercise and for activities that bring you joy.
#3 Speak to someone you can trust
It’s much harder to go through this experience feeling alone. Our natural opportunities for communication and reassurance have been disrupted, which for many of us will be adding to our sense of loss and insecurity. Take positive action if these feelings are overwhelming you and seek out support from either a trusted friend or family member, your GP, a body such as the Samaritans or a professional counsellor.
#4 Be aware of your negativity bias
We wouldn’t have made it this far as a species without learning to analyse and look out for risks, which manifests as a bias to see the negative in a situation. Lawyers, in particular, are trained to anticipate and manage risks, making this bias even more pronounced. This can be very useful, however left unchecked in the current situation, and fed by ever-more dramatic media coverage, it can also lead to extra and unhelpful anxiety. A simple way of helping to manage this is to identify recurrent negative thoughts you may have and re-frame them. For example, instead of thinking “Will we survive this?”, think “We will survive this.”
#5 Make sense of the change you’re experiencing
An important element of building resilience is to become expert at making sense of change and understand how change affects us. Julian shared a model that leadership coaches Thinqshift have designed to help us identify the different thoughts and behaviours we are likely to experience in reaction to any change. Starting with “Chaos”, where we focus on safety and are fuelled by adrenaline, moving through “Acceptance”, where our energy levels drop and gloom can set in and finishing in the “New Normal”, where we start to rebuild and new opportunities arise. Use their framework to understand where you are right now, where others around you are, whether that be people in your family, clients or colleagues, and what you all need right now to prepare for what lies ahead.
#6 Avoid the temptation to “win” at lockdown
If you are task-oriented by nature and thrive on delivering high-quality work, it can be tempting to view lockdown as a new set of challenges to excel at. Ideas for new and enriching activities are flying at us through traditional and social media. Bake your own sourdough! Learn a language! Get quaran-toned! If you are a parent, this is likely to be exacerbated by the expectations and home-work coming from school. Remember to be kind to yourself and realistic in your expectations. If you’d enjoy using this time to learn something new, great but don’t feel you have to. Similarly, accept that schooling and work are happening in very difficult circumstances, often simultaneously, and you will not be able to maintain the same standards as you might normally expect.
#7 Build the energy you’ll need for the “new normal”
Lockdown will end. We will all learn to live and work in new ways, alongside the coronavirus. As the economy re-opens around the world, there will be new challenges and new opportunities. Thriving in this next stage will require a lot of energy, so identify the things that help you build your energy and start planning them into your day. These might include exercise, mindful meditation, speaking to your trusted person, time with colleagues, journaling, eating well or making more time for yourself. Expect to feel busier and prepare to defend your boundaries between work and home life more vigorously if you need to.
#8 Create space for mindfulness in your day
Using a technique like mindful meditation has been proven to reduce the stress we experience by calming our amygdala, the area of the brain which controls our emotional response to events, including the “Fight, flight or freeze” response. Whether you are exceptionally busy or struggling to motivate yourself to try new techniques, making even 10 minutes a day to practice mindfulness can help you increase your intellectual performance, focus and concentration. Try some of the exercises in Vrinda’s slides here or use an app such as Headspace to help you get started.
#9 Build mindfulness into everyday tasks
With competing demands on your time, you may be struggling to see where you can fit an extra activity in. In this case Vrinda recommended taking an activity you are already engaged in and doing it in a mindful way. For example, we are all washing our hands frequently, and for at least 20 seconds. Instead of singing “Happy Birthday”, use this time to tune into and slow your breathing. Focus on the sensation of the soap and water. Notice any thoughts that come into your mind at this time.
#10 Nurture connections with empathy and insight
Every one of us will be experiencing this crisis differently. At different times, we will all be in different phases of the change curve and have different preferences for how we build our energy and how we relax. Our individual personal circumstances will be very different, in terms of practical resources, such as access to work, financial security and living space, and in terms of fundamentals such as our health, relationships and emotional well-being. As a colleague, a family member or a leader, now is the time to be more purposeful in understanding how those around you are feeling and how you can best support them, as well as asking for any support you need.
It’s likely that most countries around the world will be living with some kind of restrictions for months to come. In some ways, our lives may never be the same as they were pre-lockdown. We hope that this advice can help you look after yourself and those around you as we move closer towards the “new normal”.
This article is not advice. It is for information only and should not be taken as a substitute for seeking help from a mental health professional. Specialist help should be sought in relation to your specific circumstances.