Three times in the last 48 hours I’ve heard a leader say that they were either tired or tiring, or were in some state of grief over the circumstances in which we find ourselves, which is smack in the middle of a pandemic that has fundamentally shifted life as we knew it.
These are not underperforming executives.
These are very successful, dedicated leaders who are feeling the weight of leading themselves while also leading others.
And I can confirm that on my end, a confluence of personal circumstances and events over the last month left me as frayed, unsettled, and worn as I can recall in a very long time. So I’m not writing to you from some place of immunity.
What’s becoming increasingly clear to me is that the place in which we find ourselves is the middle of the pool, swimming hard, and we’re likely going to be here far longer than any of us anticipated. We are, after all, living through history. Which presents most of us with a low grade, chronic hum of disruption, uncertainty, and unease.
And that’s before we address anything that’s going on in your personal life.
The following suggestions are what I recommend to clients (and myself) when feeling worn thin. Let’s also consider making many of these consistent, foundational practices to sustain ourselves through this marathon and beyond.
- Shore up your support network. Recognizing that friends and family may be as stretched as you at the moment, reach to create additional resources for yourself. Think confidential peer group, therapist, or coach. You want a place where you don’t have to put on a brave face or be “on” but instead, get shored up, yourself.
- Walk, run, hike, bike, yoga, whatever. Just move. Daily, if possible.
- Get outside. Preferably in nature. At the beginning of the pandemic, more clients were taking time outside than I could ever recall. And it’s no accident that my favorite running trail takes me through the trees. Forest bathing is a real thing, people.
- Evaluate habits that may have crept in that aren’t serving you, such as leaping out of bed in the morning to check your phone. (Guilty.) Experiment with replacing even just one of those habits with something that feels better (for me that’s meditation in the morning, which just means sitting quietly, face to the light of the window, tuning in to calm for 15 minutes). One of my clients has a fabulous alarm clock that wakes them to singing birds rather than the shriek of their phone’s alarm.
- Assess your fundamentals: food, water, sleep. Boring, I know, and I can’t tell you what a difference it seems to make when clients make even small changes here. Ditto for me.
- Create outlets for the jumble of emotions that you might be experiencing, from grief to fatigue to frustration to longing for greater certainty. Journaling, or any practice that gives you the opportunity to attune to how you’re feeling, and the narratives you’re creating, is worthwhile.
- Look for ways to contribute and share your knowledge, expertise, experience, and assistance. Not to reap any professional benefit but just to give. You’ll likely get a boost.
- Be discerning about your interactions and which add fuel to your tank and which drain it. Whenever possible, seek out those people who lift you. Nurture those connections.
- Get a change of scene, if possible. That might mean getting in the car and driving to the next town over to walk around like a tourist one weekend with the kids, or taking a bigger trip, depending on restrictions.
- Relish the routine and rigor of work but not to the exclusion of the rest of the items listed.
- Create a nighttime ritual of winding down that doesn’t include checking email right before sleep.
- My first dog gave me one of the most profound lessons: great joy and great pain can exist side by side. When things look dark, try to look for the light. Even a little. Not to minimize your experience or feelings, but as a gift of reprieve to yourself.
- Carve out time for fun and play. For me, that’s learning Italian. For someone else, it might be riding a motorcycle. You get the idea: Fun.
- Rest. And do what feels rejuvenating. Which might mean doing absolutely nothing at all but sitting on the back porch with the radio playing softly, dogs at your feet, a favorite of one of my clients.