We’re living in strange and uncertain times. The global coronavirus pandemic is impacting everything we do, from how we work to how we interact with each other. This type of change can cause fear, anxiety and stress and can easily move us into survival mode.

The Psychology of Uncertainty

In times of uncertainty and change, the part of the brain that manages our emotions can hijack the cognitive systems that help us analyze and interpret how we behave and respond to emotions. This process is often referred to as a “fight, flight or freeze” response or an “amygdala hijack.”

This feeling of being out of control can result in panic, increased stress or “groupthink” behavior and is driven by a need for safety, self-preservation and protection. It’s a natural response but is not always helpful. When it’s sustained, it can even be detrimental to our health and well-being.

Moving From C.H.A.O.S. to C.A.L.M.

When our external landscape changes so significantly, we experience inherent chaos:

  • Contraction: a sense of closing in
  • Heightened emotions
  • Analysis paralysis, addictive behaviors (including watching television, news feeds and social media)
  • Out of control
  • Stress and shock

We know, however, that we need to change something within us to remain empowered and thrive in this new environment, to move to a state of calm:

  • Connectedness
  • Awareness of our impact on our community and social groups
  • Lightness of energy (use humor!)
  • Maintaining focus and remaining in the moment

Moving from a state of chaos to calm isn’t easy, and it comes down to mindset. So, how can you move from survival mode into thriving mode? Here are five tips:

1. Be Grateful

We have seen the extreme of positive human behavior during this time, and there is still so much to be grateful for. Further, it’s possible that in this period of social distancing, we now realize how much we’ve taken for granted in our day-to-day life.

Develop and maintain a sense of wonder and gratitude for the simple things in the world — and even more so in anticipation of when you will be able to access that world again.

Tip: Each night around the dinner table with your family or roommates, share one thing you’re grateful for. Begin virtual team meetings this way, too.

2. Be Creative …

… about the way you do your work, live your life and manage your relationships.

We’ve moved from a mindset of “I can’t work from home” to working from home and just “getting it done.”

Think about how you use technology, and connect differently with others. We’ve seen a lot of new tips from experts who are suddenly forced to support clients remotely, from tutorials on cutting your own hair from hairdressers to online exercise routines from fitness instructors. How can you apply that same sense of innovation to your own world, as it is right now?

Tip: Since you can’t meet a colleague for lunch, meet virtually over lunch.

3. Be Purposeful

Be purposeful about the things you choose to do at this time. Deliberately decide how you will spend your time, and focus on the activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. Make sure these activities align with your values.

For example, instead of aimlessly scrolling through news feeds and updates on coronavirus infections, stop and think about what would bring you joy — and go do that. Also, consider what you want to learn about yourself during this period of enforced isolation and potential reflection.

Tip: Think about a project you’ve been putting off because you never seem to have the time. Allocate 10 minutes each day toward focused attention on this project, or create a “think tank” by inviting people to brainstorm with you on how to start the project now.

4. Stay Connected, Even When Social Distancing

Social distancing is not about isolation; it’s about maintaining a physical distance. Stay in touch especially with people who might be vulnerable. Move from texting to phone or video conferencing, and create a routine of contact.

Tip: For virtual meetings, keep your cameras on, even if you’re camera-shy.

5. Be Flexible and Agile

Find different ways to work. Suspend judgment about how people are responding to the crisis and how your staff are balancing work and home requirements. Remember that everyone is under stress and trying to navigate uncertainty while keeping their lives intact. Have patience, and be empathic. Consider how you can work with others to overcome barriers in this challenging environment.

Over this period, Maya Angelou’s quote is worth carrying with you: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.”

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