September is historically a time of change…The end of summer, a return to school for kids, preparations for the cooler weather of fall and a slow ride into the holiday season. Obviously September 2020 is not going to be anything like previous Septembers, but, it will still be a time of change for many. Kids returning to (online) school, families coping with a reduction in outdoor activities as weather shifts cooler and businesses also attempting to adjust to ever-changing regulations and potentially gearing up for a busy holiday season.
Change, especially when it is a variation from the changes you might be expecting or used to, can be extremely stressful for everyone. Below are eight tips relating to mental health and wellness and how to deal with change and the potential accompanying stress:
1. Set aside previous expectations — One of the hardest parts of the adaptations that comes from the COVID pandemic is thinking about how things “should be.” Health orders, shut downs and other restrictions have definitely changed everyone’s usual routine. Being focused on all the things you are unable to do can certainly lead to depression and anxiety. For example, if you traditionally look forward to a large Labor Day picnic or annual trip out of the country at the end of the summer, try and focus on the activities you can do right now versus those you can’t. Celebrate a smaller in-town staycation or family-only BBQ and put aside the comparisons to previous years for now.
2. Make a list of the positives — When frustrated by things not working the way they usually do, it’s too tempting to just dwell on negative thoughts. One trick for managing the uncertainty of change is visually focusing on the positives through thoughtful journaling. You don’t need any particular system or fancy journal to do this, just a simple piece of paper or even making notes on your computer or phone will work. When faced with unhappiness about things not working the way they should right now, stop and spend 3 – 5 minutes physically jotting down things that are going well in your life; even minor upsides to the current pandemic count. After spending a few minutes physically looking at the positive elements of your life, the negative changes often seem more manageable.
In a 2017 article in Psychology Today, Dr. Stephanie A. Sarkis reinforces this tactic by saying: “Change presents us with the opportunity to grow, and it’s important to acknowledge how things have become better as a result.”
3. Communicate with your kids and employees — As a parent or boss (or both), there is a lot of demand for information. Everyone wants to know what’s going on and how big-picture changes will affect their everyday situation. During a time of change, having a regular communication strategy is key:
For your kids, consider holding weekly family dinners or ‘update meetings’ to talk about what’s happening in the world and changes to things like schooling or activities with friends. Also look at staying in touch with your kids on a regular basis throughout the day using some of the digital tools that work for them; even if your kids are in the next room doing virtual school, consider sending a funny text or WhatsApp with words of encouragement to help them through the day. Use simple post it notes on mirrors and doors to share uplifting thoughts and messages to reinforce upcoming family activities (i.e. a countdown to an upcoming staycation, etc.)
For your employees, if you haven’t already done so, institute a digital method of communicating updates in relation to company operations, changes in regulations and important milestones. Especially with staff likely working off-site or rotating time in the office, weekly update emails or shared messages in a private Facebook group or Instagram account can quickly let your employees know you are aware of and care about the impact of change and uncertainty in their lives.
4. Have a healthy outlet for dealing with stress — Everyone needs an outlet for the physical ramifications of stress and change. Especially during times of great change and uncertainty, it’s critical to keep up those favorite activities as much as possible or find ways to adapt if your current favorite activity is unavailable. Is your gym closed? Find out if it is offering outside boot camps or look online for local instructors offering on-the-go workouts. Is movie night your big escape? Create your own home “movie night” by streaming an all-time fave or renting a popular new release and deck out the experience with your favorite popcorn, candy and movie partner!
5. Don’t forget — Laughter is the best medicine! It’s long known that a good laugh can often relieve stress and help with your outlook on the world. Now more than ever, laughter is important. This is not to say you should trivialize the major changes happening all around you, but a little dose of humor can help with the sting. Scan through streaming channels for stand-up routines from your favorite comedians, begin following funny Facebook pages to break up the doom and gloom of your news feed or sign up for things like Jokes of the Day for a customized joke of your choice to start the day off right.
6. Make a list of the things you can control — Reinforcing Dr. Sarkis’ mantra about the importance of writing down the positives of change, it is equally important to recognize the things within your control. You are not able to dictate when schools or businesses reopen, but you can dictate how you respond to those situations. As simple as it sounds, make a list (both you and your entire family) of all the things within your control, such as: Meal times and choices, sleeping patterns, opportunities for education and enrichment and the use of digital tools to remain socially connected. You’ll find the more you focus on what you can control, the stress of the list of things out of your control will become minimized.
7. Continue to celebrate — By now you have undoubtably seen all the adaptations for variations on birthday parties, graduations, major milestones and more. You may find some adaptations seem appealing and some don’t (some parents are completely ‘over’ the drive-by birthday trend, for example). The most important element of these adaptations is the idea that you continue to celebrate. As people begin looking forward to the holiday season there may be an overwhelming sense of sadness or dread that the holidays just won’t be the way they usually are. Cut this sadness off at the pass by being proactive with your friends and loved ones to brainstorm solutions now that you can put in motion and look forward to, regardless what else happens in the public arena.
8. Keep looking to the future, just on a smaller timeframe — For many ‘planners,’ the COVID pandemic has been a real blow to the excitement and energy that comes with long-term goal setting and scheduling of trips, adventures and milestones. Not knowing when you will be able to re-schedule that family vacation can easily compound the stress of change. Shift your focus to the short term for now, even if that is counter to your usual way of doing things. Set milestones and things to look forward to in one week, one month and two months…Then enjoy the anticipation leading up to those things and the experiences themselves.
Change will continue to happen as we move through the next season and the important thing is to use tools and techniques to help you manage the stress that comes with change and celebrate the positive outcomes as well!