How do we unplug when we are always plugged in?

Before the pandemic, researchers were already reporting the detrimental effects of extensive screen time. Then life went to another level with video conferencing and zoom fatigue. Now we have reached crisis levels with respect to mental health. We must reclaim time in our days, weeks and year to disconnect from technology to allow our brains, bodies and spirits to refuel.

As a consultant who has worked virtually for almost 15 years, I learned early on that I had to establish practices that helped give my brain and body rest on micro, mini and macro levels.

Prior to the pandemic, I wrote a blog called Three Steps to Managing Your Energy. I just read it again and it still holds true. However, now I need more of every step to counter the cognitive load of zoom fatigue.

Unplug daily: I still charge my phone in the kitchen and don’t look at it until after breakfast. I also block one hour as zoom-free every day and I leave the computer off one day on the weekend.

Walk the dog, or just walk: My day starts with a dog walk without technology. It helps me ease into my day slowly and gather my thoughts to start the day.

Go to your happy place: As November rolls around every year, I start to feel a deepening need for pausing and recharging. This is something that I have been attentive to for the last five years. 

In the Midwest, the sun starts to hang lower in the sky and the days get shorter. All of these changes affect my energy level so I intentionally plan a break to spend time in a sunny place for at least a week. 

I block my calendar a year in advance so the time is protected and usually go to Hawaii to connect with the earth, moon, sun and water. It fills my spirit, mind and body.

Generally, I take this time alone to reflect on what I want to celebrate for the year and what intentions I want to set for the coming year. The sun brings warmth to my heart and clarity to my mind. 

I just returned from Hawaii and was fortunate to be there during the November 18-19 partial lunar eclipse. Being in Hawaii allowed me to watch the entire process of the earth’s shadow falling on the moon. This was the longest lunar eclipse over a 1,200 year period. To witness an astronomical moment such as this gave me pause to evaluate what is important in life.

Photo Credit: Mary Stelletello

Every day the sun rises

Photo Credit: Mary Stelletello

And every day the sun sets

Photo Credit: Mary Stelletello

As humans, we can choose how to honor each day and what mother earth has been offering us for millennia.

So when you feel like you can’t unplug, take a breath and think about ways to start your day in a different way. From there, it becomes easier to reduce the amount of time in front of the screen to refuel your energy tank.

What is your life raft in the sea of pandemic trauma?

Since March 2020, I have had the incredible opportunity to be a team member of the Ford Global Fellowship program. Yes, that is right..as the pandemic started, the Fellowship launched with 24 Fellows from regions across the globe.

As the Lead for the coaching program, there are 10 coaches from across the world that support these amazing leaders who are challenging and changing inequality.  Navigating the pandemic over the last 18 months has required all of us to find new approaches to preserving our energy and well-being.

Recently, the coaching team met for our first book club discussion of the book, Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Care for Others, written by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky and Connie Burk. As coaches, we can be the one safe space where social change leaders allow themselves to be vulnerable and express their true experiences of feeling depleted physically and emotionally.

As I read this book it became very clear to me that all of humanity is currently living with some level of trauma because of the pandemic. van Dernoot Lipsky defines trauma exposure response as

“the transformation that takes place within us as a result of exposure to the suffering of other living beings or the planet. The transformation can result from deliberate or inadvertent exposure, formal or informal contact, paid or volunteer work.”

So what is trauma stewardship? 

van Dernoot Lipsky describes trauma stewardship as a daily practice through which individuals, organizations, and societies tend to the hardship, pain or trauma experienced by humans, other living beings and our planet. By developing a deeper sense of awareness needed to care for ourselves while caring for others and the world around us, we can greatly enhance our potential to work for change, ethically and with integrity, for generations to come.

During our conversation, we explored how different cultures have different perspectives on what is acceptable in defining and stewarding trauma. Coaches shared approaches to self-compassion to sustain energy and resilience so that they are able to create a space of compassion for leaders. We all agreed that it is essential to engage in daily practices to center ourselves; connecting our heads, hearts and hands, creating an integrated state so that we don’t get stuck in our primitive brains where fear resides. Daily practice of moving energy flow through breathing, exercise, laughing and singing all help move us out of our primitive brain. The Trauma Stewardship Institute offers a wonderful “Tiny Survival Guide” that shares 15 easy ways to not only survive but build resilience during this period in our history. 

Do you have a life raft that allows you to float above water during this time of continued rough seas? If you are feeling shipwrecked or unmoored, let’s connect to discover your path toward trauma stewardship. We are all in this together.

Staying Connected in a Virtual World

From navigating challenges to finding new career opportunities, networking plays an important role in career success. For most of us, when we think about networking, we have a vision of events that take place in person (i.e. conferences, after work happy hours, or luncheons). We had a belief that the “in-person” element was necessary to develop long-lasting professional relationships. 

The pandemic has challenged us to think about networking in new and creative ways. Events have been canceled or shifted to virtual platforms, which makes connecting with new colleagues a challenge. As “social distancing” restrictions continue to shift, the likelihood of in-person events appears to be in the distant future.

Although the pandemic has put traditional networking opportunities on hold, there are still many ways to develop and maintain professional relationships virtually.

Explore new ways of connecting.

As suggested in “Thrive Global”, just because we can’t physically be connected, doesn’t mean we can’t stay socially connected! It’s easy for professional relationships to seem distant when working from home, which is why it’s important to schedule time in your calendar to connect with the people who matter most to you – both in your personal life and in your business network. Video calls, emails, and text messages are several ways to connect with one another and maintain relationships, even when we can’t physically be together. 

Virtual Events are the “New Normal”.

Due to working from home, many of us have now transitioned from in-person meetings and events to entirely virtual gatherings. Screen time (for most of us!) is at an all-time high. Although the thought of attending another virtual event may feel exhausting or repetitive, virtual conferences are still a great way to connect with new people outside of your “circle”. 

When having a virtual meeting, opt for Video. 

For many people, building new relationships is hard without face-to-face contact. Turning on video during a virtual meeting not only allows new colleagues to put a name to a face, it also allows your coworkers to see and understand your facial expressions, which adds context when having a discussion. To reduce “zoom fatigue” you can use the “hide self-view” feature.

Create your own networking events.

In a Harvard Business Review article, Alisa Cohn and Dorie Clark suggest turning canceled conferences into your own private networking opportunities. Review the schedule of past conferences you would have attended. See if there is anyone (both speakers or attendees!) that you are interested in connecting with and invite them to a private networking event.  

Support the people in your network.

As we transition into this new way of work and continue to adapt to the constantly changing ways of life, it can be hard to feel grounded. By reaching out to your colleagues, both past and present, it lets them know that you’re thinking of them. This also serves as a great opportunity to reconnect with the people who you lost contact with over the past year. Use this time to ask how others are doing, or what career shifts they have made during the pandemic.

Moving Forward – Meaningful Changes From the Pandemic

In March 2020, we all watched as the world was put on “hold”. “Stay at home” orders were put into place, remote working became the new reality, and we all were forced to make adjustments in order to cope with the growing pandemic. Fast forward to today, and there seems to be a possibility of reclaiming some of the past that we considered “normal”. As vaccinations roll out across the world and countries start to relax restrictions, it provides us an opportunity to reflect on the past year and all of the changes that came with it. 

The Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, launched The World After Coronavirus Video Series, featuring more than 100 interviews with leading experts and practitioners across the world, exploring the challenges and opportunities we will face in our post-coronavirus future.

As stated by Marina Khidekel at Thrive Global, “Amidst all the disruption that we’ve experienced from the COVID-19 pandemic, this time has offered us small silver linings and insights and habits that we’ll carry with us into the future.” 

What do we want to bring forward? What do we want to leave behind? And what do we want to reclaim from our life pre-COVID?

Many people adopted new hobbies and rituals into their routines during the pandemic, some of which will continue as we begin to transition into a post-COVID world. What are some things that you began doing during COVID that you hope to continue post-pandemic? Below are some meaningful rituals to consider bringing forward.

Staying connected and maintaining relationships.

We have all found new ways to stay socially-connected to one another, even when physically distanced. This pandemic has reminded us all of the importance of maintaining relationships, even when miles apart. 

Incorporating “me” time into my daily routine.

For many, the line between work/life balance has become blurred due to remote working. With constant pressure to feel like you need to be “on the clock”, it’s important to schedule “me” time in the day to focus on yourself and your wellbeing. Literally, schedule “me time” on your calendar!

Daily mindfulness practice.

The last year has been anything but normal, which can feel overwhelming at times. Incorporating daily mindfulness practice into your routine can help to clear your mind and prevent feelings of stress and uncertainty. This can be as simple as three deep breaths several times a day or writing down three items you have gratitude for daily.

What rituals are you bringing forward? And what do you want to leave behind?

The Importance of Upstream Reciprocity During COVID-19

As we continue to ride the unpredictable wave of COVID-19, many of us are feeling a shift in our emotional wellness. It is not uncommon to have a shift in mental wellbeing, especially when faced with large amounts of change and uncertainty. This emotional rollercoaster can lead to communication disconnects, efficiency issues, and overall lack of motivation and feeling of lesser value in the workplace. 

As leaders, how can we prevent our team from experiencing an emotional lull? 

Check in With Your Team

Since March, life as we once knew it has changed. Many people have been uprooted from their jobs or homes, and organizations have been forced to adopt work from home strategies. As we transition into this “new reality” and continue to adapt to the constant changing ways of life, it can be hard to feel grounded. 

By reaching out to your team members each day, it lets them know that you’re thinking of them and that their work is valued. This can be as simple as a text, iChat, WhatsApp message, “How is your day going?” 

This is also a good time to check in on their work-life balance. Many people, especially those who have children, have had to put on the hats of parent, teacher and childcare providers, all while trying to accomplish a 40-hour work week. By checking in, it lets your team know that they aren’t alone and gives you a better sense of those who may need additional support to navigate these uncertain times.

Show Appreciation and Gratitude

According to a study conducted by the University of Melbourne,

“The significant relationship between gratitude and job satisfaction suggests that organizational leaders can aim to boost job satisfaction by regularly prompting grateful emotions.”

When working remotely, hard work can often go unnoticed. By showing gratitude towards completed projects, goals, or tasks, your team members will feel acknowledged and appreciated. Here are four simple ways to help your team feel seen and appreciated. 

Encourage Social Connecting, Not Distancing

Much of the world is in the first phases of reopening, however “social distancing” is still being encouraged. Although it is important to remain physically distanced from one another, maintaining social connections with friends, family, and colleagues is vital for your emotional wellbeing. 

As a leader, encourage your team to participate in virtual social or happy hours. This promotes social connections within your organization and gives your colleagues an opportunity to check in on one another. By providing a sense of community, your team is likely to feel more motivated and at ease during these uncertain times. 

Building Resiliency Through the Pandemic

As “stay at home” orders extend across the country, and we begin to be more personally impacted by COVID-19, our ability to remain optimistic and hopeful becomes increasingly challenged.  We continue to experience expectations of productivity and effectiveness in “work from home” environments, managing virtual teams and meeting deliverables. 

One of humanity’s most powerful survival skills is our ability to build resilience.  Resilience means adapting well in the face of adversity and is associated with a mindset that recognizes our capacity to grow through life-altering and stressful events.

According to Dr. Arielle Schwartz, “Resilience is not a trait that you either have or do not have; it is a set of strategies that can be learned and practiced by anyone.”

Dr. Schwartz offers her framework of six pillars of resilience:

    1. Growth mindset: Cultivating an understanding that life experiences, whether positive or negative, provide ongoing opportunities for learning and development.
    2. Emotional Intelligence: Recognizing that you will experience feelings of fear, exhaustion, anger, sadness and a host of other emotions as a part of this global trauma we are living through.  This is normal and part of your innate resilience. Gaining tools to navigate through this process allows you to reclaim your balance.
    3. Community Connections:  This pillar has been the most dramatically altered during the pandemic as we have previously associated “connection” with in-person interaction. We now must be intentional at creating virtual connections.  We may be physically distancing but social solidarity is essential.
    4. Self-expression:  Activating the creative part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex through writing, art, dance, music increases access to the hormone oxytocin which helps you feel more social connection and relational resonance.
    5. Embodiment: Our bodies need to process stressful events through breath and movement. When these natural impulses are ignored the biological effects of stress persist.  Activities such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness breathing build resilience.
    6. Choice and Control: The belief and acceptance that there are events in our life that are completely outside our control.  Resilience comes with knowing that there are still things in your life that you do have control over.

Building resilience is a daily practice of small behaviors that support your physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual health.  In taking microsteps every day, you will start to feel stronger, optimistic, capable and connected to others.