COVID-19 Resources

Things are Getting Better… So Why Do I Still Feel Crummy?

“Things are getting better… so why do I still feel crummy?”

A woman asked me that question last night at an event, and it’s VERY relevant. I feel the same way.

Life is starting to get back to “normal.” We’re more able to do things we love. And yet we can also feel nervous, uncertain, frustrated, and just plain traumatized from the upheaval of the past year+. Maybe you feel guilty that you aren’t just 100% thrilled and ready to run headlong back into the world again.

I have a couple of ideas to help you deal with this feeling caught between two worlds.

What NOT To Do As You Navigate out of COVID-19

The world is showing signs of emerging from its long, COVID-19 fog. As restrictions lift, groups gather, and businesses bounce back, people are expressing excitement to return to some kind of normalcy.

But if you aren’t prepared for the changes we’re going to be experiencing – both individually and within organizations – the transition into a post-COVID world may not be comfortable or successful for you. Here are 4 important problems to avoid as you shake off the COVID fog.

Trap #1: Going back to “The Plan” Post-COVID

Most of us were raised to believe that successful people make a plan, work hard, and get rewarded. So it’s no surprise that we want to cling to The Plan at all costs, even when circumstances change.

In 2021, I worked with the University of Northern Colorado to conduct research on how well people can adapt, and 74% of respondents expressed an unwillingness to improvise, change, and learn as they go in unfamiliar situations. Most of us struggle in some way when forced to redirect our plans and goals.

The Plan is alluring. It feels comfortable. It feels like the shortest path to success. But it’s not the same world as it was in 2019. You’re not the same person. To more easily let go of The Plan, remind yourself that The Plan 1.0 had problems, too. You may not have gotten far along enough on the journey to find them yet, but they were there. Spend your energy focusing on how to make The Plan 2.0 (or 3.0, or 117.0) the best it can be.

Trap #2: Expecting to Feel Better Right Away

There’s a lot to celebrate as more people get vaccinated and regular activities can start to resume. There’s also a lot to feel conflicted about. How do we celebrate when so many have died? How do we get excited when so many have lost everything?

Even if you’re personally MORE than ready to had back into the office or send kids back to school, and you have no fear of variants popping up, you might run into unexpected grief for the months you missed.

For the healthiest re-entry, don’t ignore the potential for grief to pop back up in surprising ways. Allow yourself to have mixed feelings about letting go of The Plan 1.0 (see above). In my research, the younger you are the easier it may be for you to move on to a new plan, possibly because you’ve invested less time than if you’re older (and committed to your plans for a longer time).

Trap #3: Thinking You Have to Operate at 100% Immediately

If you’re a “do-er” like me, you may be chomping at the bit to resume what feels like normal levels of productivity. But trying to go from wherever you are to top speed may surprisingly make you less successful.

Because of something called action-bias, many of us are primed to jump to action before we fully evaluate our options. Scientists who study brainstorming say the ideas that come up later in the brainstorming process that are more innovative and creative. Take advantage of this time to come up with new goals and strategies. Maybe the pandemic exposed new opportunities for your business or your life. Maybe it revealed gaps that you now know how to fix.

Resist the temptation to dive in and make up for lost time post-COVID. Instead, use this time intentionally to create new goals and new ways of operating that will lead to greater accomplishment in the long run.

Trap #4: Navigating Change Alone

What do you think of when you think of a resilient person? Many people imagine someone with a sense of toughness who draws on internal strength. In reality, studies show the most resilient people aren’t lone wolves relying on their own inner power, but those with strong support systems.

Many of us have spent parts of the pandemic alone or in small bubbles. We may be (or feel) less connected than we’ve ever been. But lone-wolfing isn’t a good way to accomplish your goals. In my research, the older you are, the better you get at leaning on others to help you… and the more you seek input and advice from others, the smarter the decisions you make!

Ready or Not…

If you’re expecting to run headlong back into “the way things used to be” at top speed, be prepared for a rude awakening. The changes we’re about to experience as we go *back* to life post-COVID are not that much different than the changes we faced when the world shuddered to a halt in early 2020. There will be changes, both operationally and emotionally. But if you’re prepared for them, you’ll be able to successfully make the transition back.

What I DIDN’T Accomplish in 2020

I’m seeing a lot of people post about what they managed to accomplish in this crazy year. Lots of posts: “What did you accomplish in 2020?!?!” Don’t get me wrong – I’m super proud of people who have fought against the fear, confusion, and general “blahs” of 2020 and come out with new skills and triumphs.

 

But I also realized it could feel a little… shaming. Personally, I’ve had lots of moments this year where just getting out of bed and turning on my computer felt like a feat of strength.

 

So I decided to write about what I didn’t accomplish this year! Those things I thought in April I’d get to do with alllllllllll my new free time. But I didn’t.

 

(I may have to add to this list over time, as I remember)

 

  1. Sourdough. Yeah, it sounded like a good idea when I watched all the rest of you do it. Sourdough bread is my favorite bread. But keeping myself alive this year was feat enough, so sourdough starter shall have to wait. 😉
  2. Regular Zoom calls/game nights with all my friends and loved ones. I was so happy when we all started inviting one another to virtual gatherings! Yay – I can be there even when I’m not! I had big plans to call or text several people a day, and just generally be better about keeping in touch. The Zoom invites got overwhelming. Sorry, folks.
  3. Ukulele. I learned one new chord. I wrote silly COVID-inspired lyrics to one song. Then I got bored. Whoops.
  4. A new book. In 2019, I started my research on the topic of Adaptive Thinking. When all this free time hit without any travel, it dawned on me that it might make sense to start working on a book now. Spoiler alert: there’s no book. This right here is as much as I’ve written in months.
  5. A better workout schedule. It’s hard to get into a consistent workout routine when you’re on the road a lot. I had big plans that I’d use my time at home to ride my spin bike a little more, and maybe lift some weights. Instead, I’m writing this from underneath my comforter.
  6. Crochet. See #3, ukulele. Crochet is harder than I thought, y’all.

 

If you didn’t accomplish as much as you wanted to this year, you aren’t alone. If you had big plans for skills you could pick up in your free time, but you mostly just binged Netflix, I feel you. If someone asks you “what did you accomplish in 2020?” feel free not to answer. I’d give you a hug if I could.

 

“Free” time isn’t free when we pay for it in depression, anxiety, and disconnectedness. This year people found things to enjoy and celebrate, and I’m really happy about that. But in our desire to find sunshine after the rain, we need to offer an umbrella to the people who are still caught in the downpour.

 

It’s okay to feel depleted by 2020. If we’re being honest, I think we all do.

What’s “Adaptive Thinking” and Why Does it = Success During COVID-19?

I couldn’t keep my new research to myself any more. Dealing with COVID-19 is actually the PERFECT time to bring the concept of “Adaptive Thinking” to the world.

If you’re struggling with the new reality of your work, your business, your home life… whatever, Adaptive Thinking is a concrete, constructive way to pivot and find a way to be successful when the world is uncertain.

Yesterday I gave a short presentation on the Adaptive Thinking concept to a group in California, and I realized that with everything that’s going on with COVID-19 and its impacts on the way we’re working and living, I couldn‘t wait any longer to send it out to everybody.

I’ve been learning a LOT over the past 18 months researching how people can develop Adaptive Thinking (and there’s still more to learn!), but here’s a very short introduction into something you can do TODAY to help you start thinking more adaptively and getting your brain primed for survival and success in this new world.

If you’ve got more questions about what Adaptive Thinking is and how it can help you – ask ’em! I’m going to be shooting more videos in the coming days and weeks.

How to Deal With Things Out of Your Control

Feeling out-of-control is so frustrating. I’ll be honest… a LOT of things have felt out-of-control this year. I’m moving, packing, and budgeting for a major home renovation, while dealing with some health issues.

I’ve been relying on some of the coping skills I’ve researched, like “locus of control,” but ALSO adding some new ones of my own that seem to be working for me.

Are you feeling stressed or frustrated at things that are out of your control? Check out what I’m doing and see if it’ll work for you, too.

And comment below about what’s keeping you up at night, so we’ll all be in it together!!!

What NOT To Say When Someone is Struggling

I hate to tell you this…but at some point in your life, you’ve probably said the #1 thing NOT to say to a loved one who is struggling.

I’VE done it. We’ve all done it. It’s almost like a habit. But these common platitudes we offer people who are suffering through a difficult time… they don’t help. And they can actually HURT.

Here’s what to say to your friend or family member who is struggling, INSTEAD of one of these platitudes, and why it’s more likely to help them feel better (and probably cement your relationship with them, too).

How To Use Humor in a Crisis

One of the fastest ways to stop freaking out when life is stressful is to use humor. But do you know how to tap into the funny stuff in life, even when things stink?

Well, thanks to a broken rib, I’ve had a crummy week. But it reminded me of how to laugh my way through the difficult moments. Here’s what you can do, even BEFORE things get stressful, to help you survive the tough times with a little humor.

How to Feel Motivated By Doing ANYTHING

What do you do when you don’t feel motivated to do something?

 

It’s election day, and some people feel like their vote doesn’t matter. That reminds me of the story of the psychologists who did an experiment with three sets of dogs, and learned a lot about “learned helplessness.”

 

If you’re having trouble with your mindset and not feeling motivated, here’s why doing something, ANYTHING, is good for your mental health.

You Don’t Have to be Hopeless. Here’s What Helps When the World Feels Horrible.

In the wake of another mass shooting, I’ve been finding myself struggling with writing a blog post. Events like this don’t make it very easy to feel resilient, positive, or hopeful. I want to say the perfect thing, but there is no perfect thing.

 

So without any perfect words, I realized that what I could share is what I know about the science of coping during difficult times, in the hopes that perhaps it’ll make you think of something you can do to feel less vulnerable, frustrated, or angry about things going on in the world or in your own little corner of it.

 

There are two types of coping strategies. Most of us only rely on one, whichever one comes more naturally to us. And heck – one is better than none! But that gets us only about half as far as we need to go. I learned about these strategies when researching my second book, The Successful Struggle, and now I’m better about reminding myself to use both.

 

The two types of strategies are Problem-Focused Coping and Emotion-Focused Coping.

 

Problem-Focused Coping

 

This week, feeling like there was a whole lot of intolerance in the world, I set out to take some action. The first thing I did was early vote in the midterm elections. That’s a very concrete action that obviously isn’t usually available to us, but it just so happened to be good timing. I’m also working on a volunteer project called KICS through the Junior League of Austin, where we’re delivering athletic sneakers to children in need. Studies show that well-fitting, seasonally appropriate shoes help kids stay not only healthy and active, but also improve self-esteem and even school attendance.

 

When we went to deliver the shoes to the first KICS school, the kids were saying things like “this is so awesome! I’ve never had a new pair of shoes before!” and “my last shoes broke and I had to hold them together with tape. How did you know I really needed these?” When you watch a child jump up and down and yell with joy over something as simple as their first brand-new pair of sneakers, those feelings of powerlessness over the world’s problems start to seem smaller.

 

Emotion-Focused Coping

 

The other kind of coping deals with addressing your emotions. When I looked at the research, some psychologists expected that Problem-Focused Coping would be more successful at helping people feel better because it addressed the root cause. But Emotion-Focused Coping turned out to be equally important. We need more than just action items to accomplish in our lives – we need hope. For me, a perfect example is a baby announcement that I just got that’s sitting on my kitchen island. I met this baby boy’s parents almost 10 years ago, when they came to volunteer at the little nonprofit that I had started. Thinking about these single young adults, giving generously of their time all those years ago, and now they’re a family, makes me proud and happy.

 

And that’s not the only family making me happy this week… I also helped some friends find a puppy to adopt! (If you’re even thinking about adopting a pet, don’t mention it to me because I will find you a new family member – it’s like my super power.) In fact, my friend Terri is doing amazing things in this world supporting the leaders of movements (check out her website!), so helping her bring a little joy into her life, when she brings joy to so many other people, is extra-fulfilling. Time spent with friends and loved ones in your life is a great Emotion-Focused Coping strategy.

 

Using strong coping strategies – even when you use them in tandem – won’t make the stressors of the world go away. But when you arm yourself with smart strategies, you’ll be better able to push forward without feeling defeated by how small you feel in the face of the things that challenge you.

 

How to Handle Getting Fired

It’s a moment that can shake your self-esteem. It can ruin your finance. It can change your life plans in an instant. You just got fired.

 

Getting fired or let go is a major ego blow, because – if you’re like many of us – your jobs is tied in with your identity. Your career is a major part of who you are. Your success gives you worth. So when you lose your job, it can destroy more than just your sense of comfort and security, but also your sense of self.

 

Getting Fired Does These Three Things In Your Brain

 

When negative things happen, like being let go from a job, our brains naturally look for explanations. Your brain may be more prone to a positive explanatory style, or a negative explanatory style (and when you’ve just been dealt a major blow, it’s no surprise that your brain may start to veer more toward the negative!)

 

There are three elements to a negative explanatory style:

  1. Personal
  2. Permanent
  3. Pervasive

 

When you’re trapped in a negative explanatory style, you believe the things that happen to you are your fault (permanent), are going to negatively affect you forever (permanent), and are going to bleed over into all areas of your life (pervasive). On the flip side, people who are using a positive explanatory style are able to remind themselves that the situation they find themselves in is just unlucky (not personal), temporary (not permanent), and only a small blip compared to other opportunities in life (not pervasive). Even Sheryl Sandberg used the “Three Ps” after losing her husband!

 

Here’s Your Script After Getting Fired

 

So if you get fired, how do you trick your brain into adopting a positive explanatory style, even in the face of bad news?

 

The key is to start an internal conversation with yourself to remind yourself of the truth: that being let go is not personal, permanent, or pervasive. Some people start with the “not personal” part, but I’ve found that to be a tough one to accomplish right off the bat (yup, I’ve been fired). In this case, I find the easiest element to start with is reminding yourself that the situation isn’t permanent. There’s another job out there for you, and it may even be a better job, that’s a better fit! Back up your internal conversation by going to job seekers groups (which is where I found a job and a new career path after my first layoff at age 22).

 

Once you’ve reminded yourself that the situation isn’t permanent, take responsibility for keeping it from becoming pervasive. You may be tempted to crawl in bed with a blanket and a Netflix subscription for the next two weeks, but don’t. Keep up with all of your regularly scheduled activities. Go to your volunteer work. Hang out with friends. If you allow your unhappiness to start edging out all the happy elements of your life, that’s when negativity becomes pervasive. And finally, keep reminding yourself that being let go isn’t personal. That’s a tempting trap to fall into, especially when you know they’re going to hire someone else into that spot, because it feels like you must have done something wrong. But sometimes a job is just a mismatch for your skill set. And moving on is better for the company and for you.

 

When you get fired, it isn’t personal, it isn’t permanent, and it isn’t pervasive. Even if it feels that way. If you can remind yourself to shift to a positive explanatory style, and keep up that internal script, you’ll be ready to be a rockstar on the job hunt in no time!