Lockdown is challenging us all in different ways...
Two weeks in and with at least a month to go, I’ve found myself struggling with our Stage 4 Lockdown restrictions.
The daily COVID-19 numbers are stubbornly high and heart breaking. Each day feels like Ground Hog Day and the predictability of it is creating a ‘funk’ I’ve never experienced before.
Lockdown V1 in March didn’t seem as hard. There was a novelty value to it and to be honest, I loved being free of my daily commute. The slower pace seemed peaceful and even having time to clean all my windows was a thrill!
Now, the eerie silence of my neighborhood feels ominous and surreal. I long to drive out of Melbourne to enjoy a fun day out with my family and friends. Perhaps we’d go out for lunch in the Yarra Valley, take a day trip to Sorrento or catch a show in town. But not now and not for a long time…
Don’t get me wrong – I know I’m incredibly lucky. My loved ones and I are well. I have a safe and cosy home. Business is steady; my clients are great and I love the work I do. I don’t have young children to home school and honestly feel a bit guilty that I’m even entertaining the idea of feeling a bit down.
As someone who is normally happy, positive and pragmatic, my funk was a new experience that crept up on me. But, once I recognised it, my innate curiosity kicked in.
- What was going on?
- Why was I feeling like this?
- Most importantly, what was I going to do about it?
Time for some serious reflection and a dose of my own medicine!
Here’s what I've learnt and how I’m now managing 'Lockdown Funk':
1. Leaders Aren’t Immune From Depression
As someone who has never personally experienced mental ill health before, I was surprised that my funk had all the hallmarks of mild depression. I felt unmotivated and found it difficult to focus on anything meaningful.
This led to frustration because ‘high achieving’ me prides myself on ‘getting stuff done’. But the more frustrated I got, the less I achieved each day. It felt like I was simply going through the motions.
Although I’ve read a lot about depression and travelled alongside clients, friends and family who have and are experiencing it, this was a big and humbling wake up call.
No one is immune from mental illness and there is no vaccine
What I needed to figure out was the difference between a normal human response to an abnormal situation and the risk of spiraling into something much darker.
2. Honest Reflection Expands Self-Awareness
Self-reflection can be tricky on your own – it’s way too easy to kid yourself! Engaging a couple of my coaching buddies, I challenged them to shine a light on whatever it was that I wasn’t seeing – the blind spots and shadows that keep us all stuck from time to time.
Even after 20+ years of conscious self-reflection, shining a torch into the shadows, created surprising new insights:
- All people, including someone as fiercely independent as me, need connection to survive and thrive. We are after all tribal animals and genuine, deep connection cannot thrive on Zoom alone!
- Small things can make you feel instantly better. I’d never previously thought of weeding the garden or finishing the ironing as particularly satisfying. Now I’m enjoying the sense of being in flow when I’m doing seemingly mundane and mindless things.
- I don’t have to save the world during lockdown! Sorting through what IS and ISN’T within my control has lifted a weight off my shoulders. Much of my energy was being misdirected as frustration towards the stupidity of those who choose not to wear masks and the relentless stream of bad news stories – neither of which I can do anything about.
What IS within my control is how and where I choose to focus and direct my energy.
3. You Can’t Think Your Way Out of a Funk
If like me, you're a predominantly logical, left-brain thinker, this one can be hard to get your head around! What I’ve learnt is it’s best not to even try.
Feeling down, depressed and unmotivated is exactly that – a range of normal human feelings. Feelings are a sub-conscious emotional response to external triggers. When you tune into, recognise and name the feelings you start to notice where you’re carrying them. It may be a sick feeling in your stomach, fatigue, a mild headache, clenched jaw or tight chest.
From here you can identify how you’d like to feel instead and take small steps to move towards a more useful emotional state.
Simple Mood Shifters that work for me include:
4. ‘One Size Fits All’ Wellbeing Doesn’t Work
Every day we’re bombarded with new ideas on how to strengthen and sustain our wellbeing. Meditation, yoga, plenty of sleep, exercise and healthy eating are all hard to argue against. My list above works for me but may not do it for you!
No one knows you better than you and if something’s not working, ditch it and try something else. I tried to create a repeatable daily routine which was promoted as an excellent way to maintain productivity. Yet it had the opposite effect on me.
Switch Up Your Routine
As someone who craves diversity, mixing up my daily routine with spontaneity is energising. If I feel like walking at 2pm (instead of my previous 7am walk), I do it. Walking during ‘work’ hours feels like wagging school in the middle of the day!
I’ve stopped counting my work hours and shifted my focus to specific outcomes I want to achieve. I pre-imagine the sense of satisfaction I’ll feel when they are achieved and put my head down to get them done.
Set a Funk Time Limit
One of the simplest yet most powerful wellbeing tips I’ve adopted is to set a time limit on my funk. This involves recognising when I’m feeling down, acknowledging it as real and legitimate (rather than trying to brush it off); and deciding how long I will choose to feel like this.
If I choose one hour, I set a timer to go off in an hour and give myself full permission to feel as hopeless and miserable as I like, until the buzzer goes off. Ironically, this quickly triggers me to think, “Well, that’s a waste of an hour that I’ll never get back again”!
The thought of wallowing in misery for an hour, as a choice I’m making, helps me laugh at myself and flick my emotional switch back into a more constructive emotional state.
5. Self-Care is a Necessity, Not a Luxury
It’s too easy to think you’ll make time for yourself when everyone else’s needs are taken care of. Maybe you feel guilty when you do something seemingly self-indulgent ‘just for you’ - a common experience for nurturers and carers.
But what if NOT caring for you was actually dangerous? What would happen if you were to spiral into serious clinical depression that can have a devastating impact on you and those you love for years?
When your energy bucket is empty with no way of being regularly replenished, the only way forward is down. The longer you run on empty, the less able you'll be to make the difference you want to make and your depths of despair, exhaustion well will keep on getting deeper and deeper.
How many days could you go NOT brushing your teeth? Without even thinking about it, you likely brush your teeth twice a day, every day because the thought of your teeth falling out doesn’t bare thinking about!
Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup which is why in the pre-flight safety briefing, flight stewards instruct you to ‘Put your mask on first before helping others’.
Self-care is a necessity, not a luxury.
One of my clients who juggles an incredibly stressful and relentless senior management job with caring for her ageing parents and young family (including home schooling), has recently implemented a mandatory, non-negotiable 5km run every day.
It clears her head and gives her precious time alone as she lets her mind wander to the steady rhythm of her feet on the pavement. She engaged her husband to support her daily run commitment and texted me daily to tell me she’d completed her run.
Within a week she was sleeping better; managing the daily demands with significantly reduced stress; enjoying being present with her family and can’t believe how much better she feels.
If the idea of not brushing your teeth every day is unthinkable, so too is neglecting self-care.
6. Strong Mental Health Takes Daily Self Leadership
One of the biggest insights I’ve gained during my COVID inspired funk is that daily vigilance is the key to strong mental health and wellbeing. I noticed that when I took my eye off the ball, despondency could sneak in and stubbornly take up residence.
Like an unwanted squatter, it makes its presence felt in everything you do, feel and say and you’ll soon be sharing your funk with your family, friends, team and colleagues.
Like checking your blood pressure, taking your Emotional Pulse every day is a quick and simple way to consciously check in with your mental health.
It helps you track how you’re feeling and gives you the option to shift gears if your current experience simply isn’t working for you. If you want to dive deeper into how to do this, check out How to Stress Less and Defuse Your Ticking Emotional Time Bombs
Complete your details below to receive your FREE Emotional Pulse Checker and Mood Shifter!
At the end of the day...
Lockdown will eventually pass; a COVID vaccination will come and the world will soon re-boot.
Yet, I wonder how long the lessons we’ve all learnt will last?
It’s up to each of us as leaders of our selves, teams, families and lives to actively nurture what we now know matters most…