How to Keep Your Cool Through the Uncertainty

The coronavirus outbreak has upended daily life, creating a trail of mental and emotional distress.

Published: Mar 23, 2020

Before the coronavirus outbreak hit, many working Americans were burned out and wishing for a break from their fast-paced lives. But the ripple effects of the outbreak have brought an all-new set of stressors to people in the workplace, practically overnight.

Whether they’ve been told to work from home or not to work at all, many people are finding that work means something very different than it did just a few days ago. And it’s taking a toll on the nation’s collective mental health. An Axios poll taken the week of March 13, when many states across the US began enacting strict measures to contain the spread of the virus, shows that 22% of Americans felt their mental health had deteriorated in the last week.

Don’t focus on the ‘what if’—be confident in your ability to cope and adapt.

Here’s how to stay motivated through the uncertainty.

Practice self-care.
In times of distress, trying to carry on as if nothing is happening may just cause additional angst, as plans will likely fall apart as fast as you make them. To stay centered when things may feel like they’re spinning out of control, career experts say to increase your self-care. “That could include breathing exercises, meditation, prayer, spending some time on a humor site, cuddling with a pet, or baking cookies,” says Hamaria Crockett, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. If you were already seeing a therapist, increasing the frequency of your (virtual) appointments can also help.

Try to maintain some routine in your days too. If you don’t already take a walk, schedule it in. Remember that your physical health, mental health, and work performance all blend together at a time like this, so your exercise routine is also for your job.

Fill in the gaps.
While there’s a lot of uncertainty in the market right now, some industries are still going strong—and even ramping up—during this time. “Understand that things maybe a bit haywire for a while, but to be sure to still ‘show up’ at work,” Crockett says. “This is a great time to take on new projects that arise out of the company’s shifting needs.”

If things are slowing down for you at work—or if you’ve rewatched every Netflix show and are looking for something else to fill your evenings—take inventory of your marketable skills and start filling the gaps. “There are lots of free online courses or accreditations you can earn through colleges and universities,” Crockett says.

Get networking.
If things seem to be volatile in your industry, or if you were already looking for an out, log in to LinkedIn. “Do some research and connect with others in a field that you want to learn more about,” Crockett says. Even the act of making some new contacts can make you feel like you’re taking back some control over your fate.

Be sure to keep up communication within your own group of colleagues, too. You don’t have the same face time as before, and it can be upsetting to feel isolated—just ask a freelancer. If typically-cool-headed Tim is barking orders, or gregarious Louise is suddenly withdrawn, reach out with a phone call just to check in on them.

Create contingency plans to minimize frustration.
Some things you’ve planned for just aren’t going to work out, and there’s not much you can do about it. “Don’t focus on the ‘what if’—be confident in your ability to cope and adapt,” Crockett says.

When planning for possible problems in the next few months, go beyond the toilet-paper stash. Take precautions not to get physically hurt, because hospitals are already crowded. Think about what you would do if your computer crashed or your phone broke—can you buy a burner phone to have just in case? Knowing that things that are within your control are taken care of can help you relax about the things that aren’t.

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