Friday, May 29, 2020

Leading Through Stress and Anxiety During COVID Times

Leading Through Stress and Anxiety During COVID Times

As a young leader, you may have felt more stress and anxiety than usual during the past eight weeks or so as limitations were placed on what you could and couldn’t do. Some of these feelings may have come on suddenly and some may have been brewing slowly over time, under the surface of your mind and body. Being a teen and being a leader means you may have felt conflicted sometimes as well, wondering how you can become stronger and also how you can positively influence others.

However you’ve been feeling, you are not alone! And understanding why your stress and anxiety happens can help you begin to cope in the best ways possible for your personal lifestyle and situation.

So where do stress and anxiety come from in the first place? These feelings tend to come from:

      Feeling isolated; lacking the ability to see your friends and be in their physical presence
      Seeing scarcity in the world, like when you’ve seen people searching for basic items like toilet paper and hand sanitizer (or you’ve experienced it at home)
      Having your routine disrupted, meaning the consistency you had in your schedule is no longer there or it has been altered
      Experiencing the cancellation of special events
      Seeing family members feel stressed, anxious, or upset
      Feeling fear of the unknown and not being able to get the answers you want, like having so many “what if’s” about school, activities, dance, graduation, prom, etc.

Anxiety can cause stress because of these reasons and more, and let’s face it, it can be difficult not to feel anxious when so much has changed in such a short period of time! But consider this too: Anxiety is oftentimes the result of your perspective. Perspective is the way you see things; the way YOU see the world. Your perspective is your reality and someone else’s perspective is their reality. Your perspective is shaped by what has happened to you in the past and how you feel about the present.

So how can you reshape your perspective in order to help yourself cope with stress and anxiety? There are a few ways to do this, in what we call the “3 Bucket Approach,” which was designed by Dr. Tim Elmore. He wrote a curriculum called Habitudes, which helps teens develop positive habits and resilience.

In the 3 Bucket Approach, your life and actions fit into three areas: 1) Things you can control, 2) Things you can’t control, and 3) Things you can influence. Let’s look at some examples of each one:

Bucket 1)     Things you can control
a)     Your attitude
b)     Your choices
c)     Your habits
d)     Your actions
e)     Your words

Bucket 2)     Things you can’t control
a)     The weather
b)     Government decisions
c)     Natural disasters
d)     COVID-19

Bucket 3)     Things you can influence
a)     A combination of the first two buckets, like the way you react to a government decision or the words you choose to say about the COVID situation
b)     The ways you lead by example
c)     Being in a good mood
d)     Helping others
e)     Leading others
f)      Spending time with people you care about

Did you notice that in Bucket 3, when it comes to influence, there is a lot you can do to lead others and have a positive impact on their perspective? Even though you can’t control their attitudes, actions, or behaviors, you do have the ability to influence them with your positivity.

In addition to the 3 Bucket Approach, there are a couple of other techniques you can use to ease your stress and anxiety and put your leadership skills to use.

One of those techniques is mindfulness. With more time on your hands right now, you have the opportunity to create margins in your life for mindfulness. What are margins? They are the intentional spaces of downtime you create between activities; the space in which you can give yourself a chance to get caught up on projects, develop stronger habits, rest your mind and body, tune in to your thoughts, or build new skills. You could learn a new language, download a meditation app, knock out some chores, try a free yoga class online, or put on some music and just veg out. The next time you create margins, ask yourself what the best use of your time might be!

Another technique is journaling. While you may already be familiar with it, journaling during a situation like COVID can be therapeutic and calming for your senses. You are living out history right now! Write out your specific feelings, express your fears, and note your successes. You may not remember all of these details in the future, and having them in a journal will remind you how far you’ve come.

There’s no “one size fits all” approach to coping with stress and anxiety, but taking a few of the suggestions here can make it possible for you to design what fits your life and your priorities. Try looking at how you could incorporate the 3 Bucket Approach into your day, or see if you can find ways to amp up your mindfulness practice or your journaling effort.

Each step you take brings you closer to the other side of this situation, however and whenever that may be. Each step is progress on your coping skills and your ability to influence others, and that’s something worth celebrating!

Monday, April 27, 2020

April - What Do You Do With Your Time?

April - What Do You Do With Your Time?

If time management seems like a daily challenge, you are not alone! Especially during this time of quarantine for COVID-19, it can seem like you are either so busy that you lose track of time, or that you’re so bored you don’t know what to do with yourself.

The key is to learn how to be more intentional with your time, using your intentions as reasons to take action. The actions you take become the habits you want to build, and great leaders are built from great habits. Although you are experiencing more time at home, you can still grow your leadership skills and come out of quarantine as a stronger person!

To be more intentional right now and develop your leadership muscles, try implementing these six ideas into your routine:

  1. Make time for yourself. 
Personal time is essential for your physical and mental well-being. Choose to exercise and eat right, for example. Read more books or start learning a new skill, either on your own or through an online class.
  1. Open yourself up to family time. 
You may have more of this than ever before, but resist the urge to close yourself off from your family. Instead, focus on the quality of your time together over activities, like games or bike rides, or meals or just simple conversation.
  1. Play catch up. 
Get intentional about what you may have forgotten or not had time for before quarantine. This is the perfect time to clean out your closet, study a challenging subject from school, or apply for a summer job.
  1. Tap into your faith. 
Whatever your beliefs, take the time for gratitude, reflection, and quietude. Channel your optimism and hope for the future with a meditation on what you believe in and how faith can carry you through.
  1. Connect with others. 
Reach out to people you haven’t seen in person lately, or even to those you’ve lost touch with … perhaps a family member or old pen pal. Write a card, send them a text, or set up a video chat. Take the lead on building a new conversation!
  1. Set aside “think time.” 

Make time in your day or your week to just think. Think about what opportunities may be ahead for you; think about your goals; think about new possibilities that may arise after quarantine. Remember this quote from Isaac Newton: “A big interruption becomes a big introduction to new possibilities and discoveries.”

Saturday, March 21, 2020

March - Growing a Strong Work Ethic

March - Growing a Strong Work Ethic

You’ve probably heard the term “work ethic” from your parents or teachers, but have you ever wondered what it REALLY means? Work ethic is defined as your values and beliefs about every job, responsibility, or task that you do. It is your internal view that the way you work reflects yourself to the rest of the world.

Think about that previous sentence for a moment. Work ethic is about your view of the way you work, and how that reflects back on you. Notice that it’s not about what you do, but the way you do it. Work ethic can apply to the way you do your homework or take a test, the way you work at your job, and the way you do your chores at home. Whether you are learning algebra at school, earning money bagging groceries, taking out the trash at home, or something in between, your work ethic is an important factor to living a successful life.

Through your work ethic, you have the opportunity to live a life of excellence as opposed to mediocrity. If you want to achieve your highest potential, you have to strive for excellence. And let’s be realistic: There may be times where you miss the mark—and that’s OK. As long as you are learning to do better. Excellence influences you to do your best and to try again when you fail. It’s part of life!

Here are five qualities you want to grow for a strong work ethic:

1)     Reliability
Being reliable means that others are able to count on you when you say you’re going to do something. It’s doing what you say you’re going to do, being early or on time, and completing tasks (not just starting them). Another way to think of this is that you are dependable.
2)     Dedication
Having dedication is when you will do anything that needs to be done, in order to perform the job well or take the responsibility seriously. It means you are committed to striving for above average work when completing a lesson, job, or task.
3)     Productivity
Being productive means that you are able to get more work done in less time and that you use your time well, without distractions. Having a high level of productivity doesn’t mean that you rush through your work! It means that you focus on one thing at a time and are mindful of the time needed for a job well done.
4)     Cooperation
Your ability to work as part of a team is where cooperation comes into play. Being a teammate, whether it’s at school, at work, or as part of an extracurricular activity, means that you are able to prioritize the collective goal of the group over any individual.
5)     Character
Strong values equal strong character, and they also influence your ability to grow a strong work ethic. Integrity, honesty, and trustworthiness, for example, are traits that have a positive impact on your character.

Striving to be excellent and holding up these qualities can be challenging. You might be faced with days or weeks where it feels like you’d rather settle for mediocrity or “good enough.” But instead of letting those feelings take over, lean into what you’re learning here. Give yourself a little mental push and encouragement that you can do it. Don’t stop when you get tired or things get hard. Taking the easy way out feels good in the moment, but it doesn’t help you achieve the excellence you’re after. And you will be a stronger person for every step you take in that direction!

The true secret to growing your work ethic is to build small, excellent habits over a long period of time. You won’t see immediate results—and that’s normal. You will notice a slow shift in the way you work, the way you feel about yourself, and the way others see you. Remember that every day, every task matters. A strong work ethic means you are doing a little extra above and beyond, at everything you do, and making it a habit.

Here are some examples of those small steps you can take:

      If you start a project, finish it. Aim for a “highly satisfied” result, not just “satisfactory.”
      Ask questions in class (when permitted) to make sure you understand what is being taught and can apply it to your homework or test.
      Never show up late; plan ahead for being early or on time.
      When asked to help clean up at home, don’t cut corners. Go for sparkle and shine!
      If you negotiate anything with your teachers or parents (such as extra credit or a later curfew), follow through on your commitment so they can see you are responsible.
      Be willing to be a team leader OR a team player, and use your role to help steer the team to success.

Growing a strong ethic means you are working hard for today and for your future. Excellence in your life spills over into every possible area: Being a student, a family member, an employee, a volunteer, and a member of your community. Your commitment means something to you personally, and it means something to those you influence. Remember that your work ethic is completely within your control—choose excellence and watch yourself grow!

Monday, February 17, 2020

Love Yourself! Live a Life of Less Stress!

There are certain qualities that everyone desires in themselves, whether they realize it or not: They want to be confident and happy, with a sense of belonging in their community. Anyone—including you—can achieve these qualities, regardless of your background, talent, income, or past struggles. But first you must realize the importance of creating a positive self-image; of surrounding yourself with positive core values. In order to love others, you must first love yourself!

A positive self-image affects every part of your life, and it gives your leadership ability a boost. Think about great leaders you’ve studied and the role models in your life. They most likely demonstrate a high level of confidence in themselves and respect from others, and when they make a mistake, they recover quickly and learn from it.

Now, think about yourself: What does a positive self-image feel like? It might be …

  • Seeing the good in yourself
  • Believing in yourself, even if you don’t do well at first (like in a new relationship or with a new subject at school)
  • Having a sense of pride in what you do
  • Feeling liked and accepted by others, who you also like and respect
  • Accepting yourself, even if you make a mistake

When you know what a positive self-image feels like, it’s much easier to build daily habits that support it! And in addition to habits, it’s important to recognize that the way you feel about yourself is also affected by your friends. Did you know that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with? Your friends are a powerful influence on you, just as you are to them. There is a great deal of impact to be considered when you think about the five people you profoundly influence plus the five people they influence, and so on!

One of the ways you can develop your own positive self-image and your impact on others is by adopting a “win-win” mentality. This is the attitude that everyone can benefit (or win) from a situation. It shows you care about people and want them to succeed, even though you want to succeed too. It also helps you understand the way others impact you. Win-win thinking is truly a way of life, and it starts with feeling secure in yourself, with the understanding that no one is superior to anyone else. We are all humans, and there is room for everyone’s success.

Because we live in a digital world, it’s also crucial to understand that social media plays a role in this mentality, your interactions with others, and your self-image. While social media has many benefits, like allowing us to share opinions, tell stories, connect with others, and innovate new technology, it can also have negative effects if it’s used too frequently or in the wrong way.  To keep social media from impacting your self-image in a negative way, try remembering these facts:

There’s plenty of happiness, beauty, and success to go around. Just because you see a great snapshot of someone else’s life, that doesn’t mean your life isn’t great. There’s room for everyone’s greatness, whether it’s posted on social media or not!
Inspiration will serve you better than self-criticism. Use what you see as fuel for your passions, instead of fuel for comparisons. Be inspired by someone else’s effort, style, skill, or kindness. Lift up your own goals and dreams by what you see on your feed.
Social media posts are the highlight reel, not the behind-the-scenes. Remember that people post what they want others to see; it’s not the whole picture of their lives. If you find yourself comparing or obsessing over a post, it’s time to take a break from your phone!

Another thing to keep in mind? You can use your own social media to project a positive, humble self-image of leadership: to encourage others around you and spread messages of kindness. As you develop your leadership skills, you will discover that the impact you have on others comes from every facet of your life—including your digital presence. That’s definitely win-win!

Creating a positive self-image takes intentional effort, and even with a win-win attitude, you won’t be surprised to know that many teens encounter anxiety as they grow this new “muscle” of confidence. Maybe you’ve even experienced some anxiety yourself, and the feelings produced by that anxiety have hindered your self-image because you are worried about what others think. You might have also felt fearful or nervous, or had trouble concentrating. 

One of the best ways to counteract those feelings is by reflecting on them, and choosing to be more mindful. By acknowledging how you feel, you are taking the first step to helping yourself through it. After you’ve recognized the feelings, then make a point to tap into these three skills:

  1. Be present. Be in the “now” with the people you are with. Listen to understand.
  2. Be selfless. Practice putting your ego aside to give time and energy to others.
  3. Be compassionate. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Show care and kindness.

In other words, your self-image is not just built from your thoughts about yourself or from your social media presence. It’s built from your feelings, and how you react to them—especially when those feelings are challenging. Your behavior influences your confidence, and your confidence influences your behavior!

Being a leader means that many times, you “go first” among your friends. You step forward, and with your words and your actions, you demonstrate what a positive self-image looks like. While this isn’t always easy, it is incredibly important. With positivity and confidence, you have the power to reach unlimited potential, and to empower those around you to do the same.