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
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!