Art by: Anna Kövecses

You are Here.

Assess your pandemic persona and learn to navigate your emotional landscape with more certainty.

I would love for someone to roll out a map and confidently point to a spot that says “You are Here”. This feels like a reasonable request that would go a long way to calming my inner dialogue, and yet no map materializes. So I create my own, one that changes every day and the only compass I have is myself. Now, if I only remembered which way is north.

Who Am I?

You know that song from Chumbawamba, “I get knocked down but I get up again. They’re never going to keep me down.” Lately there are moments when I just want to call it a day. I admire you. If you have cleaned your house, started to learn Spanish and taken your workouts to the next level — celebrate the hell out of it. Personally, if I manage to get pants on, it is a huge win.

A friend of mine texted yesterday, “I would like to announce today is my existential crisis day — who am I and what happened to my life? I knew this day would come and here it is.”

In the midst of being laid off and becoming a home school teacher, she was exploring possibilities on how to take advantage of this time. I watched her in awe while I stocked up on pinto beans. I’m not sure if it was teaching fractions or the onslaught of news articles that prompted the shift, but three weeks in and she too informed Chumbawamba she was not getting back up again, at least not today. I told her the existential crisis club meets on Thursdays.

This article by Aisha reminded me it is not only acceptable to feel lost and uncertain; it is normal. Similar to my friend there are going to be a range of good and tough days. You might find it helpful to list the many ways you find comfort in your current state, even if it’s the small act of waving to a neighbour. Alongside that list, create another one for where you feel discomfort. Mapping these emotional anchors can help to increase your awareness in both states, because that is the current reality.

Where do you find comfort right now:

  • Who brings you comfort and why?
  • What activities feel familiar and easy?
  • When are you most calm and connected to yourself?
  • Where do you feel most relaxed?

Where can you embrace discomfort or even seek it:

  • Who challenges you and where is the learning?
  • What thoughts or feelings are you avoiding?
  • What activities might stretch you and why?
  • Where is the opportunity to adapt?

Keep in mind; while you go about the day, your mental, physical, and emotional states are in flux, adapting to the unknown and preparing for survival. I recommend the ratio of four comfort practices to one discomfort practice. We are in different stages of coping and experience right now, be patient and self-aware around where you stretch yourself and where you seek steadiness.

What am I Doing?

Every day I wake up and think, who is going to show up today? I practice physical distancing, I’m referring to the cast of characters in my head. Will it be the organized go-getter who repaired all the holes in my sweaters last week or the apathetic teenager who eats everything in the house and texts her friends to complain? Your guess is as good as mine.

How do you cope with change and what types of behaviours do you notice surfacing? I am overwhelmed by the number of pioneer friends baking bread and I know more amateur researchers and statisticians than I thought. Here are a few pandemic personas that might feel familiar:

Regardless of whether you fall into all or none of these personas; during times of change it is helpful to step back and assess your behaviours, feelings, and needs. This can be especially useful for those who have experienced a massive shift in your day to day lives. Otherwise you may take on behaviours that don’t serve you and the benefit becomes a barrier.

I easily identify with most of the personas. The messages I leave on my parents’ voicemail are in full Director mode and the Helper gave banana bread to neighbours (because I can’t sew). I recently grounded my Overthinker with only 30 minutes of daily internet time and my Socialite has a zoom cocktail tonight. I admit, I am only starting to engage with the Achiever and am hopeful for more success in a month or so.

By taking time to reflect on how you’re feeling, what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, you increase self-awareness and avoid the siren song of the auto-pilot state. With auto pilot behaviours we tend to turn off our emotional intelligence, seek easy solutions and avoid feeling vulnerable. Short term auto-pilot can get us through tough moments, however long term denial and containment of emotions end up backfiring. My repressed emotions usually find me at two in the morning or unexpectedly tackle me at the grocery store when I get confused by arrows on the floor.

How do I feel?

At the start of each coaching call I used to ask, “How are you doing?” Nowadays, that question results in a long pause and silence as clients try to actually feel how they are. Long gone are the replies of “fine” when clearly things are not fine and we do not feel fine. Indeed, we are at times rendered speechless at the thought of how we feel, let alone how to communicate it out loud.

I was first introduced to the emotional wheel about 15 years ago when I received counselling for burnout.

Counsellor: How are you feeling, Elaine?
Me: Busy.
Counsellor: That is not a feeling.
Me: Stressed.
Counsellor: That is more of an outcome from your feelings.
Me: Annoyed?
Counsellor: You’re feeling annoyed with me aren’t you?
Me: Bingo.

Apparently, I was not alone in my inability to express myself using emotional language. My counsellor printed off an emotional wheel to use as a reflection tool when I checked in with myself. She also suggested I might want to check in with myself more often. It’s one of the biggest gifts she gave me.

When I facilitate learning around productive conflict or emotional intelligence, I share the emotional wheel to help people communicate with more detail and clarity. Taking time to put words to your emotions helps to explore what is going on for you which in turn informs the actions you take.

This past week I noticed how much I appreciate when people clearly state how they feel. A colleague said they felt angry about a project that was going incredibly well and was now being put on hold. So much work had gone into it and they felt people gave up too easily. It got me thinking about the losses I’m angry about, which I had been avoiding. A client shared they felt relief at being laid off, because they had stayed too long in a job they didn’t like. When you take time to connect with your emotions, you might surprise yourself and gain more insight into what is going on for you.

Lately, I’m seeing a lot of articles that say words have power (they do) and using negative words reinforces a negative state. While I partially agree, I believe it’s important for you to own the way you currently feel before choosing to move onto how you’d like to feel. Saying you feel hopeful when you don’t, won’t magically change the way you feel. Ask anyone who’s partner ever said, “I’m fine” through gritted teeth.

Baby steps people. Feel the feelings. Check in. Help create space for others to share how they are feeling. Listen. Breathe. Repeat.

p.s. Apologies if I got the Chumbawamba song in your head.

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I am the founder of the Leadership Collaboratory where I design and facilitate experiences that inspire new ideas & challenge old patterns. elainebroe.com