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Stress Management Amidst Covid19: Leadership Playbook

The mark of a leader is truly tested under duress. For CIOs battling the Covid19 pandemic crisis that time is now. During this unprecedented crisis not only are they expected to bring forth their best technology arsenal to enable business to keep the lights on but also to rise up to the occasion as exceptional leaders. And, that is possible provided they don’t break under the duress.

While all human beings undergo stress in their day-to-day lives, the complete disruption and fear of unknown inflicted by the pandemic has elevated these stress levels beyond the normal. Let’s not forget that CIOs are humans too. And, the stress can be further crippling when the onus is on you to ensure business continuity in a highly unpredictable environment while keeping your teams functioning and motivated. Whether it is keeping teams motivated, managing with fewer resources, meeting customer and management’s expectations or dealing with uncertainty around job security, the stress can get the better of any CIO.

Therefore, managing stress is really at the core of surviving through these testing times and emerging stronger as a person and as a leader at the other end of the tunnel when the crisis finally abates.

Dr. C. Kumar Babu, one of India’s renowned psychiatrist with over three decades of experience, covered key elements that can help effectively cope up with the stress and beat it. Describing stress as the gap between how one wants things to be and how exactly they are, Dr. Babu explained that this makes a demand on our adaptive capacity, requiring us to pull our resources to manage it.

Mentioned below are the key takeaways from his suggestions for managing stress effectively:

 Stress management is not a quick fix: Stress management has to be built around complete lifestyle modification.

Can’t change the situation, change yourself: Whether in office, at home, in a relationship, in professional or emotional spheres – there are going to be situations which may not be ideal and beyond our control. For instance, the lockdown. Don’t try to change the situation and control something which is not under our control. However, the belief in ourselves, our capacities and attitude is 100% under our control. So, when we are no longer able to change our situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. That is where we have to focus and that is the call to growth. Between the stimulus – what activates an event and our response, there is a time gap and in that space is our power to choose our response. Our power to respond and choice to respond is where our growth and freedom lies.

Attitude makes all the difference: However difficult and challenging the circumstance, we have the freedom to choose our attitude in terms of how we face it. One thing that can’t be taken away from us is the way we choose to respond. When the thoughts and beliefs are positive, we get positive consequences and when they are negative and pessimistic, the consequences are negative. Certainty or uncertainty comes from showing the brain whatever pictures and images we choose to show to the brain. Hence, the idea is to defeat automatic negative thoughts through self-awareness and replacing them with positive thoughts while making reasonable preparations for things that might go wrong. Positive affirmations can play a key role here. The subconscious mind waits for critical values and short positive affirmations done repeatedly do just that. Similarly, visualization techniques can be helpful as the brain cannot differentiate a real experience from a powerfully imagined experience.

Proactive coping through purpose and goals: When the reason to do something is very powerful, what we call the ‘Why, then ‘How’ we will do it becomes easy. Having meaningful and purposeful goals helps in converting difficult situations and crisis into opportunities. While we are used to our comfort zones and anything outside causes discomfort and stress, it becomes an opportunity for growth when attached with a purpose.

Devote some time to strike off to do list: While you hang on to the possible opportunities in the time of crisis, it can be a good idea to devote some time to things that you had been putting off, like spring cleaning, reviewing business models and game plans, analyzing the investments or catching up on the pending list of books to be read.

Making conscious efforts to stay motivated: It’s important to find sparks of motivation which keep us going every day. This can be done through watching motivational films, reading books, listening to podcasts, etc.

Full engagement across physical, mental and emotional aspects – Quick fix and band-aid doesn’t work in managing stress effectively. It requires working on all aspects of the being – physically energized, emotionally connected and mentally focused. On the physical front, low energy can aggravate stress. Hence, the nutritionally balanced diet, optimal sleep and moderate exercise are crucial to keeping stress at bay. Incorporating techniques like Progressive Muscular Relaxation by Jacobson and breathing exercises can go a long way in alleviating stress. On the emotional front, it’s important to be connected to family and being aware of what we are doing, saying to others and the impact our actions are having on others. On the intellectual front, being focused on the professional aspects while developing meaningful hobbies like crossword, Sudoku, painting, etc. which involve focusing our mind deeply.

Interspersing work with breaks: Keeping time for things like: While we have many tasks at hand and work to complete in a day, it will be helpful to take out a few minutes every 2-3 hours to take a break to do things we like to do, like listening to our favourite music, doing a little stretch, taking a short walk, indulging in a coffee – whatever that makes us feel happy. These breaks interspersed with work will make sure that at the end of the day we have spent some time feeling happy about ourselves.

Don’t underestimate the power of humour: A sense of humour can go a long way in tackling many a stressful situation.

(Image Courtesy: www.thenews-chronicle.com)

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