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Managing anxiety at work during the COVID-19 crisis

anxiety, work, above the line, moir group, stress, covid-19, coping strategies

Are you above the line or below the line?

COVID-19, in many ways, has been a leveller in the workplace. Whilst colleagues are very much together in this unique situation, they are equally as ill-prepared as each other for the challenges of continuing their usual job roles whilst navigating unchartered working from home practices.

With so much uncertainty and upheaval, it is only natural that stress and anxiety at work during the COVID-19 crisis will be heightened.

For leaders in the finance sector, this is an interesting time in terms of how to navigate and create value for your people in difficult times. There are also significant challenges in dealing with the emotions of people you work with, whilst not being able to connect with them as fully as you previously did. Performance of teams depends not only on the resilience of individual member but their connections to each other.

Last week Moir Group held the first in a series of interactive, online workshops to delve into the issue of anxiety at work during COVID-19 and how finance leaders can best manage themselves and their teams during these unprecedented times. Yolanda Beattie, who led this engaging and informative session, runs her own consultancy, Yo&Co, working with people to improve their self-awareness and interpersonal relationships.

How stress and anxiety impacts our behaviour

We kicked off the session by discussing the neuroscience behind stress and anxiety at work and how uncertainty and loss of control impacts our behaviours. As Yolanda states, “It’s important to connect with how we are behaving not just for ourselves but for the people around us, our colleagues and family.”

To do this, it’s important to ‘check-in’ with your emotional state. An effective way to do this is to use the concept of being ‘above the line’ or ‘below the line’.

As Yolanda explains, these two states relate directly to how the brain (and, in turn, the body) are reacting to difficult situations.

Below the line
When people are below the line, they are experiencing the modern stress response, when adrenaline is released in the body and a lot of the more rational thought processes shut-down. In this state people focus inward and typically feel threatened, fearful and find situations to be of a serious nature. Behaviours in this state include being defensive, having a need to be right at all times, being critical of others and, often, feeling overwhelmed.

Above the line
Conversely, when people are above the line, they are in the contented state, the body is not geared for a fight/flight response, and instead a calm state where they are able to keep perspective on the situation, empathise with others and soothe themselves and people around them. This leads to experiencing a strong connection with others and helping them to navigate difficult times.

By becoming mindful of the emotional state you are in, the more easily you can take control of the situation and change your responses. But how do you go about moving from below to above the line?

Facing your feelings

Feelings in our body are the best indicator of where we are emotionally. However, in the face of anxiety at work during COVID-19, many people will find themselves supressing these reactions and keeping a stiff upper lip so as not to cause stress and burden to others. As Yolanda states, “Stoicism at work is viewed as a mark of professionalism in the workplace…it’s something we are conditioned to do.”

However, the suppression of feeling, as she explains, can also lead to a downward spiral over time. “If we don’t create a habit of fully expressing our feelings, they get stuck…We create a resistance… and the old adage of ‘resistance equals persistence’ is never truer than with feelings. It translates into tension, headaches…they’re all manifestations of unexpressed feelings and they can build up over many years.”

In order to stop negative feelings festering over time, it’s important to release them and allow them to pass through your body.

Recognise and release – a simple meditation

Yolanda explains a simple technique that can be used to tap into your emotions and, ultimately, let them go. You can follow these steps as a simple meditation, closing your eyes in a quiet place where you will have no distractions for a few minutes.

  1. Name it – Take some deep breathes. Connect with what feelings are arising in you. There are generally five main types of feelings – anger, sadness, fear, joy and creative. Each of these has a distinct type of energy.
  2. Feel it – Listening to your body. Identify where and how these emotions are being held.
  3. Describe it – How does it feel? Feel in the body and pass through the body. Do you feel tension in your neck or chest? Is your stomach churning? Or is there a lightness in your heart? Feeling it in your body helps you to connect with the emotion.
  4. Welcome it – Accept the feeling and in doing so, tap into its ‘wisdom’. What can you learn from feeling this way? Anger may be indicating something is no longer serving you well. Fear may reveal and issue you need to face. Joy may be reminding you that something needs to be celebrated or done more often.
  5. Match it – Find a sound that matches the emotion you feel. It can be anything… a sigh, a laugh or a loud groan. It may feel a bit silly, but try and make the sound as you meditate (perhaps in a quiet spot where you feel less self-conscious). Notice the way the feeling shifts and is released.

Anxiety at work and other negative feelings will change on a regular basis. This process, will help you to become more mindful of your feelings. Practice will make progress.

Shifting states

A conscious transition is required to move between different states. Intention and attention are key.

  • Identify intentions that will serve you well. What things you want bring to your day or do differently? Curiosity, patience, kindness, limits are all good intentions.
  • Now identify what you need to pay attention to, to help shift the situation?
  • And finally, what does this shift mean for you directly, but also for the people around you?

We’re here to help

Moir Group are here to help our clients and candidates through this challenging time. Please contact us if you need assistance with progressing your career, finding a job or managing your team.

We’ve also put together a career resource centre to help you through COVID-19. Check it out here.

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