“There was a lot of conversation pre-Covid around how to talk about or even teach people, resilience. Because it is a teachable skill. And then, all of a sudden, we have this experience. Unfortunately, this is going beyond resilience. And we’re getting burned out,” said Donielle Buie, HR Leader and Work/Life Expert.
Many of us were drowning pre-pandemic. But we patched together ways to make it mostly work. Until Covid obliterated the workarounds. So now, we’re somewhere between revolution and evolution. We may have better childcare options coming. But right now, it’s still hard to find. And leaders continue to debate if the future of work, is a remote one. Yet, the demands on our time continue to increase.
Calendars are full again. But most of us still have more to do, with less support. So, how can we resist the return to life at a dizzying speed?
Resist the Pull to What we Had
Of course, it’s not over yet. And the pandemic is more than Covid-19. It’s framed a social justice reset and economic meltdown. And many are grieving, lost loved ones, livelihoods and health. So even the idea of a return, to the office or the birthday party circuit, can feel jarring. And scary.
We’ve had a long pause in how we engage with the outside world. And less social commitments. But we can reflect and decide what’s in our best interest. “Now that I know how it feels to have breaks, how can I remain connected to the experience of not feeling rushed? And not get pulled back into how things were?” said Dr. Charmain Jackman, Clinical Psychologist and Entrepreneur.
It’s Okay to Reprioritize. Again
We’ve now surveyed over 2,000 parents, mostly Moms (97%.) And although it’s been draining, parents in our study appreciate the pandemic’s surprising gifts. Including for many, renewed alignment between their values and how they spend time. Charmain explained that we have choices. The kids don’t have to be in a million activities. She said, “With young kids there’s a lot of pressure to put them in everything. And I think about how it felt, not to run around all the time in traffic, bouncing from one thing to the next. The kids are less anxious and they’re not as cranky. So, notice what those differences are from before and after Covid, for yourself and your children.”
And Donielle, who is focused on restoring balance to the workplace said, “So, there are practical coping skills we’ve learned, like being more adaptable and agile. And prioritization has been become a huge thing. Because there’s a lot of stuff that just couldn’t get done. And it was probably good because maybe, it didn’t need to get done.” Amen!
Charmain suggests daily practices to manage through life’s challenges. She said, “It helps you navigate the ups and downs of life. If you’re breathing, you’re going to have them.” Sigh. Exactly. And she encourages us to be honest and compassionate with ourselves as we decide what to keep from the pandemic routines. She said, “With any habit that you want to develop, there’s always a struggle not to fall back into what was. Because what you know is comfortable and easy to go back to. The hard part is to persist. But people can choose what to hold onto.”
Pay Attention to Your Triggers
Stressors abound. And for anyone who has suffered trauma in the past, they may be feeling more anxious. Social justice progress is exciting but in communities of color, it’s also triggering. Some surveyed parents have expressed fatigue from the ongoing threats to their wellbeing. Or the difficult process of grief. Charmain said, “It’s important to recognize the signs within you and when you’re getting activated. There’s a lot of research around it but our minds and our bodies are connected. And any emotional stress that’s happening most of the time, manifests in our bodies first.” Once we receive that alert, like shallow breathing or stomach tightening, what can we do about it?
And How to Wind Down
Charmain said, “When I work with someone who comes in for the first time with anxiety, they often say, ‘It comes out of nowhere!’ So, we use the subjective units of distress to track the different levels of stress. And I ask, ‘What were you were thinking about? And how did it feel in your body? Then people can develop more awareness. They’ll say, ‘Oh my goodness, at a five, this is what happens. And if I don’t do anything differently it can escalate.’ Bravo!
She added, “A lot of us know we’re stressed but we don’t do anything about it right away. So, it comes back to that compassion for yourself. If you notice that you’re stressed, how can you give yourself permission to step back? To take a day off or go in an hour late? What are the things that you can do, to reset and get back to that place where you feel more in balance?”
Seek Connection with Others
Although most surveyed parents are surrounded by family, they still feel lonely or disconnected from friends, family and support. So, seeking connection with people you enjoy, can help. And that includes colleagues at work. Donielle believes valuing relationships at work, is integral to healthier work cultures. She said, “We used to say ‘it’s the people that matter.’ And now, we’ve literally lived that. Because we couldn’t connect with people. And we took that for granted before. So, how do you elevate that? And value it once we can interact with each other again?” Yes. She added, “And as a leader, how do I help to make sure that people feel valued and make that a very tangible thing.”
And Build in Daily Maintenance for Your Mind
Charmain talks to patients about the three ‘M’s’. Creating a positive mindset, being mindful and noticing the mind/body connection. She said, “I have emphasized within the mindset framework, to practice gratitude. So, I’m intentional about reflecting on the things that are going well in my life. It’s very easy to look at life and see what’s wrong.” So true.
She explained, “I woke up this morning and thought about the things I’m grateful for. It helps you to start your day a different way. And reflecting on the things you’re grateful for, helps you to end your day with a different mindset. So, you’re not thinking about all the things you didn’t accomplish, failed at or feel guilty about. Thinking about things that you’re grateful for, allows you to shift your focus.”
And Consider Professional Help
Charmain, a fierce advocate for therapy access said, “This is an extraordinarily challenging time. And it’s a great opportunity to challenge any negative values about therapy and try it. Because it can be really helpful.” She understands not everyone can find or afford therapists right now. She said, “If you work for a larger employer, you may have access to an employee assistance program (EAP.)” Charmain launched a directory, InnoPsych to find therapists of color and most health plans have lists of providers that take your insurance.
As more activities creep onto the schedule, offices reopen and vacation photos return to social media, it may feel like it’s too soon. It’s okay to need more time for your emotional reopening. Resilience isn’t like a shield that everyone can use in the same way. And not everyone is having the same pandemic experience.
On the overwhelming days, remember that you get to choose what your return looks like. You don’t have to adhere to rules that don’t serve you. And somehow, after the most trying life experiences, we emerge with new superpowers. Strengths that uniquely prepare us for what’s next.
Share your pandemic experiences! How are the latest changes affecting your life? It’s quick and the results from this study are used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
Many thanks to the talented Donielle Buie & Dr. Charmain Jackman!
Donielle Buie is Director, Broadie Experience and Total Rewards at Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. She also runs WifeMotherLeader where she supports families solving real, everyday programs from her podcast, blog and coaching programs. Donielle is an experienced educator, project manager, sales director, and mother. Her experience as a parent and background in market research led her to identify the need for WifeMotherLeader. Donielle has a BS in biomechanical engineering and a Masters in Education, both from Stanford University.
Charmain F. Jackman, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist of Barbadian heritage and the Founder & CEO of InnoPsych, Inc.
Growing up in a culture where the stigma of mental health was pervasive, but therapists of color were not, she decided that she was going to change that. Dr. Jackman has spent the last 20 years working with people of color (POC) in hospitals, clinics, courts and schools, and has consistently observed that POCs long for therapists who look like them—who understand them and who will do right by them! That knowledge has inspired Dr. Jackman to make it easier for POC to find therapists of color! She also wants to change the negative views of therapy and to educate POC about the necessity of taking care of their mental health and to empower communities to heal.