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Stay-at-home orders can make you feel a little nutty.
(Me in 1980. Not sure why I had my pants on my head, or why my Dad had the camera ready)

Advice for managing emotions during the pandemic

Dealing with the physical health challenges of a pandemic, especially during allergy season, is paramount for all of us. But what about our emotional health? We’re all feeling the stress of working from home (if we’re lucky), working in public or not working at all. Even folks quarantining with others are experiencing isolation and frustration. Loneliness is nipping at our heels. And we’re all worrying if that cough is because we swallowed a bug or have COVID-19. There’s a lot for our brains to handle.

While it’s easy to feel a little helpless right now, it’s really important to remember that there are things we can do to boost our emotional wellbeing. 

I first tackled this topic with my friend, psychologist Fox Vernon, a couple of weeks ago. Judging by the response to that post, staying mentally healthy is a highly relevant subject, so I decided to revisit it with two other professionals:

Katherine Prakken, Chapel Hill, NC-based psychologist
Jim Weinstein, DC-area psychotherapist, life and career counselor

Q. If you could only give one piece of advice for staying emotionally healthy during quarantine, what would it be and why?

Prakken: Keep to your usual routine as much as possible. Don't stay in pajamas all day. Be productive. Every single day. Even if it’s just for just half an hour. Returning a call, folding laundry, cleaning out a drawer - any of those things will create an immediate mood benefit. Too much unproductive, unstructured free time makes most of us feel anxious and at loose ends. 

Weinstein: Practice gratitude. As bad as things may get for many of us, unless you are literally dying you can be grateful for gifts like loved ones, relative health, the wonders of nature – particularly as Spring arrives. Dwell on those things consciously every day.

Q. What’s a common mistake we make when it comes to managing stress?

Prakken: Trying to manage things that are outside of our control. For example, trying to manage the pandemic by obsessively reading everything available will escalate fear and anxiety. Instead, focus on a small, manageable goal. For example, give money to a charity, sew a mask, or focus on finding a creative activity for your kids which decreases their boredom and fighting and hence decreases your stress. 

Weinstein: Also, for those spiritually inclined, prayer. The Serenity Prayer is always worth turning to: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change – like the state of the economy – the strength to change the things I can – like getting off your bum and walking a mile or two – and the wisdom to know the difference. So many of us – myself included – reach for soothers like comfort food, alcohol, weed, nicotine, etc. In moderation these are OK, but it’s hard to keep them in moderation when you’re stressed. Shift your focus from anxiety and unproductive worrying to staying mentally engaged in a task. For example, studying up on something like a new skill or a foreign language. Audio learning could also be great for many people.

Q: How important is exercise? 

Weinstein: Mental and emotional factors are inextricably entwined with physical ones. Prolonged uncertainty creates anxiety that has measurable physical impact, like higher levels of hormones that create inflammation, for example, which is damaging to all sorts of bodily systems. Exercise releases stress-relieving endorphins and will just make you feel better about yourself. 

Q: Is there anything friends and family can do to help someone who is feeling isolated, sad or hopeless besides encouraging them to talk to a doctor? 

Prakken: For those feeling lonely: Regular brief contact. No lengthy conversations needed. A daily text or email or shared funny video has huge impact for someone who is disengaged from others. With those who are struggling the most, schedule a daily talking time so they have something to look forward to.

For people experiencing sadness or hopelessness: Validate the reality of their feelings, then move to distraction. There are examples all around us of things that are not sad and hopeless. Share uplifting stories or images with those stuck in despair. Remind them that this situation is temporary. Talk about plans for after this period passes. Do not try to deny the reality of their sadness but balance it. Help them prioritize facts over feelings. Suicide prevention hotlines are still active. Provide these resources to anyone who needs them. Encourage them to attend online support groups even if the issue is not an exact fit. For example, Al-Anon and AA have online meetings that can be very useful. 

Q: For folks quarantining with others, what are some ways to decrease conflicts? 

Prakken: In our typical world, interpersonal dynamics are played out in many realms - with coworkers, friends, teachers, etc. In quarantine, it all gets distilled down to interactions and trying to get needs met with the one person or few persons with whom you live. You may end up holding them unfairly responsible for too many of your emotional needs and upsets. You may expect them to do things the way you do, know what you want, make your life easier, juggle work and parenting, manage their moods, be emotionally available and present, pay you attention but also give space. They will inevitably fail at some or all of these things. My favorite coping skill is always "Be kind, not right". Now more than ever, embracing kindness is so much more important than proving your loved one wrong, or fighting over dumb stuff. This leads to my second favorite coping skill: “Don’t sweat the small stuff” (And it’s all small stuff). This is the time to love each other anyway. Practice tolerance and compassion. Know that people have to put up with your warts, too. 

Weinstein: And fess up. Acknowledge the stress you’re under. If you snap at someone, apologize rather than holding on to resentment. And if they snap at you, put yourself in their shoes and remember the stress is hard on them, too.

Q: Any final thoughts?

Prakken: Try to build resilience, which can help us contextualize, have a sense of humor, keep trying even when it's hard to. Resilience allows us to be less reactive and respond less emotionally. Practical ways to build resilience include getting adequate sleep and daily exercise, avoid under or overeating, be in nature as much as possible, and immerse yourself in art, literature, humor or music.

Weinstein: It’s important to remember that the sun will come out again. Even with trillions of dollars being authorized to assist the faltering economy, we’re going to have a long, and I think slow, road back. But even if it’s a long time coming, today is the time to start planning for a brighter future. Learn something new, think entrepreneurially, strengthen existing relationships and build new ones. 

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Photo by Margot Lester. All rights reserved
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There have been a lot of good articles about content marketing, brand journalism and leadership communications during the pandemic. I created a Flipboard magazine to capture some of the best, including pieces from Scott Monty, The Reputation Institute and the Nieman Foundation. I hope you find this information as useful as I did. Be well.

Click to see the articles

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Animal reminds you to breathe, via GIPHY

These are strange days, indeed. Even if you're a pro at working remotely, even if you like a cave-like existence, forced isolation can be emotionally challenging. I asked my good friend Fox Vernon, a professional therapist, to share some tips for staying emotionally healthy right now.

4 ways to lower anxiety and stress from a certified therapist

There are tons of things we can do to reduce anxiety. Vernon suggests starting by asking others what they're doing or watching others who seem to be coping and copying what looks like it will work for you.

More concretely, though, he offers these suggestions:

  1. Keep doing what works. "Whatever is working for you now, or has worked for you in the best, keep doing or start doing that again, and do more of it," he says. If that involves exercise, do check in with your doctor first.
  2. Cut yourself some slack. "We are all going to regress. We are all going to fall back on bad habits. Frankly, we may need to do this sometimes. So, take the step of showing some self-love, and give yourself permission not to be perfect as you do your best to respond to the crisis that is in front of you," Vernon counsels.
  3. Breathe! It's very simple, but it works. "Whenever you feel overwhelmed, just take a deep breath through your nose, hold it for a count of three, and then exhale through your nose, allowing yourself to make as much noise as you can.
  4. Do the crazy dance. "I learned this from a wise client," he laughs. "After a particularly stressful situation or encounter, find a private space and dance around wildly for 15 to 20 seconds, shaking all your limbs, jumping up and down, and even hooting and hollering if no one will hear you. This spasmodic release is a great way to have your body tell your mind to let go of anxiety and enjoy life!"

3 more tips for reducing stress

I'm not a professional counselor, nor have I played one on TV, but I do I have a three tips of my own to share:

  1. Ask for a hand. This is a hard one -- I know because nobody likes riding in on a big horse and looking invincible more than I do -- but it's really important not to try to do everything yourself. Be open to asking others for specific support -- a video call for companionship, help getting your taxes together, etc. Today a friend of mine who owns a retail store asked me to help her write a letter to customers. I was happy to say yes. Which brings me to a corollary:
  2. Be of service. It feels good when we help others. So look for opportunities like buying a gift card at the local coffee place or ordering takeout for curbside pickup. Take some items to the local foodbank -- donations are down as need is skyrocketing. Contribute to community funds for service workers. It feels good to help.
  3. Zone out. Supposedly nature has all kinds of calming and restorative properties, so I've been tuning into various zoos' and aquariums' webcams. You can float in a kelp bed for some relaxation, or check out a bunch of penguins or sea otters to make you giggle.

We're in this together, but we gotta start by taking care of ourselves. Reach out if we can help you with something.

Heart icon on The Word Factory's nonprofit services page
Be well.

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For high-touch (literally) businesses like salons and fitness studios, or high-occupancy businesses like airlines, communicating about COVID-19 is a requirement. Here's a great example of how to do that from barre3 Chapel Hill, where I work out twice a week.

What's good about it

It starts off showing us that the studio is paying attention to the CDC recommendations, and reiterates the local team's commitment to cleanliness and health. That reinforces my confidence that my safety and wellbeing are important to them.

The inventory of things they're doing to keep the germs at bay illustrates the tangible actions they're taking. It clearly establishes that they are taking this seriously and are making tangible operational changes. (Delta also does a good job of this in its web message.)

The list of things clients should do reminds us of our responsibility to our studio community. The offer of home workouts is a good incentive to keep dedicated barre3ers at home if they're sick.

Plain language ensures the information is easy to consume and comprehend. It also helps keep the message concise. The subheads enable easy skim-and-scan for the information I care most about.

What would make it better

My only ding is the impersonal sign-off. I would have liked to see the names of the team, or at least the owner or studio manager. When our emotions are high, hearing from a person we trust is important. Yes, I trust the "barre3 CH team", but in this case, having someone's name there strengthens my existing trust in the organization and creates a sense that the leadership/decisionmakers are personally accountable. It's not a deal-breaker, though. (For an example, see the letter from United chief Oscar Munoz, who signed with his first name.)

Use these examples of effective COVID-19 communications from small are large businesses to guide your outreach to clients.

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Does the thought of grammar make you feel like this? via GIPHY

A holiday that strikes fear in the hearts of many.

Thanks to school, most of us have strong feelings about grammar. Fear. Loathing. Frustration.

That's largely because we don't really do a great job of teaching grammar in school. It's frequently out of context. Or unexplained and therefore seemingly arbitrary. Because rules.

Here's my take on grammar. It is super important, of course. But most of us worry about it at the wrong time.

Drafting? Don't worry about grammar.

Revising? Fix any grammatical errors you find, but don't sweat over it.

Proofreading? Lean in, baby!

The best time to focus on grammar is at the end of the process. After all, we and our revising friends are likely to create errors as we go, so why invest time and energy on something so technical in those early parts of the writing process?

If you're good at grammar, you probably quit reading this post a few grafs ago. If you're still here, offer your services to those of us who may not be similarly gifted. We need you!

If grammar isn't your thing, you're not alone. If you don't have a grammar expert in your midst, there are tools that can help you catch at least the most egregious grammatical errors.

  • MS Word has a grammar checker built right in. Like it's cousin, spell checker, it's pretty good, but not perfect.
  • Grammarly is an app that has a decent free version and robust paid version (we use the free one, personally; several of our clients bought into the paid version).

Use these resources to uncover your grammatical habits so you can learn from your mistakes. By looking at repeated errors and how they're corrected, you can improve your ability to understand and fix them yourself.

Now, go celebrate!

Carolina Basketball Coach Roy Williams and team cheering (probably not for grammar, though) via GIPHY

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