By Aaron Williams, CEO, Mindstar
There is an old saying in the mental health world:
“If you want to give someone an anxiety disorder, give them uncertainty.”
In our new, constantly changing, COVID-19 world, how much uncertainty do we now have? In every area of our lives.
The COVID-19 crisis is very different to anything that we have experienced before. It is a crisis that is unprecedented for most of us, as unlike a bushfire, drought, cyclone, or recession, it affects every single one of us at the same time.
And the hardest part is that we don’t really know when it is going to end…
Every Australian industry has been knocked around in some way by the crisis. Some more than others. But no industry has been more effected, or has more ongoing uncertainty, than the events industry.
There are three stages of COVID-19 that I speak to organisations about:
Stage 1: Initial shock & denial – Which included feelings of stress, disbelief, anxiety and for some even panic. My mother-in-law still has the 32-pack of toilet paper rolls in the cupboard to prove it.
Stage 2: Riding the wave – This is where we struggle with the ongoing uncertainty and anxiety of the roller coaster ride while we try and “flatten the curve”, and the daily and weekly changes to the social isolation and travel guidelines. The challenge is that no-one is sure how long this stage will last?
Stage 3: Recovery – Yes, this stage will come! This thing will pass. Importantly, we all need to remind ourselves of this. We also need to make sure that we are all focused on the recovery so that when it does, we are ready to inspire, re-energise and re-unite our teams as we emerge out the other side.
Right now, we are all busy “riding the wave”. With some of us are having more success dealing with the stress and uncertainty of this stage than others.
So how do we all keep ourselves, and our teams, focused on the coming “recovery”, while we all are individually experiencing so much uncertainty and anxiety? When there is so much that is outside of our control?
The secret is this… We all need to have a better understanding of how our brains work.
Because while our human brains are a part of the solution, they are also a major part of the problem.
Because my brain, your brain, every person on the planet’s brain is constantly telling us stories. Chattering away to us all day, every day…
Bla, bla, bla, bla, bla, bla, bla…
We all have constant “brainchatter”.
The problem is, our brains don’t always tell us positive stories. They often tell us negative stories. Particularly during times of crisis or uncertainty…
So for those of us in the events industry, the constant stories that our brains are telling us might be questions like:
How long is this pandemic going to last?
Will there be a second wave?
When are live events going to be able to return?
When will the borders be opened?
What is the huge downturn in business going to mean for my organisation?
How is this going to affect me?
What if I lost my job?
How would I pay the mortgage?
How would I pay the rent?
What about the kids’ school fees?
How would I make ends meet?
Could I even find a different job in this environment?
Constant brain chatter. This constant negative brain chatter can lead to you feeling stressed, anxious, or always focusing on the worst case scenario.
So what can you do?
The first thing to do is to become aware of the unique story that your brain regularly tells you…
What is your brain story?
Is it the “I’m not good enough” story. Or the “I’m going to fail” story?” Or is it the “I need to worry about the future” story?
What is it that you find yourself catastrophising about?
Write it down.
Because once you identify the story that your brain is telling you, then you can be aware that this is simply your brain telling you a story. It’s not real.
It’s fake news!
Yes, we all have worries and concerns about how this pandemic is going to affect our life and work into the future. However, catastrophic thinking regarding future events – that may never actually happen – does not help.
Instead, what we can do is try and focus on what we can control, and what we can do today and tomorrow and the next day… And especially what we should be most grateful for, right now and into the present. Things like the people we love, the beautiful country we live in, and the bright future that we all share.
We all need to learn to train our brain.
Because the good news is that just like you can train your heart and lungs and muscles to improve your physical health, you can also train your brain to improve your wellbeing and mental fitness.
In the next edition, I will talk about the very simple, practical ways that you can start to train your brain to deal with uncertainty, stress and anxiety.
The benefit is that if you do experience a little dip on your life rollercoaster, you don’t spiral further downwards, but instead with braintraining and resilience, you continue on upwards to the other side.
Aaron Williams, is the CEO & co-founder of Mindstar, a leading wellbeing and mental health organisation. Aaron’s mission is to crush the stigma associated with seeking support for mental health – and to give people the knowledge, inspiration and tools to improve and maintain their wellbeing. To check out how Aaron can work with your organisation or speak at your upcoming event, contact Keith Harwood at Inspire Speakers on firstname.lastname@example.org