It’s 6am on a typical weekday morning. I’m downstairs in the kitchen savoring my first cup of coffee while catching the headlines on television. It’s been a few weeks since Hurricane Irma decimated Florida along with many islands in the Caribbean. Puerto Rico has been hit with a Category 5 storm and the island is struggling to recover with limited food, water, fuel and power. A terrible earthquake hit Mexico City and sports has collided with politics over players' decisions to "take a knee" during the national anthem. So many grim reports. I sip my caffeine while the news runs in the background and I contemplate a busy day ahead.
My agency is in the process of launching several media advertising campaigns at the moment, months of hard work finally coming to fruition. I’m in full media management mode, exactly where I belong. Once I get to the office I’ll be consumed with all the final implementation details including trafficking creative deliverables, dropping tracking pixels, tweaking conversion goals in Google Analytics, and much more. I’ve always enjoyed this phase of the media campaign setup process because it’s a bit intense (like I am) and requires a high level of organization and attention to detail. I’m in project management nirvana and it feels great!
I’m pulled back from my work-related musings by the talking heads on my kitchen TV. The hosts appear a bit agitated and their tone carries an unusual sense of urgency, even considering the recent spate of horrific natural disasters. I tune back in and find out that overnight, two world leaders have started playing a dangerous verbal game of nuclear armageddon ping pong with each other. Adding to the ensuing chaos, much of this twisted exchange is being carried out on Twitter.
This is the kind of external stress that infiltrates a person’s entire body. It sucks you into a fog of anxiety requiring your brain to spend precious energy just learning to adapt to a new sense of disruption, minute by minute It’s not easy to talk about your fears because some are too terrifying to contemplate. So you remain mute, desperate with worry and angst while you go about your day. You know things have gone far beyond those “duck and cover” drills of your parents’ and grandparents’ school days. There’s no desk to hide under that will protect us from ourselves.
Meanwhile, the stock market will open, telemarketers will keep calling, my mortgage is still going to be due on the first of the month, and the work (always) awaits. So, how do we process these potentially debilitating world and national events without losing our sense of purpose or our sanity? How do we keep our businesses going in the midst of this type of stress?
Surprisingly, a Google search revealed little written about this topic. The keywords, “stress” and “business” produced a slate of articles on the stress of running a business, but don’t quite touch upon my theme. Other articles tout the danger of “workplace stress” or the “high price of a stressed out employee.” Again, not exactly what I’m looking for. Those articles suggest solutions such as daily exercise, keeping a journal, meditation and taking your dog for a walk. All good ideas, but not specifically directed at this topic. Perhaps the lack of advice is because things have never been quite this critical before?
I decide to post my question on my Twitter feed. After all, if @POTUS can do it, why can’t I? I recognize I may be opening myself up to possible outlandish comments, but I figure it’s a way to collect data quickly, even if it’s not scientific.
The text of my tweet reads:
“I'm writing about managing stress at work in the face of recent critical world events. Pls. tell me how you balance ur stress. Besides #wine.”
An hour or more goes by and not one tweet in response! Apparently, I'm on my own.
Let's consider a few of my own personal coping mechanisms:
Stay informed but give yourself a break from the news cycle occasionally. I have friends and associates who seem to have become fully immersed in the news, all day, every day. I see how that can happen but it can’t be healthy. Personally, I’m trying to maintain a high enough level of understanding without listening to these stories repetitively throughout my day. Morning and evening exposure gives me just enough.
Find someone you trust who is willing to hash out the news with you. Holding your worry and fear inside is a terrible feeling. I find that talking about my interpretations of world events with a trusted friend or colleague is helpful and allows me to blow off a little steam once in awhile so I can go on with my day.
Acknowledge joy in your life. This is a big one for me. It’s easy to take things for granted and fall into despair when you are stressed out. Deliberately recognizing what brings you happiness, pleasure or satisfaction is so important. Yesterday I printed out a poem that my daughter wrote a few years back. This poem makes me smile and think of her. It’s one very small example of a simple, but meaningful approach to staying focused on the positive.
There are no easy answers to managing stress in this chaotic world. We’re human and can’t help but bring our emotions and anxieties into our workplaces. Ideally, we'd have more confidence in our leaders to negotiate long-term solutions to keeping us safe.
While we wait for them to do their jobs, I see no other alternative than to seek out peace in our hearts and try to share it with each other. One person at a time.