7 tips for leaders on coping with anxiety about the Coronavirus

The rejuvenation you anticipate each spring has now been abruptly cut off by the coronavirus crisis.

You don’t know if you should plan the company event or your son’s graduation party. You’ve canceled work travel plans, but the work still builds up. Your children are bored and want to know when they can play sports. Everyone at home has cabin fever. You’ve outgrown your freezer. Your investment portfolio is tanking, and you can’t even meet your friends for coffee or a beer to commiserate because you are quarantined to your home.

Here are immediate actions you should take: 

  1. Ask yourself, “What is my tolerance for uncertainty?”

    These times are a test of our resilience. Now is an opportunity to develop tenacity and to teach those around you the same. You are a role model.

    Our ability to succeed and be happy in life is not only determined by what we know. Lots of people have management skills and are good at building relationships. But far less people can rebound from strife, remain positive in adversity, have grit to stare fear in the face, hold steady and know that you have everything you already need to prevail.

    The lighthouse doesn’t crash onto the rocks no matter how rough the storm. Be the lighthouse.


  2. Acknowledge that this is scary for you, your family and your colleagues.

    At my staff meeting this week I opened with, “This is a difficult time. Let’s just stop for a minute and share what’s going on with us right now.” That moment of reflection allowed everyone to step back, take a breath and exhale all the emotional churn that had festered.

    In this safe space I witnessed a human sigh of authenticity. There were tears. There was fear. There was frustration. Once all the emotions were shared and discussed there was compassion. People offered to help each other. Solutions to personal concerns were created. There was shared meaning. We saw each other instead of just ourselves.

    What was even more amazing is that after the emotional discord was given room to clear, we got innovative work done with total focus. Our best work in a while happened this week.

    I asked the same question that began my staff meeting at home that night. It created the same safe place for sharing. Fear released and honest dialogue emerged.


  3. Set boundaries to watching the news and the stock market.

    Not much changes in an hour or three. Get your news from a reliable source. Commit to check the news only once a day. Don’t sit around all day watching news and markets you can’t control because in a crisis this leads to anxiety for you and everyone around you.

    You can’t change anything that is being reported. You can only manage your choices.

    Don’t engage in long pervasive discussions about the coronavirus. The future is unknown. Long dialogues can become repetitive, breed fear and simply recycle what is already known, leading to more anxiety.


  4. Commit to stay in the moment with personal development or a home project.

    Mindful deep breathing and setting a daily intention are calming techniques good for any day. In a crisis they are particularly helpful because they are actionable.

    Start the day with a deep breath and purposefully choose one thing that you will accomplish today.

     If you work remotely or have time on your hands watch the webinars or online trainings you’ve wanted to complete. Research top podcasts in your areas of interest.

    Resurrect a craft project you’ve set aside. Sketch. Paint. Knit. Woodwork. Organize family photos or create a photo book. Clean your car. Refresh bookcases. Rearrange furniture. Send a handwritten note to people you care about.

    Write down goals for the rest of 2020. Play board games. Streamline automatic online bill-paying. Clean out your closets. Organize your pantry or linen closet. Spring clean. Put your winter clothes away.


  5. Schedule a weekly virtual meeting with members of your family and your remote team.

    Humans are meant to be connected, not quarantined. Don’t become isolated, lonely or alone. Purposefully schedule a regular time each week where you will connect with people you lead and care about via Facetime, Zoom Skype or other platform. Host a virtual happy hour where team members wear their favorite hat.


  6. Connect with nature.

    Go outside while respecting social distancing. Spend time on your patio. Go for a walk or run. Visit a park. Open a window. In Italy and Germany residents sing on their patios or applaud healthcare workers at the same time each evening to feel connected.

    Organize something similar in your complex or neighborhood. A breath of fresh air is reinvigorating. It is spring!


  7. Adopt a “We are all in this together” mindset.

    If there was ever a time that we need strong leaders it is now. People look to you to set the pace. Mr. Rogers reminded us that in times of crisis we should look for the helpers.

    Be the helper. Lead with purpose and the people you affect will never forget it. Inquire about how those close to you are dealing with this crisis. Offer to grocery shop for a shut-in.

    Organize a virtual meeting to see who needs help. Post on social media ways you are willing to serve. Donate to fundraisers that support hospital personnel or restaurants that are delivering free food to hospitals.

     Although the current mandate is to ‘social distance’ from people to keep safe we aren’t really doing that. We are physically distancing to keep safe.

    As humans we naturally want to connect so don’t isolate. Pick up a pen and write to someone you haven’t seen in a while. Call an old friend. Schedule a family call. We must remember that in the end we are all walking down the same road in life. Sometimes we reach out for a hand to hold and sometimes we must be the hand that takes it.

Mary Lee Gannon, ACC, CAE is an executive coach and corporate CEO who helps busy leaders get off the treadmill to nowhere to be more effective, earn more, be more calm and enjoy connected relationships with the people who matter while it still matters. Watch her FREE Master Class training on Three Things to Transform Your Life and Career Right Now at www.MaryLeeGannon.com