A panel of kick-ass speakers, their biggest venue yet, 100s of delegates with tickets, travel, and hotels booked — the coronavirus pandemic, and the near-global lockdown could’ve spelled disaster for Andrew and Pete and their grand plans for their April conference, ATOMICON20.
Happily for them (and their attendees!), their brains went straight into fight mode. Faced with an almighty stressor, they rose to the challenge. Instead of cancelling, postponing, or crying and eating their combined body weight in chocolate, they decided to hold the greatest virtual conference the world has ever seen.
Boy did they pull it off, somehow managing to create an entire month’s worth of stellar expert presentations, table talks, and virtual networking opportunities even in the midst of global panic.
And they’re not the only ones whose brain has decided to face the situation head-on — the number of ATOMICON attendees who showed up every day, who networked from dawn ‘til dusk, who are producing more ideas, more content, and making more money than ever, has blown my mind.
Mostly, because I’m not one of them.
Not even close. While these gorgeous little whirlwinds of activity are busy ‘pivoting’ (yes, I used pivot in these ‘unprecedented times’. No, I’m not sorry), I’m over here just trying to keep everything together.
For a while, I was ashamed to admit that I was barely clinging on.
Sure, I have a lot on my plate. I’m homeschooling my two kids. My husband is an essential worker and I’m mildly panicking about what germs he might be bringing home every day. Yes, my workload has taken a hit. Yes, I already have an anxiety disorder. But I know that my stress load is no heavier than anyone else’s right now.
And hey, as my husband rightly pointed out: I’ve been preparing for the shit to hit the fan for the last 20 years. That’s just how my brain operates, how it’s always operated. I’m ready for this. I was into stockpiling before the run on the supermarkets, and I’ve been meditating for way longer than the cool Zen kids 😉
So why hasn’t my brain kicked into fight mode? Why am I not creating screeds of content when writing usually brings me so much pleasure and comfort? Why am I not thinking of ways to pivot my business?
And why do you feel exactly the same way I do? Especially if you’re not someone for whom anxiety is a default state?
Suddenly you don’t give AF about future-based goals, projects, or dreams like you used to? That’s because your brain knows being short-sighted is a safer way to cope right now. Your plans, your creativity, energy, focus, and motivation are on a yo-yo right now because your brain believes you need to be EXTREMELY ADAPTIVE.
You will not be on this rollercoaster forever. Be patient with your brain.
Basically, you’re knackered because your anxious brain is burning energy 10 times faster than usual, you can’t focus because your prefrontal cortex (the part of your brain that deals with logic, reasoning, and planning) has partly reduced functionality, and your creativity has taken an almighty hit because your brain is overwhelmed with thoughts of survival like: ‘How the heck am I going to get to the shops?’, ‘are we running out of bog roll?’, and the biggie: ‘are we all gonna die?’
Freeze: when fight or flight isn’t an option.
If like our ancestors, we were facing down an avoidable threat like a saber-tooth tiger, or a rival tribe, we’d be heading for the hills right about now, firmly in ‘flight’ mode. Only, the current threat isn’t something we can run away from. Literally. The only place you can run is around your own house — and only once a day for an hour.
So if your brain hasn’t managed to kick into fight mode, there’s only one remaining option: freeze.
Now, as Alexis says, this isn’t forever. It sure feels like it right now, but I’m going to err on the side of optimism and believe that we will — eventually — have a cure or a vaccine for COVID-19.
But given that most estimates place that miraculous day at least a year from now, can your business hold on? Nope, mine neither. So realistically we’re going to have to take at least some action now to nudge our brains out of freeze mode and into something altogether more productive.
Simplify your business.
All of those things you’ve been meaning to do to make running your business easier? Now, my friends, is the time.
If you want to go big, think about outsourcing. What drives you mad in the day-to-day running of your business? Updating your books? Hire a bookkeeper. Keeping up with your social channels? Get yourself a VA. Creating your content? Talk to a content writer (*waves*).
I know that bringing someone else into your business right now seems counter-intuitive but the amount of headspace you’ll free up by outsourcing your most time-consuming or hated tasks will leave you with the energy you need to keep producing great-quality work, as well as giving you the bandwidth to replace any lost business.
Plus you’ll be helping fellow business owners stay afloat — that’s some great karmic juju right there.
If you want to start smaller, have a look at your email list. Fiona Robertson, my go-to graphic designer recommends creating filters for your inbox.
For example, she has one folder for receipts, another for WordPress updates, and another for newsletters that she’s subscribed to. That way, she says, she can ignore receipts until her monthly appointment with her accounts and save her newsletters for the odd occasion that she has time to sit down with a cuppa and read them in peace. It also means that when she logs in each morning, she isn’t bombarded with messages and her poor brain gets a little extra breathing room.
More productivity tips from Fiona.
Ramp up your self-care.
I know this one isn’t easy. Yes, you may be spending less time on client/paid work, but it doesn’t mean you’re sitting around all day looking for your next pandemic hobby. You have kids to home school, elderly or vulnerable relatives to shop for, and news bulletins to keep on top of…
But, given that the excrement has well and truly hit the fan, there’s never been a better time for you to work on those boundaries you’ve been meaning to create.
Of course, when it comes to self-care, it has to be a case of ‘you do you’.
Maybe a big ol’ glass of vino on a Friday gets you through, maybe it’s a clichéd )but lovely nonetheless) bubble bath, or maybe you just want to spend a couple of hours bingeing old Friends episodes.
Luckily (?) I already have an anxiety toolkit, and I’ve been careful to stick to my tried and tested self-care tactics. So, despite a rather large desire to sink myself into a bottle of Merlot, I’ve stuck to my non-alcoholic drinks, I’ve upped my mindfulness and meditation practices, I’ve kept up with my karate training, and I’m getting my yoga mat out as often as I can.
Yes, it’s every bit as clichéd as the bubble bath, but all scientifically proven to reduce the body’s stress responses. In fact, you remember the impaired prefrontal cortex I mentioned earlier? Research actually shows that regular meditation thickens the pre-frontal cortex, which is probably why meditators look so damn chill all the time!
If you’ve never struggled with mental health problems before (and I know that this pandemic has hit loads of you in ways you couldn’t have anticipated. You have my love and virtual hugs), be wary of that desire to hide away under your duvet.
Sure, we’re physically distancing ourselves, but social distancing is the last thing you need to be doing right now.
You see, at our very core, we’re pack animals (yup, even the introverts!). How else would our ancestors have taken down that woolly mammoth? And at times of stress, the need for other people increases significantly. It’s your primitive brain telling you that there’s safety in numbers, that if the rest of the tribe has your back, you might just survive the next threat. It’s also why we’re all craving hugs right now, why we love coming together (albeit apart) in our communities every Thursday night to clap for the NHS, and it’s why we’re reaching out to our neighbours in ways that we might not have done just three short months ago.
Of course, those of us working from home might have already adapted more than usual to the loneliness of lockdown, but it doesn’t mean that we can survive without any human contact. And while your usual networking groups might not be within reach right now, there are still plenty of ways to get a dose of human contact, whether it’s a Zoom call with a friend, an online exercise class, or even an online networking event.
Now, I know you already know this. I also know that you’re probably getting mighty sick of Zoom right about now. I feel you. But just consider this a friendly reminder that if you’ve been putting off calling your mum, your pal, whoever, now would be an awesome time to pick up the phone.
Stop stressing about your productivity (to become more productive).
Just to state the bleeding obvious: things are weird right now. And I don’t know about you but I don’t know what my brain is going to do from one day to the next. Today I might be loving lockdown (clear skies, baking cakes with the kids, more time for yoga), tomorrow I might be a weepy mess who can’t stop raiding the fridge.
I think the best thing any of us can do when we’re on the emotional ‘corona-coaster’ (don’t know where I picked that one up but I love it) is to just lean into whatever is going on. You might not be producing as much content as usual, having as many sales calls as usual, or acing the homeschooling — but you don’t have to.
Ultimately, be kind to yourself and go with whatever pace your stressed-out mind is dictating right now. You don’t have to ‘seize the opportunity’ created by a global crisis. And you sure as sh*t don’t have to come out of this smarter, richer, fitter, thinner, or more successful than you were when it began, no matter what you read on Instagram! Your dreams, goals, ambitions, and plans will still be waiting for you on the other side of this, I’m sure of it.