Thanks to Sarah Lewis, C.Psychol., for this guest post about keeping up morale! Sarah is the principal psychologist at Appreciating Change, a strengths-based psychological consultancy that is committed to applying well-researched positive psychology ideas and interventions to workplace challenges and opportunities at an individual, team or whole organization level. In the midst of the current crisis, Happy Brain Science is providing a space to cross-pollinate ideas and highlight the offerings of our colleagues in the field.
Morale Matters More Than Ever
As the virus threat and varying degrees of lockdown conditions continue, many of us are feeling much more anxious than usual. It’s easy for this to become a downward cycle of worry, lethargy and depression. The threat is real, and we can’t make it go away. But what we can do is boost our resilience, finding ways to keep our spirits up.
Two principles are particularly useful. First, managing anxiety takes mental strength and energy; if we don’t actively recharge, we will become depleted. Secondly, the state of our morale affects the state of our immune system. So if we pro-actively attend to our morale, we are also pro-actively attending to our health. (Though at this point I have to clarify that it doesn’t mean anyone who becomes ill wasn’t positive enough!)
Here are ten tips for managing anxiety and keeping your spirits up.
Tips for Keeping Up Morale
1. Count your blessings
The new science of positive psychology has proved the benefits of the old adage of counting your blessings. There is an exercise known as the ‘three good things’. At the end of each day, identify three good things that have happened during the day. It’s good practice to write them down. Doing this regularly helps train your brain to look for the positives amongst the gloom—to find the silver linings, if you like.
For instance, perhaps you saw a report in the paper about the positive effect of the lockdown for wildlife. You can find lots of similar exercises in Vanessa Keys’ excellent book: 10 Keys to Happier Living. Based on science, written for everyone, it is full of ideas for boosting your mood.
There is lots of evidence that laughing is good for us and for our immune system. Whatever rocks your funny bone! Remember, coronavirus may be no laughing matter, but we don’t have to be solemn to be serious. Laughing is a good coping mechanism. My favourite YouTube video, which seems particularly apt at this time, is Tripp and Tyler’s ‘A Conference Call in Real Life’. It makes me laugh every time.
A quick note on a form of humour that tends to arise during the most challenging of times, specifically ‘gallows’ humour. I worked as a social worker in child protection for many years. Gallows humour was crucial for getting us through the sadder and tougher times. It works to restore functionality quickly when a collapse into despair isn’t helpful, and it can be very effective. Laughter reduces threats to size. Be aware though, gallows humour doesn’t travel; it is very specific to the moment. Use it with caution and only with those with a similar mordant sense of humour.
3. Pro-actively managing your news feed and other anxiety amplifiers
We are being offered 24-hour, worldwide updates. Following this minute-by-minute is not likely to do you any good. You can’t influence things other than by taking the sensible precautions we’ve all been told about. So, take positive control and limit your daily diet. You might choose to read rather than watch the news. One benefit of this is that there is less ’emotional contagion’ from the written word than from a person’s voice, so there’s less transmission of anxiety.
What we want to do is replace anxiety with optimism that’s grounded in awareness about effective choices we can make. Two great resources with ideas about how to do this are Happy Brain Science’s ‘Choose Happiness at Work’ game and Positran’s ‘Positive Action Cards’. Choose Happiness @ Work contains over 100 science-based ideas for how to boost your mood and deal with common work challenges, such as ‘I work remotely, rarely seeing colleagues face to face’. The Positive Action Cards, also science-based, give easy-to-follow instructions for over sixty ways to increase your well-being.
4. If you have to worry, have a ‘worry half-hour’
Some of us are born worriers; suggestions of optimism only increase anxiety. If you are someone who finds worrying reassuring, try to limit it so it doesn’t become overwhelming. A time-honoured technique is ‘allowing’ yourself a specific allotted time to worry as much as you like. So, if you need to, spend a specified 15 or 30 minutes allowing yourself to name all your worries. Write them in a ‘dear diary’ if you like. Or arrange a strictly focused and time-limited phone call with another ‘worrywart’. And when your time is up, it’s up. Stop, close that box and move on with your day, knowing you have another half-hour of worry time allocated tomorrow. Allocating this time, and allowing yourself a good worry, should reduce the likelihood of doing your worrying in the small wee hours, which is the worst possible time to do it.
5. Get into flow and out of yourself
Just ‘not thinking about it’ is hard; we need to find things that take us out of ourselves. When we are completely absorbed in things, we are in a state of ‘flow’—and when we are in this state, we are not focused on our feelings. It’s like getting a holiday from your worried self.
For me writing, gardening, and complicated cooking (or these days ‘creating from what we have got to hand’) all offer me productive escape time. This is usually more effective than mindless TV watching (where half your brain is still ticking along thinking about it all). Sometimes it’s hard to get yourself over the initial hump into the activity, but once you’ve started to apply yourself, time falls away.
My book, Positive Psychology at Work, explains flow and other positive psychology concepts that might be useful right now. ‘Positive Organizational Development Cards’ take twenty of the key positive psychology concepts, including flow, and give you questions to help you explore them and brief ideas for action. Or you can go straight to the master’s voice and get Csikszentmihalyi’s classic book, Flow.
6. Eat well and exercise
You are no longer at the mercy of snack bars, train trolleys, airline catering, etc., as you skedaddle from one place to another. Make the most of it to eat healthily. Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is good for the immune system. Exercise is very important to both mental and physical health. You know the rules about keeping your distance. Put your face mask on and get out there and romp for an hour somewhere green.
I’ve started doing a morning workout with my ‘almost daughter’, through the wonders of the internet. She has Jo Wicks’ ‘Seven Days of Sweat’ (and I can tell you, she didn’t tell me it was called that before we started!) on the computer on her end, then we link up over FaceTime and she instructs me. It’s exhausting, I puff and sweat. It’s social time and I get a great feel-good buzz afterwards. The point is, I would never do it without her company.
7. Phone a friend
Social contact is another thing that is very important to our well-being. I am fortunate that I am marooned with my dear beloved. Even so, I am resolved to talk on the phone to at least one person who isn’t him every day. You might want to talk about the situation with others—that’s fine. However, I would suggest you also ask them about their plans for the day, what they are hoping to achieve during this period of lockdown, etc. Ideally you will both come away from the phone call feeling slightly better, not even worse!
8. Have longer-term projects on the go
‘Wise people’, someone once said, ‘prepare for the worse while hoping for the best’. Once you’ve done what you can to prepare for the worst, then turn your energy to hoping for the best.
Starting projects suggests an optimism about the future that becomes self-reinforcing. Uncertainty can act to paralyse us. By pro-actively starting a project we can break out of that paralysis. The hardest part is getting started, but once you do it will draw you forward. Apart from total house rearrangement, I’ve started a new tapestry kit. These take me years to complete. But every evening I can admire the couple of square inches I’ve completed and feel I’m making progress.
Positran offers another great set of cards called ‘Positive Transformation Cards’. They are resilience-building cards, full of uplifting quotes and insightful questions to help you boost your optimism, hopefulness, and self-confidence in a mindful way.
If you are feeling really stuck, and your thinking is just going round and round in circles, then you may need to take a more structured approach to pull yourself out of the mire. Usually we can rely on informal chats with colleagues to stimulate our thinking or generate ideas that haven’t occurred to us. Sometimes we just need to be asked a question that gives us a different take on the subject or causes us to make a new connection. You may already have a coach who can help you, but if not, people often self-coach. Self-coaching helps move you into more productive self-talk, which allows you find unexpected ways forward.
At My Best offers an excellent selection of forty-eight coaching questions in their ‘Good Question Cards’ pack. Alternatively, there is a set of six ‘Coaching Cubes’ with thirty-six questions, based on the PRISM coaching model, that you roll like dice, introducing an element of randomness and chance into the questions you’re asked.
10. Practice Appreciative Living
This tip takes us almost full circle. ‘Appreciative Living’, which is based on Appreciative Inquiry, is all about seeing and seeking out the best of life. We can’t deny the reality of a worldwide threat to our whole way of life, but we can still appreciate the things that make life worth living, today. Developing an appreciative eye, especially in times such as these, takes practice and isn’t always easy. But the benefit to our health, well-being, state of mind and ability to remain pro-active in the face of threat—in fact, to our resilience—is beyond question. Keeping doing all the things you need to do to stay safe, and start living appreciatively at the same time.
Jackie Kelm is the guru of Appreciative Living, and you can find her videos on YouTube and her latest book, Appreciative Living, on Amazon. Or try the Appreciative Inquiry card pack, with pictures, quotes and questions. Or you might find Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management by Lewis, Passmore and Cantore, of interest for a more work-oriented explanation.
Take Good Care
In conclusion, the key during these challenging times is to take care of yourself—look after your mental and physical health, and ensure your morale gets a boost every day.
Thank you to Sarah for this post! Sarah collects great positive psychology resources (like Choose Happiness @ Work) to support consultants, trainers, and coaches in their work, which she sells through her online Positive Psychology Shop, along with her self-designed products. We’d love to hear from you—what’s helping you keep up morale right now? And how are you helping boost morale for others? Thanks for sharing your tips in the comments below, or at happysupport <at> happybrainscience.com.