During a Crisis, Leaders Need to Destress Daily
Randy Wolken, President & CEO

We live in a stress-filled time. COVID-19 has dramatically impacted all of us. It’s a daily rollercoaster. In the morning, we may be full of energy and by noon we need an extended break. And, by the end of the day, we may feel like we have been hit by a truck. The opposite may be true tomorrow. The morning may be tough, and in the afternoon we get news or a call from someone that lifts our spirits. This rollercoaster typically lacks a pattern – other than the predictability that we will be stressed during each day and it is likely to be meaningfully different from day to day. This is a unique challenge for all of us – especially leaders.

I know I get on the rollercoaster daily. How can we prepare to thrive in this environment? We need to build routines before, during, and after the day to destress. We need to build a new way in which we function—a new normal.

Some organizations are built to operate during a crisis every day—potentially most of the day. Individuals who work in them must be able to function effectively. First responders, military units, and medical emergency rooms are just a few of these types of organizations. So, how do these leaders and their teams handle daily, often life-threatening, situations? They create everyday routines to prepare for the stress and also prepare to destress during and after their days. Honing these routines create a learned set of skills that allow them to function and remain healthy. When other types of leaders are put into this type of situation, they too need to create new routines that allow them to destress and function for extended periods of time.

I spent the better part of a decade living, learning, and working to effectively respond during high crisis situations. I was blessed to see how the best leaders responded and lived healthy lives during these periods. I also saw how some leaders did not respond well to these high stakes work environments. Without the proper routines, leaders and individuals burn out or go off the rails. It can have devastating results for them, their families, and their teammates.

Crisis situations demand higher amounts of interaction, structure, physical stamina, quick decision-making, and scheduled rest and downtime. The body is not a machine. High levels of stress and uncertainty can quickly unravel the best of leaders and teams. Creating new or enhancing existing routines during these situations in your life is crucial. And, you can start today by adding what is missing into your daily routines.

We can learn quickly to exercise more, sleep more, take routine breaks, and give ourselves time for what we enjoy. We can regulate how much of the news we consume and spend time in person or digitally with friends and family. Humans have an amazing capacity to change quickly – if they choose to do so. I have seen it firsthand.

What are you doing to quickly adjust to this crisis situation? How can you add key ingredients for new routines and structure into your life? Can you start a new, incremental exercise plan or increase the one you have? How will you start getting more sleep and rest away from the worry and uncertainty that surrounds all of us? How can you encourage colleagues, family, and friends to also destress and add healthy routines to their lives?

In periods of challenge, we can develop a clear understanding of what matters most to us. We can choose to operate out of our best self. When we do so, we develop the capacity to help others thrive, despite what the world throws at us and them. I encourage everyone to seek this type of response. We may not be able to choose the circumstances – but we do get to choose our responses. We all need to choose to be the best self we can be right now. That is all that can be asked of any of us.