Managing the Stress and Uncertainty of Coronavirus

Talking about Self-Awareness and Anxiety (with Hello Monday’s Jessi Hempel)


MORRA AARONS-MELE: I’m Morra Aarons-Mele, and this is The Anxious Achiever. We look at stories from business leaders who have dealt with anxiety, depression or other mental health challenges, how they fell down, how they picked themselves up, and how they hope workplaces can change in the future.

JERRY COLONNA: In times of fear, the only response is love – love and compassion. Early yesterday, I went to visit a client, a CEO. We’d sat in his office, surrounded by thousands of square feet of space, devoid of people. He’d sent everyone home, all 600 employees, to avoid the spreading contagion. It was surreal. After, I visited another client, another CEO, and after a session, we gathered his whole team, and I read from my book. I read the opening of the “Equanimity” chapter, in which I speak about the point of riding the rollercoaster. It’s not about becoming good at riding roller coasters but learning how not to board the ride at all.

The truth is, in my nearly 57 years, I’ve never lived through such a combination of pandemic, a nauseatingly volatile stock market, bizarrely growing economy, and increasingly unsteady hands on the reins of government. This rollercoaster is new, and so, I can’t say with certainty what will happen next. But I can say love wins not only over hate but also over our own fierceness. I know this from the bottom of my toes to the top of my ever-thinning head – love wins. Love your clients. Love each other. Love your loved ones and friends. Love yourselves. This too shall pass.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: That was the voice of Jerry Colonna, CEO of Reboot, a legendary leadership development and coaching company. And he was reading from a note that he sent his staff this week, addressing something a lot of us are feeling, afraid. Today, I wanted to bring you a special emergency episode of The Anxious Achiever, because I’m so anxious, and I thought you might be too. It’s all around us, from the literally empty shelves at our local grocery stores to the plunging stock markets, to disease progression graphs that look like the face of a very steep mountain, to the fear that the people we love will die. It’s a lot. We are scared, and yet, we still have to work. We still have to parent.

We still need to pretend things are somewhat normal. So, stay with me. We’re going to feel some feelings, and hopefully afterwards, we will all emerge a little less anxious with some new tools we can use when the feelings are too much. While my strongest hope is that we all emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic unscathed, we just don’t know. No matter what, we will need to be resilient, present, and strong. We’ll hear from my friend, Dr. Camille Preston, who’s a business psychologist, a little later in the show, but first, my conversation with Jerry.

My husband said this to me last night. We were talking about this episode, and he said, “I’m scared. I can’t let all the people who depend on me see that.” And that really touched me because I’m just a hot mess and scared and telling everyone. He felt like he couldn’t, and I’m curious for you and all your team, if you can lead with love, but also feel scared and where that fear goes.

JERRY COLONNA: Right. So, this is a really important message for anybody who feels responsible for other people, whether it’s parents feeling responsible for their children, or lovers feeling responsible for their loved ones, or leaders feeling responsible for their colleagues. Everyone around you can feel your fear. Denying that you’re afraid actually makes the fear worse. It undermines trust, and we need trust to get through this together. So, what I would say to your husband, and what I tried to do all week and have been trying to do in my seat as a leader, is explain specifically what it is that is difficult for me. In this case, it’s uncertainty. When I know what the next moves are… I’m a chess player. I love knowing the next five moves. I don’t like not knowing what the next five moves are, and I have no idea what the moves are going to be next week. That’s disturbing.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: And they’re so far out of our control. I mean, we have no control.

JERRY COLONNA: Well, I think that’s your anxiety speaking. There are things that we do have control over, but the phrase “we have no control” implies that we have zero control over anything, and that’s not true. We have control over how we love someone. We have control over how we respond. We have control… Last night … I’m staying in the city. I’m at my daughter’s apartment. I went out for dinner to a Chinese restaurant. It was empty. I could feel the racism. That’s just absurd. I remember September 12th, 2001, I was freaked out, like the rest of us. I was working at JP Morgan at the time, and I remember sending a note out to the entire team in the New York office. And I said, “I’m going to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn for dinner tonight. Who wants to join me? It’s on me.”

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Tell non-new Yorkers what that means.

JERRY COLONNA: Atlantic Avenue is the heart of the Arab community in New York.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: I’m with you, but I want to finish … sorry, I got us off-track there with the control question, on where you’re putting your fear, because I know you must have some fear.

JERRY COLONNA: Absolutely. I mean, just before we came on the recording, my daughter’s texting me, “Hey dad, do you have Corona?” I’m like, “No.” But I did have the flu three or four weeks ago. So, it’s not without base. It’s not without merit to be concerned. What we do with the fear is your real question. And a friend of mine tweeted out this morning, a Buddhist friend of mine, he said, “Hey, all my Dharma friends. Remember, this is what we’ve been training for all of our life.” How do we confront fear, uncertainty, sickness, death? Oh, right. What do you think I’ve been putting my butt on the cushion for, for 16 years, other than for these moments and what true Dharma has taught me. What every wisdom tradition has taught is that in the face of fear, we hold ourselves steady. Like my favorite teacher, Pema Chodron, would say, “You sit like a mountain in the midst of a hurricane.”

Now, your question. The following question should be, “What do you do internally when the hurricane feels like it’s internal?” What you do is you acknowledge that fear to yourself. You parse out what is probable from what is possible. It is possible that we’re all going to die. It’s not probable. It is possible. And maybe likely, many people that we love and care about will get sick and struggle and may pass away. That is entirely possible, but it is not probable that everybody and everything that we love and hold dear will disappear.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: I want to zero in a little on the other side of this coin, because I was thinking about your CEO in his empty office and the loneliness he may have felt. The sense of, “I built this all. Is this all going to go away like a house of cards? My whole team is going remote. Can we do this? Are we all going to hate each other? I want to talk about money, and I want to talk about work because I feel like a real jerk going around. I have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in business this week in my small business. Many people I know are in the same boat. I feel like a real jerk if I say that aloud.

JERRY COLONNA: Why?

MORRA AARONS-MELE: In the face of such big life and death stuff. But these feelings are real, and I want to hear. I want you to talk about how those of us, who have worked hard towards a work goal, can manage all the anxiety and all the uncertainty, from your CEO sitting in his empty office-

JERRY COLONNA: I’m going to interrupt you.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: … all of us. Please.

JERRY COLONNA: And I’m going to come right back to you. I just want to make the observation that what I feel you doing is exacerbating the pain of the uncertainty with a whole bunch of pointless and needless comparisons and shoulds.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Yes.

JERRY COLONNA: Okay. Here’s a truth. The fact that someone else is suffering “more than us” does not make our existential suffering more or less. The fact that this person over here has joy doesn’t mean you cannot have joy. And in a similar fashion, the fact that they are in pain or they are in suffering, doesn’t make your pain or your suffering any less. So, it’s only when we tell ourselves that our feelings are supposed to be one way or the other that we alter the course and the trajectory of those feelings. Now, why do we, as a species, tend to do that? We do that because we want to stay clear of becoming isolated in our pain. We want to stay clear of seeing a, kind of, “woe is me” point of view, where we are unable to see the other person. That’s really the message, the lesson of, “Hey, eat your peas. There are starving children in X country.”

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Right. Or, “I lost X, but this person, who has a small business, is living hand to mouth.”

JERRY COLONNA: Yeah. “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

MORRA AARONS-MELE: They’re worse.

JERRY COLONNA: … go I.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: And actually, what I was going to say, Jerry, is actually, as much as I feel like a jerk saying, that there is some sense of comradery right now in sharing. We’re all losing clients. We’re all… All my friends who speak for a living have lost half-a-year’s revenue, like it’s gone away.

JERRY COLONNA: Absolutely. Absolutely. So, here’s a story from the Buddha. A woman who has lost her child, her child has died, goes to the Buddha for comfort. And the Buddha says to her, “I want you to go to every house in the village and collect a mustard seed from every house that has not experienced suffering or loss. She comes back empty-handed. Now, the point of that story is not that the Buddha’s chastising her for her pain and suffering, but it’s to teach her the connectedness from us all being in this together. And through the connectedness, we get to experience compassion, and compassion heals both ways. Empathy is a medicine. Compassion is a medicine for the entire world.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: For loneliness certainly.

JERRY COLONNA: And when we get stuck in the loneliness, when we get stuck in the aloneness, in our suffering, we cut ourselves off from the most powerful medicine we’ve ever invented, which is compassion.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: So to get nitty gritty for a sec, you have your CEOs, your clients who are going … and now, instead of sitting with their teams, they’re slacking their teams, right? They’re remote. How do you convey a sense of community, and indeed compassion and empathy, remotely? What’s your advice to all of us who have been suddenly and radically shifted into remote work and yet are seeking community and that compassion and empathy?

JERRY COLONNA: Well, I hadn’t really thought of it until you were just speaking now. But the fact is my little company is 100% remote.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Mine too, for 11 years.

JERRY COLONNA: For 11 years?

MORRA AARONS-MELE: 11 years.

JERRY COLONNA: So, how have you built friendship and community within that company across 11 years? What did you do more?

MORRA AARONS-MELE: I love to say that we are all ourselves.

JERRY COLONNA: And how do you stay connected?

MORRA AARONS-MELE: And we allow each other … We talk on the phone.

JERRY COLONNA: All the time?

MORRA AARONS-MELE: We get together all the time.

JERRY COLONNA: Okay. So, there’s your answer.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: But we’re used to it. We’ve had 11 years to fail, to practice, to see what works, and not everyone stays, by the way.

JERRY COLONNA: Right. That’s true. But my point is just this, in these times, we sit there and say, “Well, what should we do?” Well, what have you been doing? Oh right. I remain connected. I was just texting with my daughter. I was emailing with a client. I was on video chat this morning to London, to a client. The tools are there even in our isolation, our medically-induced isolation. You and I, this feels like a relatively intimate conversation. You and I have never met face-to-face.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: I know.

JERRY COLONNA: And yet, here we are.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: I’m part of a listserv of women entrepreneurs. That is the best community right now that I could imagine. and we are just emailing all day.

JERRY COLONNA: Right. I was saying this morning that one of the challenges with social media these days is that it exacerbates all of those tough emotions. The fear, the outrage, the, “Can you believe this? Oh my God.” And if I see one more tweet with a finger pointing down saying this, it’s like, “Stop, okay, everybody chill out.” But the other thing that I’ve been noticing, and maybe because I’m sharing it … yesterday, I shared a poem.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Oh, you would love my husband. He too has been posting poetry.

JERRY COLONNA: Yeah. It’s like … it’s okay. We’re going to be okay.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: What are you telling your clients and friends and colleagues who had deals in play who had… I have friends who run nonprofits, whose donors have said, “Maybe it’s not a good time.” People who have nonprofits, who’ve had galas planned where they do a huge amount of fundraising. People looking to switch jobs. We all were feeling, perhaps, that 2020 was going to be a little bit of a reset. It was the beginning of the year, and now it’s like-

JERRY COLONNA: Yeah. We were feeling that, weren’t we?

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Yeah. How do you sit with those uncomfortable feelings that like, I was so close, and now it’s all been taken away? Whether that’s true or not, a lot of people, myself included, are feeling that way.

JERRY COLONNA: You sit, every wisdom tradition has taught us this. You sit with those uncomfortable feelings, precisely the way you would sit with every set of uncomfortable feelings, including the uncomfortable feelings around death, or the uncomfortable feelings around sadness, or the uncomfortable feelings of the loss of a relationship, or the uncomfortable feelings of the loss of a job or an income. You sit. You stay with those feelings. You acknowledge their pain. You do not pretend that you are some gritty unfeeling human because such things don’t really exist.

You welcome that pain so that you can let yourself go from it. And I got it, this is easier said than done because the minute the anxious thought leaves, another one pulls a right into the train station. But one of the most important teachings in Buddhism is that we watch our mind. We watch our thoughts arrive and depart from the train station. And so, anxiety is the main train coming in. Hello, anxiety. See you later. The truth is, I cannot tell you what the market’s going to do tomorrow.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: So you are checking…

JERRY COLONNA: Of course.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: This is what I want to ask you because you’re such a wise person. You’re on social media. Are you checking your stock portfolio? Are you and because-

JERRY COLONNA: I don’t check my portfolio.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: You just check the market.

JERRY COLONNA: I check the market. And I, kind of, know where I am relative to the market, and it sucks. I’ve had nine speaking engagements canceled-

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Oh my God.

JERRY COLONNA: … for the next two months. I look at the benefit. I look at the calendar, and I go, “My God, I don’t have to get on a flight in April. That’s the first time in four years.”

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Has that ever happened? Yeah.

JERRY COLONNA: Right. I look at the opportunities that it presents. I can get back to doing some hiking. Now, I’m in a privileged position. I get it. I have a little bit of a safety valve. And I do extend that compassion to everybody that doesn’t have that. My youngest son is a remote worker for a tech company. And he came to my office the other day because he was working from here, and he had gone to the allergist earlier in the day. And they were talking about the fact that he got to work remotely, and she looked up, the receptionist, at him and said, “I don’t.”

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Exactly.

JERRY COLONNA: And that’s true for a lot of folks. So, we can shy away from the disparity and the inequity that it presents and pretend that it’s not uncomfortable, or we can lean into it and extend compassion from our heart.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: My last question for you is I want you to provide the audience, just like you provided us with that wonderful image of the anxiety train … I think that many people out there … we’re so flooded with information. It’s really hard. And we can’t hide under a rock as much as we would want to. You’re sort of … you’re getting your groove. You might be doing some work. You might be in an okay place, and then a news flash comes across your phone. Or you turn on Twitter, and it’s all horrible. What is your practice for getting recentered from that sort of attack of and anxiety?

JERRY COLONNA: Well, if you can limit your exposure, which of course you can, you have control.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: That’s true.

JERRY COLONNA: Anxiety tells you that you can’t, but you can. But if you find that you can’t, I would bring your attention back to something that brilliant and wonderful Byron Katie would say about the negative thoughts that arise oftentimes around ourselves. And to me, this question is really, really powerful in these moments. You look at that piece of information, and you really go quiet and say, “Is it true?” Because more often than not, your amygdala is in hijack mode and cannot discern what’s true and what’s not. The amygdala is tuned to presume that that coil on the corner of the room is a snake and not a rope because it’s better to be safe than sorry. When you ask yourself a question, “Is it true? Is it plausible? Is it possible?” Very, very different words. You engage your prefrontal cortex, which is your higher post-evolutionary brain, and you get to say to yourself, “Wait a minute, it’s probably not true that”-

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Well, it could be Dr. Anthony Fauci from NIH, and then you have to say, “Yes, that is true. That could be true.”

JERRY COLONNA: It could be true, and that news…

MORRA AARONS-MELE: There could be a million people dying.

JERRY COLONNA: That news can be difficult. I’m less concerned about the actual news than I am about the rumors. What makes pandemic into panic is rumors. What makes market volatility so difficult is panic. Every single investor will tell you that panic responses to market fluctuations don’t lead to good results, same thing with leadership, same thing with parenting. This spring is not turning out the way we thought it was going to be. That is true, but we have no idea what June is going to bring.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Jerry, thank you so much.

JERRY COLONNA: No, thank you. Thank you for doing this work. I think what you’re doing is really important, and the more we can, sort of, hang out with each other and take care of each other, the way you are here, the better we’re all going to be.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: So, that’s one perspective from Jerry Colonna. We also wanted to check in with Dr. Camille Preston, who’s a business psychologist. Camille is going to share her advice on how to approach these scary times with a growth mindset. Hi, Camille.

CAMILLE PRESTON: Hello.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: So, I should say that we’re recording this on Friday the 13th in the afternoon, and we are together in a studio.

CAMILLE PRESTON: Which is rare in this day and age and time.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Yeah. So, what is your family policy? Are you in isolation? Are you out and about in the world right now?

CAMILLE PRESTON: Great question. We have, as a family, decided to isolate. I had to have a little negotiation with my husband to come out to see you. I know he’s a big fan of you, and obviously I’m a huge fan.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Wow. I’m honored.

CAMILLE PRESTON: Yeah. But we’ve decided to isolate and also to not welcome people into our home at this point in time. So, we’ve said goodbye to babysitters and things like that because we really feel like we’ve got an opportunity to grow and learn as a family and build some new muscles.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: I mean, I know we’re going to talk about growth mindset, but that’s impressive because my children have been home from school. School closed today for my three kids, and after 40 minutes, I was like, “I’m not going to make it. I don’t want to be with you.”

CAMILLE PRESTON: Can I share a quick story?

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Yes.

CAMILLE PRESTON: So I mentioned that I spent the morning with a bunch of hospital executives, talking about decisions and making decisions with changing information. And we gave my six-year old some really good expectations for what he needed to manage. And when I came out at noon, he said, “Mommy, we did exceptionally well. So well, that I decided we both deserved marshmallows.”

MORRA AARONS-MELE: So while you were doing your virtual … I assume you were virtually spending the morning.

CAMILLE PRESTON: Correct, I’m sorry. I was doing a virtual class with hospital executives. Yeah. I think that we are going to face a lot of adversity, and we are going to have so many great opportunities to grow and learn, and as long as we have that mindset of what’s on the horizon and how can we make lemonade…

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Let’s dive into that because you and I were joking before. I mean, I’m very, even before the coronavirus outbreak, incredibly anxious. I’m very pessimistic on a good day. I believe that we are all hanging by a thread. I’m always expecting the worst, but you wrote an article about thinking about what is the right mindset for the age of COVID-19, and you say that anxiety is something we can’t control and is only bound to have a negative effect on our mental wellness and physical health. Now, that feels very hard to me. Are you saying, “Morra, don’t be anxious”? What are you saying? What is the mindset you’re recommending in this scary time?

CAMILLE PRESTON: Yeah. The article came as I was living very close to Biogen, less than a mile from Biogen. Kids in my son’s school had spent time at Biogen.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: We should say that we were both in Boston, and Biogen was the… It’s a biotech company that had a conference where like, I think, 70 plus cases of COVID-19 emerged from. It was a major hotspot.

CAMILLE PRESTON: Fantastic. I mean, it was the hotspot for Boston where most of the Boston cases came from. So, I kept on thinking, you know what? We’re all probably exposed or about to be exposed. What can we do to reclaim control? Life happens at an incredibly fast pace. And I want to start to look at what are those moments in time where I can take back a little bit of control, put myself in the driver’s seat, and give myself a little bit of self-efficacy, so that I can make good choices based on what we’re navigating. So, to say, “Don’t be anxious,” is completely unhealthy. I think the anxiety is real.

I think we’re facing a level of uncertainty that we haven’t experienced. Label it as that. This is what it is. By putting words around it and talking about it, it actually doesn’t increase our emotion. It helps us activate our own internal braking system and actually helps us start to say, “Okay, that’s what it is. What are the choices that I can make around it?” Now to do that, you need to be able to have some level of control. I think I’ve shared with you that life is like a doughnut, and I’m actually a pretty healthy person compared to my doughnut marshmallow metaphors.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: … doughnut person.

CAMILLE PRESTON: I think of the doughnut hole as your comfort zone. The doughnut is your learning zone, where you’re growing and stretching and trying new things. And the outer edge of the doughnut is where you hit terror’s edge, analysis paralysis, and things just become too much. I found this to be an incredibly useful framework when I was going through infertility, and everything felt so out of control, the things I wanted the most. I think of how I can get myself back into the doughnut, from the terror’s edge back into the doughnut. And I like to think of it as a one to five scale. One and two are in the doughnut hole, three and four are the doughnut, and five to 10, if you’re anxious person, is where you hit that anxiety. You do you. You figure out what you need to do to get back in control so I can at least be at a three or a four. Because when I’m in my learning zone, I can actually make conscious choices that are going to be helpful to my family. Whether it’s breathing, eating healthy, or sleeping, take the actions that will build the physical resilience that will support the mental resilience.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: What does a learning zone mean, and why do I need one?

CAMILLE PRESTON: Does it make sense that when you feel so out of control, you’re in a freefall to terror’s edge?

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Absolutely.

CAMILLE PRESTON: If you take one step back before that, that’s where you’re building new muscles. So, my mother, at 83, got married last spring to her 88-year-old boyfriend. And today is his 89th birthday. And she sent me a video of him bench-pressing 160 pounds at 89. I did have a little judgment that maybe there wasn’t social distancing, or appropriate social distancing. But there’s a gentleman who’s really stepping into his learning zone. He’s not bench-pressing 20 pounds. He does 160 pounds to slowly build up and stretch his capacity with the idea that more strength, physical strength, will help him live longer. So that’s a physical example, but they apply to all different things. In parenting, it could be stretching your children’s comfort zones to try a new food. In life. It could be trying new things, whether it’s posting a blog or building a new set of skills.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: How about sitting with discomfort? Because I mean, I think one of the things that all of us share right now is that we’re privileged people. Many, many Westerners and Americans have had the luxury, really in our generation at least, to have a life of great freedom and great agency. And to me, what’s so scary is the thought that that will all be taken away. In China, they separated families at a moment’s notice if someone was sick or if they thought someone was sick. Now, that was a great virus-containing mechanism, but can you imagine living our lives, and someone saying, “Nope, you’re leaving now. You can’t even say goodbye to your kids because you’re sick”? So, the agency being taken away, the unknown if my business will survive … You and I are both entrepreneurs. Will our businesses survive? What will our finances look like? All the unknowns that we are so uncomfortable with, why do I have to learn from that? Like, is sitting in this discomfort of being in unknown territory a learning experience for me? Is it good for me?

CAMILLE PRESTON: I would say it’s absolutely a learning experience. If I could choose for you not to be in this discomfort, I would take that discomfort away from you and every single person listening to this podcast and every single person on this planet. No one wants us to have this discomfort, and it is what it is. We have a choice about how we approach and how we engage with that uncertainty. It’s going to happen, but we have that agency of thinking about how we navigate. I think one thing that helps me in making decisions is, “What’s the right decision for me and my family?” and having that lens of perspective of what that looks like. But then I also remember that I’m making decisions that are for the greater good. And we are all making choices, and we are going to give up a lot of our freedom, and we are going to have moments of thinking, “I never chose to live in this house with my husband and kids 24/7.” But that’s what it is, and so we have choices about how we navigate that. Deep breath.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Deep breaths. We’re going to do it. I want to … Listeners, we are going to actually breathe in a few minutes with Camille because she has a great exercise that I want all of us to do, but I want to ask her a few more questions first. One of the things that I wanted to talk about also is when news comes at us, I know that we could theoretically turn off the news, but part of me feels like maybe we can’t. And many of us in our jobs, we can’t, if we’re working on something related. Many of us have this experience right now, where the news will come out during the workday, and the panic will rise. We get very distracted. We may see a piece of terrifying news the moment before we have to get into a meeting and present and be animated on a WebEx.

CAMILLE PRESTON: Absolutely.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: What do you do?

CAMILLE PRESTON: I think your awareness of choice around what we consume is important, and you’re also appreciating that sometimes, we can’t consume it. I also think this is a really unique situation in news consumption because it’s changing so quickly. Recommendations are changing quickly. Things that matter to people we love are changing. So, I think for the audience, I would want to give you some really practical tools of how you can reclaim control. And I’m a big believer in changing your focus, changing your physiology, and changing your language. So, change your focus. If you find yourself overwhelmed, pull up your phone and start looking at photos of people you love. Surge your body with love for people you care about, things that are great memories … just shift your focus. So, that’s one thing that you can, at least, get under control momentarily. Change your physiology. Stand up, take a sip of water, deep-belly breathings. When we actually change how we’re standing, we have a different sense of opportunity to navigate.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: And I noticed you actually, this is obviously just audio … but as you do that, you’re, sort of, sitting up straight and pulling your shoulders back. Is that intentional when you’re talking about this?

CAMILLE PRESTON: Yeah. So when we get nervous, we tend to shallow breathe at the top of our lungs where we just don’t have the ability to bring as much oxygen into our body. So, we know that when we do deep-belly breathing, when we’re expanding our lungs and holding that breath, it actually … there’s little filaments in our lungs, and I’m a psychologist, not a doctor. So, that’s as far as I’ll go on that. We take more oxygen into our bloodstream. So, actually sitting, opening your chest, and breathing is powerful. I’m an avid Yogi, and you can stand and stretch.

You can do small things that most people around you, if they see you, will think, “Wow, she’s taking control of how she feels. She’s actually practicing some resilience in this moment.” If you’re in a less welcoming environment, I encourage all my clients to bring a bottle of water, and I did today, to have next to you because, at least, it gives you a couple seconds to collect your thoughts, to really change your physiology, and then give you a chance to be intentional with your language.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: That’s easy. Let’s talk about work at home because you actually opened the show, and you’re taking a sip of water now. I love it. You actually opened the show talking about your son and how he did such a good job when you were doing a virtual meeting this morning. How the heck can we try to maintain boundaries between work at home when many of us are working at home? And we may be very fortunate to be able to work from home. So, I want to acknowledge that our spouses are home, and our kids are home. I have three rowdy children at home right now. Their school has been canceled. What’s a growth mindset for them? How do we set ourselves up for success?

CAMILLE PRESTON: Yeah. So, there’s a couple different ways to slice this. We want to give our kids and our spouses some certainty. We want to build habits. We want to build routines. We want to build expectations about what is going to happen. We also want to give people as much autonomy as possible, give them the chance to choose on things they can. They can choose which book they read. They can choose, maybe, what order they do their activities. They can choose what they have for breakfast. Give them back some of the choices, and then know what choices you can’t give them. So, for example, there’s stakes in the ground about cleanliness and sleep, and in my family, it’s getting dressed every morning. You know, these simple things that are going to be helpful. I also think we need to really re-examine our expectations about work. So, my prediction is we’re going to see a lot of work shifting. You’re seeing this in some of the high stakes labs in Cambridge, where they are doing social distancing by having a one shift come in from 4:00 in the morning to 12 and then another shift coming in from 1:00 to 9:00.

So you have less density in the office, more social distancing, but I think spouses are going to end up doing that too. “I need to be on this time. You can be on this time,” and finding that dance based on what’s happening. In Italy, we’re going to be home for an extended period of time. So, whether I’m working on Monday or Tuesday or Friday night or Saturday, we’re going to see a lot of new models of business. And I think, just going back to, if you’re an employer, start getting clear about your expectations. One of my mantras is clear on the outcome, flexible in the approach. Be clear on what you need, and then let’s get creative about how we do that. Because we’ve got a path ahead of us.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: And what if you don’t have the crowded house, and you live by yourself, and you’re working by yourself at home? That can be really hard. How do you… and you can’t go out and be in community.

CAMILLE PRESTON: I think technology is one of your greatest assets. I think virtual love notes, sending people little emails, “Hey, I’m really grateful for you.” Reaching out to people. I’ve heard a lot of people co-working by just having a shared Skype on the screen so they can actually see each other, even though they’re not necessarily collaborating, so they don’t feel as alone.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Yeah.

CAMILLE PRESTON: Yeah, that’s neat. I think the other thing to put out there, not to increase anxiety, but to just be aware. There’s a lot of people who are not set up to work remotely, and they have dense housing that may not have wifi. I think we should be really sensitive to our loved ones because as stress goes up, as emotions go up, intellect tends to go down. There’s an inverse correlation there, but we need to be on the lookout for people we love about addiction and people who have a predisposition for domestic violence. We need to really have that greater purpose of caring for our community because it is going to be a stressor, but together, I’m really confident we’re going to innovate and create and take care of each other. Maybe not in person.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: I’d love it if you would share a breathing exercise that listeners can use, if they start to feel panicked, and I will be your guinea pig here in the studio. Listeners, you can do this simple exercise with Camille and me.

CAMILLE PRESTON: Fantastic. And what I’d love to do is just walk people through. It’s a four-part process, and I want to give credit to Lauren Papp, a dear friend, mentor and sage woman, who really introduced me to this. But it’s a four-step process that really can help shift your energy. The first step is really about opening up your body, breathing in light, and feeling goodness come through your body. When I talk about this with my children, I think about letting white, sparkly light go down all the way to your fingers, and we can take a deep breath in and feel that light goodness go down to your fingers. Another breath into your belly and abdomen, goodness, light. One more deep breath, and I want you to send that sparkly, good light all the way down to your toes.

In the second phase of this meditation, I often think of it as collecting the garbage in our bodies, in our minds, and in our hearts and then just thinking about composting that through our root chakras, through our feet, whether we’re sitting or standing, doing a mental scan of your body, noticing where the anxiety is, just collecting it as if you’re emptying the trash in your home, sending that out to be composted. And then the third step, I think about it as aligning all of ourselves, all of the parts of our being, our mindset, our physical body, our heart energy, thinking about getting it all aligned so that it can just create the best free flowing energy and set you up for success. With my children, I talk about getting all those Legos lined up perfectly.

Just notice where you’re a little out of sync, take a deep breath, and just think about nudging those pieces so you’re all fully integrated, feeling fully aligned. And in the last segment, take one more deep breath. In the last segment, I’d like you to start thinking about what you’d like to create today, now, with the things you have coming forward – the small things like connecting with loved ones. Maybe a phone call you’re going to make this afternoon. Maybe an important business decision. With my children, we do this in the morning, and we think about what we’re going to create in the day, in the afternoon, and in the evening. We think about doing it and just ending with gratitude. What are we grateful for in our day? I have no idea how this is going to turn out, but I know that this meditation gives me great pause, gives me great hope. I don’t know, it seems to work for my son and his sister today.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Dr. Camille Preston, thank you so much.

CAMILLE PRESTON: My pleasure.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: That’s it for today’s show. The second season of The Anxious Achiever will be with you in April. Stay safe.



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