How to Avoid Feeling Overwhelmed During the Coronavirus Pandemic Four tips to strike the right balance between taking care of your mental health and taking advantage of downtime.

By Karlene Agard

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"New year, new me" memes were a common theme on 1st January 2020. We even had the benefit of starting a new decade with the promise of being fitter, more fulfilled and accomplished. What a difference a quarter can make.

With all the plans I had for this year, it never occurred to me that this would be the first time I truly appreciated flour and toilet paper! These are the most volatile times many European entrepreneurs will have seen in their lifetimes. With this global pandemic, there has been a wide range of responses and it's not uncommon for people to struggle with feeling overwhelmed.

Messages on social media range from: "If you don't come out of this pandemic with a new skill, you don't lack time, you lack discipline" to "It's OK if you're not achieving peak productivity in the throes of a global pandemic! It's fine to just chill in your pyjamas."

In these stressful times, how do you strike the right balance between taking care of your mental health and taking advantage of some downtime?

1. Gratitude

Focusing on what we have, rather than what we're missing is a vital part of fostering a healthy outlook. If you don't have an Instagram-worthy mansion, you can still be grateful that you have somewhere to sleep at night.

The restriction around leaving the house has led people to appreciate nature and fresh air. I am certainly savouring exploring Oxford with renewed enthusiasm. At the very least, we can be grateful that we have life. Now, more than ever, that is something to cherish.

2. Connect with others.

Social isolation does not have to mean emotional isolation. Connect with your friends and family. Check if they are OK and don't be afraid to share how you truly feel with those you trust. Over the course of human history, this is the best time (or at least the least awful) to have a global pandemic.

With the advances in technology and healthcare, we have the capability to reach out to people all over the globe with nothing more than a basic smartphone or laptop. Take advantage of this.

3. Forgive yourself.

Sometimes you may plan to contact a former customer, update your website or write a LinkedIn post but when you get ready to do it, you find the monitor blurs as you play out different transmission scenarios in your head. It's not always easy to be focused and now you may find it harder than ever. But understand that it's OK to be scared, upset or worried. You don't have to apologise to others or yourself for feeling concerned and not being at your absolute best. This is a perfectly normal response to the situation.

The founder of rational emotive behavioural therapy, Albert Ellis, identified that we have a tendency to feeling negative emotions because we're feeling a negative emotion. This is how downward spirals can begin. For instance, if you feel worried about the impact coronavirus has on family working in healthcare, that's a primary emotion. Then you may feel a secondary emotion of shame or guilt because worry has meant you haven't been able to focus on getting through everything you'd planned. Recognising that our emotions are legitimate and acceptable prevents us from making ourselves feel even worse.

We are often much harder on ourselves than we would be on others, so consider what you'd say to a friend who is beating themself up over not keeping up with teaching their child's curriculum. Apply the encouragement and reassurance that you would offer them to yourself. You are just as deserving of grace as anybody else.

4. Focus on what you can control.

In the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey recommends focusing on things that you can control: those things that are within your circle of influence. Your circle of concern goes beyond that and contains international events that are outside of your power. When we focus on what we are able to control, we have a greater ability to deal with things that are outside of our control.

We may not be able to bring about global healing and make reparations for those harmed, but we can certainly commit to conducting ourselves in a way that instils self-respect, rather than regret. What's within your circle of influence? The list is endless. What do you choose to eat? When do you go to sleep and wake up? How much of your time do you spend exercising, connecting with loved ones or identifying new business opportunities that you can explore? Do you take advantage of technology for restoration and utility or do you binge on Netflix? What do you choose to dwell on?

You have a choice to make about these things and many more. Focus on the things that you can control and do the best you can with them.

As long as we have life there is always something to be thankful for. So, the next time you are feeling overwhelmed, step back and allow yourself a break. Reflect on the things that you are grateful for and forgive yourself for not always being the soul of perfection. Your response to this crisis is within your control and it's your responsibility to guard your emotional health as much as your physical health. Effectively managing your emotions will put you in the best position to deal with practical challenges and cultivate opportunities for you personally, as well as your business.

Karlene Agard

Senior Risk and Value Consultant at ARAVUN

Karlene Agard is an award-winning risk and value management specialist who works with project leaders to set up megaprojects for success. Her goal is to share lessons learned from working on multibillion-pound infrastructure projects. Learn more at

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