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EP11: Managing Pandemic Stress

Feeling on-edge, stressed-out, or overwhelmed? Are you struggling to cope with uncertainty? As a specialist in chronic stress and sleep disorders, coach Nicole uses a holistic approach to help her clients build resilience and establish nourishing self-care habits. In this episode, Nicole walks you through how you can stay calm, upskill, and compassionately reprioritise your life – even during a global crisis.

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Victoria: Did COVID lockdown stress you out? Are you feeling some stay-at-home meltdown? Have you stopped watching the news and started watching serial killer documentaries to cheer yourself up? Well, it’s all becoming a little bit too much. And if you’re feeling on edge stressed out or overwhelmed, then this is absolutely the conversation that you need to have a listen to.

I’ll be talking about how to manage all that stress and overwhelm with my guest coach today, Nicole. Nicole has a background in the arts and education and coaches, individuals in how to improve their overall wellbeing, their mindset, mindfulness and creativity. She’s been amazingly successful with her clients using an integrative holistic approach that digs very deep into the root causes of what’s holding us back from achieving health, happiness, and purpose in our lives.

On today’s show, we’re going to be sharing some insights and secrets that Nicole will be contributing to staying completely – as much as we can – stress-free whilst we are stuck at home. So welcome Nicole, and it’s wonderful to have you here being a part of today’s conversation.

Nicole: Hi Victoria, it’s lovely to be here.

Victoria: I know that with your experience and your background dealing with stress, stress is a specialty of yours. And I know people around the country, if not around the world, this is now becoming the new pandemic. COVID – we will eventually learn to live with and manage, however, from all the data and the research that I’ve been reading and the conversations that we’ve been having is that there is this next epidemic that is happening right now in our homes, within ourselves of this deep anxiety from stress.

And there are so many different triggers that are creating this new epidemic. I’m going to have a stab here, pardon the pun. But I think we’re going to, it’s going to be a stress point for many years to come, and it is going to be the next epidemic from the fallout of what is happening within people and family units that has been occurring for the last couple of years.

So I’d love in our conversation today. For you to share some real stories, real examples of the challenges that clients are coming to you for and wanting to find solutions around to help de-stress because stress impacts everyone as you know, on so many different levels. And stress is a very personal experience, depending on your levels of resilience and your level of access to tools and solutions.

I’d love to know, with the clients that you’ve been working with, what’s been a common question that they are coming to you for that they want a solution around with the topic of stress?

Nicole: That’s a great question, Victoria. One of the biggest problems I hear my clients talking about and coming to me for is overwhelm.

Well, first of all, we all live in a modern world. We already multitask and do a lot of things that, you know, create a very long list every day. Now we’ve got the pandemic as well on top of that. And one of the things that many, many people have done. It is to keep going in that mindset of, oh, I’ve got to get this done.

I’ve got to get that done or all my God, you know, how are we going to do this? And they’re also working at home, they’ve go different parameters. They might have two homeschooled children. So one of the first things I say to them is I know, I totally hear you. I feel the same way. And I have learned my, you know, I’ve got my own way of dealing with things that I’ve worked out over time.

The first thing I tell them, we are all in this together, you are not alone. And if you think about the pandemic and really, it’s kind of one of the craziest things that’s happened in a hundred years. So we don’t really have a precedent for this. If we change our mindset and step back a little bit and say, okay, If this is kind of like wartime, the pandemic is war.

And before that was peacetime around about December 19, sorry, 2019, then maybe we need to look at switching our priorities and the way we see life a little bit, now that we’re sort of under siege and we have to look at our long list and maybe stop and reprioritize and say, does it really matter that that dishwasher didn’t go on tonight?

Is it really a bummer that you didn’t fit your yoga class in today because you did actually finish something that was furthering you towards your goal. And so that change of mindset with a lot of lifestyle tools as well, which I find comes up all the time. I say to people generally, "Be kind to yourself".

So the compassion that we are seeing, which is one of the beautiful side effects of the pandemic, we’re seeing people show a lot of compassion and more understanding towards each other. I remind my clients to show that same compassion to themselves to not have that strict self-talk I should, I, should I, should I tell them don’t should on yourself today.

Do not. Just be kind. And reprioritize. So if you maybe get three things done from your list, that’s fantastic. And maybe look at the first one that’s really, really important if you don’t complete that list. Even those three things, start again tomorrow, get a good sleep tonight. And then, of course, there are the lifestyle tips that go with all of that.

Victoria: Thank you. That was really a wonderful summary of the challenges that you’re being, um, confronted by with questions coming from clients. And I’m finding that often the struggle can be that there are no rules or the rules that we had in place. They’re not working right now. And it’s as though every day needs to be a race, and there needs to be the opportunity to ask questions, what I have on my day-to-day – is it important? Is it going to get me to where I’d like to go?

It’s almost a question of re-prioritizing what the demands are for that day and then being able to give yourself permission to pivot when needed. And therefore that comes back to giving yourself the opportunity to really ask the questions, to relax with yourself, going back to having kindness and compassion, but every day is a new day.

And to give yourself the right mindset and the right tools to set the day, according to what is ahead of you. And sometimes that’s canceling things or it’s saying no to some things that are in your diary because other things have come in or it’s just not as important. And it’s being able to be sometimes tough. Tough is not a word that I like to use … it’s being able to offer yourself the space to ask yourself, what do I need to do to destress today?

Nicole: Absolutely. Beautifully put. And I think that brings to mind the next thing that we often work together on, which is no, we don’t have that structure. We don’t have, we’re not in the workplace.

We don’t have that water cooler break or that snack at our desk. We, you know, all those little things that punctuate our day. So I am a huge believer in creating. A structure for each day. And like you said, beautifully pointed out every day is a little bit like a brand new reset. But if you look ahead, I have a little type deal where I, on Sunday I set a few intentions for the week.

I’ve got the work things that I need to achieve. And I’ve shared this with my clients and I build in structure in that, yes, each day has a workday and it’s so easy to fall into the trap when you’re working at home to let it bleed into nighttime. And I say to them, the first thing you do is get up, get dressed.

If you meditate, that’s beautiful. Do that. Or your yoga practice, whatever it is that you love to do a brisk walk and then make your bed. My grandmother taught me that one and she was very wise – two wars and a Depression. Treat your day as if it was a work day, get dressed, feel beautiful. Put on your lipstick.

Or feel put together, you know, I mean the LuluLemon. I wish we all had shares in that, but let’s jump out about yoga pants get dressed and the structure that you can build into your week. Make sure it almost sounds like an oxymoron, but make sure you put the variety in your structure. So, yes, your gym might be closed and your beautiful yoga class where you love going because of that whole atmosphere… that’s not possible in lockdown in Sydney right now and all around the world. There’s different parameters that people are facing, but you can push your bed aside and do it in your bedroom and you can walk outside in nature. And I think mindfulness, you know, we talk about changing your mindset: OK these times are different.

If I’m out walking in nature. Don’t take the phone, turn it off, leave it at home. Just feel the sun on your face. We’ve been very lucky with the weather. I’ve just noticed how beautiful that is. Feel all the beauty of nature outside and really do. Take that onboard as an option and, and see it for what it is.

It’s a spiritual reset, it’s exercise. It’s a beautiful, gentle way to break up your day. Now some people, and if you look at the Ayurvedic way of things, people, they, they need that gung-ho HIIT class. You can do that too, and you can go for a run. Some it, whatever it is, you know, that gets you through the day, but break it up.

So one day you might have a walk the next day you might do your yoga. I’ve tried very hard to meditate. I find that breathing in yoga is better for me, but just find what it is that you love to do and make sure you knock off at five and have that glass of wine, or maybe pour a beautiful bath as well. All those little acts of self-care. They really add up at times like this.

Victoria: I think it’s very challenging. One of the challenging things, when we are faced with – I’m calling it house arrest – and there is, it’s too easy to do back-to-back Zoom meetings. It’s too easy to not schedule that lunch break. It’s too easy to not carve out time to go and feel the sun on your face for 10 minutes in the day, even before lunchtime and going back to a really critical point that you said that the water cooler environment is gone.

I mean, who knows when it’s going to come back? I think working from home is going to stay here for awhile and we’ve missed that connection point as well, to have dialogue with others, to break the day, to help us disconnect from the demands of working from home and homeschooling children and you know, all the other things that come when we are under house arrest right now.

And I’m finding that it’s critically important to be able to have that structure in your day. And it’s something that I’m actually putting into place with my own personal team. A few weeks ago, I made it mandatory for everyone to have a lunch break between one and two o’clock. And I literally sent out a memo and said to them, obviously, entirely up to you, but I’m encouraging you not to have any meetings.

I do not want to see anyone having phone conversations or on Slack channels or on Trello boards, but just take, take that time for yourself and go and do what you need to go and do to disconnect, go and play in the park, hug a tree, go for a walk around the block, whatever it is.

And I thought, how crazy is it that I had to send out a memo to the team to put in a lunch break, because we’ve lost this routine of normally we’d be moving about in the city and on roads and we’d pop into cafes and have a juice or lunch, and there’d be little breaks in the day to regroup and compartmentalize and just alchemize our day and our thoughts.

Whereas now we’re not moving around as much. And we’ve become a lot more stagnant in our energy. And I think that that flows into having a stagnant mindset. And this is an opportunity to, instead of looking or blaming of what you can’t do. This is a time of deep resilience. It’s a time of absolutely digging deep and asking yourself what can I do rather than what can’t I do? What can I do today that will fill up my cup that will then help me feel better about myself to then thrive in the day, which will then have a huge impact on my nervous system and not feel as anxious or not to feel as stressed, but it’s a choice, Nicole.

It’s a choice every day to have that self-inquiry, but ultimately it rests on the responsibility of the person. And there’s always some things, some little ritual that you can be doing to help yourself during the day. And it is tough right now. It is a little bit of Groundhog Day going on, but this is the opportunity we can either sit back and be a victim to it.

Or we can actually lean in and say, well, this is within my control. I can take greater responsibility around myself care. So what can I do today? What is within my grasp that I need to put into place of the structures that you talking about? The boundaries, and doing what you can to help you disconnect.

So I just want to, just to recap, because I thought that that was so beautifully put your insights and and some of your tips there on helping people really navigate through these times. So that was really good. Thank you for sharing that, but it comes down to self responsibility at the end of the day.

Nicole: It does Victoria, you brought up some beautiful points there – many actually. Um, first of all, one of the greatest things I think that we all understand is our need for human connection. And that is the very one thing right now that we have had, were deprived of in some ways. And that’s another tip I’d love to share.

We must build in some facility, whether it be by Zoom. So technology can be our friend and our foe. First and foremost, my TV. Do not look at the news all the time. It’s going to flash on your phone anyway – we know case numbers are going up and down. We also have to bear in mind – I was listening to a Deloitte podcast, which was very interesting.

There is so much misinformation and fear-mongering around there, and you pointed out beautifully, we have a choice. We have a choice to be resilient, and maybe we can take what we learned from this experience to a future world where perhaps it’s a different world, but it’s not so rigid, as it is now, we can learn from this.

And I think we have to remember to build in that social time and on that podcast, one of the owners of the business was saying I’ve been teaching my managers before Zooms to make sure they jump on, have a bit of a personal chat first, just to introduce the person to get that flowing.

So there’s not this sense of the rigid, formal sort of environment. And I think that that’s a beautiful touch. The other thing is you said it, what can I do? And also what can we do for others? So if you’re out there in the trenches, which I call them, call my sister in Hawaii, she’s, she’s a cardiac head nurse and she just went back there and her whole hospital with tents outside of COVID patients.

They’re all working 12-hour days in PPE. She said, Nicola, she calls me, Nikki. I love what I do. This is, this is what I’m cut out for. But when I go home, I switch off, I watch Netflix, I chill and then I get out and I do it again. So those are the people in the trenches. We’re more like on the frontline at home and yeah, you’re right.

It is a choice. And I think, you know, there’s so much to be learned from this situation. It is unprecedented, but that’s where we need to tap into, who am I as well? What’s really important to me? And maybe you could see this time as an incredible opportunity to upskill, to learn French.

Maybe that’s a big one, in fact, Gretchen Rubin talks about having a three-tiered system of things that we can aspire to during lockdown. And the big one might be learning a language, learning an instrument. You could go a little bit less ambitious and want to cook a French dish, or you know, little things that you’ve just been procrastinating about for a very long time.

And now is a beautiful opportunity to do that. I, myself decided I had a feeling this was going to go on. So I chose to upskill yet again because I love increasing knowledge. And I’m so grateful I have this time to do that, but I am also aware I’m incredibly fortunate and there are others that aren’t so fortunate.

And so I think we need to reach out to those that are in that position. And even with our own friends, not assume, "Oh, they’re fine. They’re hilarious. They’re our best friends". So we make sure we have some drinks on a Friday, for example, and we talk about things we might not, I think we were getting to know each other better that way.

Um, it’s actually really interesting. And the other thing I’d say to anyone, who’s got a creative mind and, um, or just loves to daydream. I’ve sort of played a little game with this second lockdown. Cause I think a lot of people have got lock-down fatigue. They thought it was great fun at first, you know, but now nobody has certainty and we’ve built to desire that certainty.

So we have to sort of say, well, no, I’m going to have to be okay with not having that certainty. An that anxiety in a way is just keeping us safe in that cave and not going outside our comfort zone. So in a way it’s almost like a challenge to say, okay, you haven’t got that certainty so let’s reset the way you look at the world, the way you look at what you can give, what you can give yourself and how you can cope. And at the end of the day, I think it’s, a time for growth as well. And if you just break down all that overwhelm into, okay, let’s name, what I’m really anxious about, what is it exactly?

And once you name something, I find it’s a lot easier to then look at it, say, can I break this down and deal with it? And then move on. And also, if you look at all the things on your plate each day, that’s another thing I talk to clients about. If you look at things and say, would my day, or my goal that I’m going towards really not happen if I didn’t do this thing?

And if it really didn’t matter, let it slide and just focus on what helps you reach the goals that are doable in times like this, that will further you towards a) being more resilient, possibly more eligible for an upgrade in a job, a better mom. I found actually it was a privilege to have my 19-year-old stay home longer to have his hilarious energy in the house to have my husband close.

And the game that I play is, um, having a holiday by the water. Learning lots of new things and it’s all going to be over sometime soon. And when that happens, we’re all going to celebrate that. We’re also perhaps going to be different people and have different rules and that’s okay. We’ll learn because we’re in this together and we do need our community.

That is so important. Community is everything. So we may not be able to hug, which is really something that a lot of people need right now, a huge hug. That we can give and use technology to our advantage, not to our detriment with too many horrible news shows and too many negative stories.

Victoria: I think you’re more right.

I mean, gosh, so many again, so many amazing insights in that, the one that there were so many that stood out there that I can relate to and firstly paying it forward. There’s an opportunity for us to not assume that our friends or family or colleagues are okay. And it’s being mindful that not everyone is as privileged or fortunate to have family members at home. And there are people that are by themselves that are separated from children, you know, through divorce or separation.

Nicole: Yes.

Victoria: Elderly people living at home or in other places, and I love that sense of, I just wanted to focus on it for a moment. That sense of deep generosity that can come out of adversity.

That again, we have a, I feel – this is my personal opinion – that we have an opportunity to share some joy where others may not be experiencing that joy. And I remember someone on my team recently, when we first went into lockdown, he lives by himself. He’s separated from his son and he came, you know, and picked up some, some office equipment. And I ended up giving him a few frozen meals that I had in my freezer. And I’m sure when he listens to this conversation, he’ll know exactly who it is. However, it was a very simple task that it wasn’t even a task. It was a simple gesture that I did for him.

And it felt lovely. I felt like I was looking after, you know, my team and I could see in that moment that there was some joy that needed to be exchanged and we have an opportunity that to look up and lift our heads up. To see where we can make a difference to the lives of others. I know that was just a very simple example because we can often derive so much joy in that moment of looking after our community and Nick, this is one of the points that you made – the importance of connection, and whilst physical connection is reduced we can still make such incredible impact to engage with others around us, to let them know that they are not alone to let them know that they are cared for.

And that in itself creates a sense of joy from both sides. And I know in this, this adverse time that we’re in it is a time of digging deep to find examples or to find opportunities, to create joy that otherwise we would have an abundance of in our normal everyday lives before COVID impacted us. And I do believe that when we pay it forward and we really have this beautiful impact on someone else by doing a kind act, whether it’s checking in, sending them a food pack, sending them something in the mail or whatever it is, I do think that it lowers our own stress. I think it makes us feel that where we can also be purposeful, we can make an impact on someone else, and it takes us away from our own selves on our own consumption and our own sense of busyness and our own sense of self-importance.

And that sometimes can be an incredibly humbling experience, to look just outside. Where we can make a difference within our own family. I think that sometimes can be a little bit easier, but where can we actually pay it forward and make a difference to create a sense of joy outside in the community with whatever access we have and whatever tools we have within our toolkit?

So I just wanted to reiterate that point. Because it’s something that, I do feel we can get lost in and we can get lost in our own stress, whether it’s real or not. And you made a very interesting point that often, sometimes, I say to my clients, I’ve said to my clients over the years, I call it a brain dump where they get an exercise book and they write down.

It’s a, it’s literally an audio or written dump of what’s circulating in their heads and really to help decipher them between what’s real. What’s a non-truth, what’s amplified? Really, what do I need to focus on? Is this really important? Is it really going to have that much of an impact and, and stress collects so quickly and before you know it you’re under the covers and you don’t want to leave the covers.

And so sometimes it’s just having a couple of tools in your toolkit. To help just jot down and prioritise what you, what those perceived stress points out or anxiety triggers are to then be able to decipher the truth. And I have a saying with many clients, the more you persist, something, the more it’s going to resist.

So as you said, call it out. Yeah. Bring it to the forefront, name it, shame it.

Nicole: Name it and shame it, I was just going to say that.

Victoria: Right? Name and shame it and once you own it, it suddenly loses its sense of power over you. Oh yeah. And I just wanted to. Just highlight a couple of those really great comments that you raised.

Nicole: Well, Victoria, just earlier, when you were talking about giving the frozen meal, don’t ever underestimate, I could feel you lighter.

I could hear it in your voice. Did you know that this one was something I learned the other day? I found out that volunteers live longer. Giving and receiving the end for the person on the other end of it. It’s win-win and what a pity. It took a major global pandemic for us to realize some of these simple truths, but we’re here now.

And we are, you know what you said, never underestimate what that meant to him. And even calling an elderly neighbour, my son dropping groceries down the road to someone who’s not very ambulant anymore. And also I want to take a moment to, if I may, to remember that the people that are already living with anxiety and depression and their toolkit needs to be even that little bit bigger.

I said to everyone, we need nourishing food. We need sleep and we’d need a lot more time to go into all of that. Self-care is not selfish. Never say self-care is selfish. It’s important. But sometimes for people in that situation, I urge them if that overwhelm and that anxiety is exacerbated and augmented to the point where they really feel, I cannot cope, I urge them – please reach out, please call your doctor, make an appointment with your psychologist. Recognize when it really is beyond the basic ‘I’m a bit overwhelmed’. And I think they’re very aware of when they’re feeling. Just like they’re drowning. So we, we must also, I think, remember to show compassion and check in on people that are all really already struggling that way. So you made a great point and no little act of kindness is small. Everything matters. It’s beautiful.

Victoria: I think today’s conversation has been inspiring, uh, it’s been incredibly informative and I love that we’ve covered so much ground on this topic.

And there is so much more to discuss around stress and how to deal with stress. But the big takeaways, I know that we’ve, we’ve summed up along the way in our conversation, but it’s very much being able to call out the stress points, own it, prioritise every day, really what’s critically important, paying it forward.

Being able to look outside yourself to make a difference in the lives of so many people that you can actually influence. As you said, small ways can have such an impact on others. So never underestimate whatever they, the size of that gift is, or that offer is. And I’ve always loved that concept of paying it forward because we have, to a large degree, I know that this is another conversation which I will get you on for, but we have become a very consumed society where life has become very narrow and very self-serving.

And I think that there is an opportunity. With what has happened with COVID to really look at the opportunity of how we can make a difference and how we can grow together individually and as a community and clean up.

Our lives and how we’re living our lives and to have far greater kindness and compassion with who we are, but those around us. And I know that that is another wonderful conversation. I’d love to bring you back on for. Thank you very much for your sharing of your wisdom and your insights.

And this is the beautiful thing that I love around our coaches on how I coach and Nicole, you are, you know, one of our trusted coaches and. There is power in providing. Solutions and tangible strategies to help people navigate through whatever challenge it is. And it just reminds me again, the simplicity of solutions can have a profound impact.

So thank you. Thank you again for being on our show and I’ll definitely have you back again and we’ll have another conversation.

Nicole: Thank you for having me. I’ve loved your insights as well, Victoria. We’re all in this together and we will get through it together.

Victoria: I absolutely agree. So thank you again for having been here today on the show.

Nicole: Thank you.

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