Four ways leaders can practice self-care during times of crisis

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Four ways leaders can practice self-care during times of crisis

After the COVID-19 pandemic forced Stephanie Berkowitz and members of her team to work from home, she started looking for ways to combat video call fatigue. Scheduling shorter meetings, jumping on the phone instead of Zoom, or, on occasion, sending an email update in place of the video chat. 

Using any of these options gave her a break from the screen and helped her stay focused. Most importantly, they freed up valuable time to practice self-care. For a busy leader, open time, especially during difficult circumstances, can make all the difference in being able to grab a bite to eat, check-in with family or stretch before the next set of back-to-back meetings. 

Like Berkowitz, many organizational leaders have transitioned to full-time remote work. While they’ve found ways to support their staff during overlapping pandemics of COVID-19, economic uncertainty and racial injustice, many leaders struggle to take care of their own health and well-being in the process.

Berkowitz, president and CEO of Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS), and Meredith McKeen, NVFS’ Director of the Multicultural Center and Youth Initiatives, discussed this challenge during a webinar hosted by the Northern Virginia Health Foundation. 

Some managers try to maintain the same level of productivity they had pre-COVID. But that may not be possible for everyone, McKeen says. “It’s tough, especially if they’ve taken on new duties outside of work like caring for a loved one who gets sick or helping their child manage virtual learning.” This convergence of work and home life leaves many leaders looking for ways to cope with their newfound stress. Berkowitz and McKeen shared four ways leaders can support their health and well-being during times of crisis.

Give yourself grace. We can’t get to everything, every day, Berkowitz says. “Sometimes the emails we get to aren’t the highest priorities, they are the ones in front of us or they are the easier ones to respond to, and that is okay.” Her recommendations: assume the best intentions of ourselves and thank people for their patience rather than apologize for our delay. 

Step away from the camera. Zoom and other video meeting platforms make it easy to see who we’re talking to. But it sometimes comes at the expense of eye strain or having to stay tethered to a chair for hours. Instead, when possible, Berkowitz suggests hopping on a phone call in place of a video meeting. And to help encourage physical activity, use headphones so that your arms and body are free to move about.

Add breaks to your calendar. Unless we are deliberate about how we structure our day, or we make sure we take stretch breaks, move around or go outside, we could end up sitting at a desk in meetings all day. To help avoid that, create events on your calendars that serve as reminders to get up from your desk or chat with a coworker. Also, consider scheduling in work blocks that allow you time to focus on your work priorities, or declaring no-meeting blocks of time during the week.

Take time for self-care. Managers, like their staff, are living through the pandemic. Even more than telling others to prioritize their mental health during these times, it’s important for leaders to model this advice. When needed, talk to a therapist, prioritize time off so that you don’t burn out or simply do something that’s not related to your job. Berkowitz says she sometimes does a load of laundry in the middle of the day. “It gets me up, provides a mental break which can be rejuvenating,” she said. “Laundry is tangible – I can see my results.”

Just because many of us are working from home, doesn’t mean we have more time on our hands, Berkowitz and McKeen noted. Leaders, especially those in service organizations, need to set boundaries in order to find the balance that works best for their health and wellbeing.

For more ways that leaders can support their staff and themselves during times of crisis, watch the full webinar. 

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