How to manage your emotions under stress

The COVID-19 epidemic is presenting clinical leaders with an unprecedented challenge. You’re having to make many difficult decisions, big and small, many times a day. There’s no easy answer other than to position yourself to decide rather than react. To do so, you must be aware of what matters most at any given moment and regarding every decision. The best leaders don't always make the right decision, but they always make the decision the right way.

Understandably, anxiety, worry and heightened emotions are becoming more prevalent within the workplace as COVID-19 continues to spread. As a leader in these circumstances, it’s essential for you to display a high degree of emotional intelligence. The ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and those of the people around you are especially critical at this time. Here are some tips to help you do this:

Practise self-awareness and self-regulation

Be aware of your own emotions, noticing any anxiety, sadness, anger, or detachment. Listen to your body, noticing any change in appetite, new aches and pains, or feeling particularly hot or cold. When you notice troubling symptoms, pause to take care of your body and mind. If you become unable to function optimally, seek assistance. Self-regulation is all about staying in control. It’s the ability to regulate your emotions and behaviour so you can act appropriately in different situations. It involves resisting or delaying an impulse, drive and temptation to act – in other words, deciding rather than merely reacting.

Tap into your community of friends, peers and colleagues for support

Leading a team through a crisis with unknown scope and no clear end in sight can feel very isolating. You may sometimes feel burned out and demotivated. It’s important to reach out and ask for help. This is not a sign of weakness, but of courage. You need to be able to share your frustrations with others, seek counsel on difficult decisions, and find friendship and support from trusted friends, peers, and colleagues – within or outside the organisation. Even texting a trusted peer can help validate the challenges you're facing. 

Express empathy with your team

As a leader, one of the biggest challenges you’ll face is to ensure employees feel cared for, COVID-free and engaged over the coming weeks or months as the situation deteriorates. It can be hard to know exactly what to say, but here is an affirmation and question you can use and with and ask any team member at any time: ‘You’re important to me and to what we’re trying to accomplish. How are you feeling right now?’