My foundation in Psychology is always present in my work, so much so that I often fail to notice it. However, I've recently had numerous conversations with clients in which my knowledge is front and center. The topic is emotional fatigue, and it is showing up everywhere.
What is emotional fatigue?
Emotional fatigue is a bi-product of heightened and sustained stress. When we experience stress, our brain triggers several responses. Emotions such as anger, resentment, or frustration accompany the release of chemicals that speed up breathing and heart rate (commonly known as the flight or fight response). Usually, the source of stress resolves, and neutrality (or homeostasis) resumes. Fatigue is the result of this system being on continuous alert.
Signs of emotional fatigue
As one of my clients recently said, emotional fatigue is sneaky. Our bodies have a natural adaptation process that causes us to tune out the ongoing alerts from our limbic system. So we are going along thinking everything is normal until we hit a trigger that spikes our limbic system, and suddenly, our response seems disproportionate to the event (especially to those around us).
Other emotional fatigue symptoms include difficulty focusing on tasks, decreased productivity, impatience, depression, and lack of energy. These symptoms are cumulative and create a reinforcing loop of negativity and dysfunctional behaviors. With the pandemic, our desire to return to "normal life" before the COVID-19 virus fuels a constant feeling of frustration and resentment. It is like a bed of hot coals, allowing our negative emotions to flame up quickly.
Dealing with emotional fatigue
Because emotional fatigue has a biological connection, there are no quick fixes. My general counsel is to have patience with yourself and others. However, it is possible to retrain our brains to have more control over our emotional responses. Here's a summary of a recent article by Angela Duckworth, Founder of Character Lab, that lays out the process.
Name it. Recognizing the presence of emotional fatigue in ourselves and others allows us to have more patience and forgiveness. Awareness is also the first step in breaking the cycle of negativity.
Get curious. Simply deciding to be more positive doesn't work. Emotional triggers are like bolts of lightning. They are swift, powerful, and automatically produced as a result of the conditions. Therefore, we have to decode the conditions to change our response.
Detect. You can't untangle your emotions in the middle of the storm, so a post-mortem is required. As you recall the incident, uncover the thoughts and interpretations connected to your feelings.
Reflect. Once you uncover your interpretation of the event, you can examine why those thoughts were triggered and consider what other interpretations or thoughts were possible: "How likely is this the only possibility? What else could be true?" Similarly, when on the receiving end of emotional outbursts, it is helpful to ask, "What thought might have led to that emotion?"
Recalibrate. With consistent practice, the time required between experiencing emotions and recognizing their cause shortens, and so does the ability to reflect before we react. Angela Duckworth, Founder of Character Lab, provided these short-cuts for understanding the connection between thoughts and feelings.
If you or others around you are suffering emotional fatigue, I hope it helps to know that you are not alone. Being stuck in a negative emotional state is often judged to be a personal failing. However, psychology gives powerful insight into how this dysfunctional thinking and reacting pattern occurs and how to overcome it. If you'd like more information, be sure to reach out, I'd be glad to help.
We are just 15 days away from closing first quarter, which means this is the perfect time to up your game.
Here are three things you should be doing right now.
Analyze Q1 Results
Review Q2|Q3 Projections
Identify the Accelerant
As the saying goes, "Failing to plan is planning to fail." Three-quarters of the year remains. That is plenty of time to achieve your goals, financial and otherwise. If your course of action continues unimpeded, it is probable that your results will as well. My question to you is this, "Is that good enough?"
We are early enough in the year to make bold investments that return bottom-line results before year-end. Are you turning up the heat on your profit game? Let me know in the comments.
Have you ever had a task on your to-do list that you fail to make progress on despite numerous attempts or intentions to get it done?
I've been spinning my wheels for three weeks or more trying to create a social media calendar, an idea that I have resisted strongly for over a year. My mental roadblocks for this task are multiple.
In case you haven't heard yet, I'm a bit of a Psychology nerd, and I always find insights into behavior helpful. For my current dilemma, I started with an analysis of motivation. All the critical elements were present:
☑ Understand why what I am doing matters
☑ Have the skills/capabilities to do the task
☑ Have the means/tools to do the task
☑ Have the opportunity/time to do the task
☑ Feel connected to the reward/outcome of the task
I couldn't find a flaw in my motivation to do this work, although there was no denying that every attempt I had made resulted in me getting completely side-tracked and making no meaningful progress.
So as I sat outside the Orthodontist office this morning thinking about what I needed to accomplish today, I had to ask myself one of my favorite coaching questions, "What would have to be true for me to turn my social media assets into a posting plan?" Immediately, a visual popped into my head in which I was sorting pictures of my assets into a storyboard. DING! DING! DING! I suddenly realized why I was feeling so stuck!
[I'm curious, did the ⚡ strike you too?]
I'm going to let my inner Psychology geek take the lead here and give you the science behind my struggle. Our brains are very complex organs with specialty areas. The broadest distinction within the brain is the left and right hemispheres. The right hemisphere is the driver for creative tasks, and the left hemisphere controls logic-based tasks. When I visualized myself completing my social media calendar, I was engaged in a right-brained activity that depended on visual information. The process I was unsuccessfully attempting to use was a left-brain-oriented calendaring tool. Thus, my brain kept returning a "Does Not Compute" error.
The answer was so simple. I need to step away from Hootsuite and complete a visual process first, then I can transfer that into the software. Now that I have a new vision in my head about how I will complete this task, I'm ready to put it back on my priority list. I also feel more confident in the task's value because I'm thinking in terms of a storyboard rather than a shotgun approach.
There are 3 basic principles for getting unstuck:
Do you have an elusive to-do that is keeping you stuck? Let me know! I'd love to help you.
Rays of Hope
I can hardly believe that we are completing our journey around the sun and approaching the pandemic's anniversary on our shores. For much of 2020, the changing of the seasons and the holidays passed in a surreal haze of sameness. Our safe-at-home restrictions thwarted enjoyment of the rituals that marked many occasions. And the pervasive call to vigilance to avoid jeopardizing the health and safety of those we care about prevented my ability to relax. For me, every day seemed the same.
The past few days, however, the signs of Spring during my daily walks have been everywhere. From the snowbells on the forest floor to the birdsong filling the morning air, the approach of Spring is unmistakable, and for the first time in a year, I feel the fog of redundancy lifting.
Spring has always been the season of renewal. Plants and animals emerge from their dormancy, and the technicolor of Oz replaces the grayness of winter. Spring reminds us that better, brighter, and more beautiful days are ahead. Spring is the embodiment of hope.
Looking around today, I see so many rays of hope. I feel like I am awaking from my dormant state to re-engage with the world around me. The signs of better times are everywhere. The third COVID-19 vaccine is shipping across our nation. Students are returning to in-person school in my local area. And in the social justice movement, platforms like LinkedIn spotlight strong voices in the DEI community that are reshaping our understanding of racial inequity [check out 'The Pink Elephant' newsletter 👉 https://bit.ly/3e13akF, one of my favorite sources for ongoing learning and self-reflection].
This last trip around the sun was a tough one. And even though 2021 has already piled on with new strains of the virus and deadly winter storms in Texas, I see signs of Spring, and I am hopeful.
Do you see rays of hope? Please help spread sunshine by sharing in the comments.