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Worrying about worrying…

By Bob Priest-Heck

The next priority — caring for our heads and hearts.

I’ve turned the corner on worrying about the physical health of my family, friends and employees and am now worrying about everyone’s psychological well-being. We are all feeling the stress of living in this strange new world where it seems all the “givens” — job security, school, a strong economy, food, televised sports, entertainment options, and even ready access to personal hygiene products — have been taken away. People without families are now literally isolated.

The breadth and depth of the pandemic’s impact is unprecedented in my time on the planet, and I suspect that goes for most of us. And because it has provoked governments worldwide to take draconian actions — at the federal, state and local levels — the economic impact has brought our industries and our businesses to their knees. People are waking up to find themselves without employment. To exacerbate the sense of helplessness, when these over-stressed people stop at the store to pick up some basics, it seems the marauding hoards have already cleared the aisles. Ironically, people living paycheck-to-paycheck-to-no-paycheck can’t afford to hoard. So yes, once again, the people hit hardest are those already living closest to the poverty line. This makes me both sad and angry.

People who know me know I always lean into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to explain questionable behavior. And what I’m seeing is entitled people who are used to living near the top of the pyramid (with plenty of self-esteem and a strong sense of belonging) — suddenly experiencing a disruption in their basic supplies and going into freefall, straight to the bottom of the pyramid. And it was already pretty crowded there. As I’ve said before, desperate people do desperate things.

Some people have argued that our collective governments have over-reacted and forced unnecessary economic hardship. I won’t go there — historians can sort that out some day. I do think, as leaders of countries, states, industries and businesses, we need to think hard and act quickly to collectively mitigate the mental stress and helplessness people are feeling. Here are some top-of-mind thoughts:

  • Employee Assistance Programs: Our company has a program in place to help people dealing with anxiety and depression, as do many other organizations. We need to encourage people to seek help wherever it’s offered.
  • Faith-based support groups: Many places of worship have switched to online services, but also have support available that offers hope and reassurance — one-on-one counseling in person or by phone. They also offer pantry kitchens and emergency shelter. See what’s available in your area; if you don’t need help, you may be able to point someone else there.
  • Community outreach: Many communities are responding to COVID-19 by using social media to organize ad hoc help; local news sources are also helping to promote these.
  • Start something: If you are healthy and running to the store, reach out to elderly neighbors and loved ones. Organize a “shop early” program to buy gift cards today from small businesses who are really hurting and may not make it to the holidays. Offer to shelter a displaced college student who has no place to go because their school closed and they have no home to return to. Post words of encouragement to healthcare workers — online or on posters or wherever you can — thanking them for their superhuman efforts.
  • Be kind. Everyone has a bad day, and you could be the person who turns it around for someone else. Make kindness contagious.

Let me leave you with two simple examples of people making a bad situation better.

Some people in my own company are working harder than ever — tirelessly over long hours — for a lot less money than they earned last week. Believe me, I’ve noticed and I won’t forget. Because they’re not doing it for personal reward. They are working harder because they believe their added effort can help turn things around and make it possible to hire back more of their colleagues and help our clients do the same at their respective organizations. They understand their role in getting the economic train back on track.

I also saw on a news outlet that, in parts of Italy, quarantined citizens are leaning out of windows to join together in song. Not to hurl insults. Not to complain. To sing.

That’s the human spirit we need to tap into. That’s how we beat this thing.

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