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How I stay resilient under stress

This year has been and will most likely continue to be a challenge. Any plans we had this year have most likely been turned on their heads without much certainty of when things will get back to normal. As I mentioned in my previous article, I encourage all of us to see this as an opportunity to slow down and focus on the things that really matter in our lives. On top of the responsibilities of our personal lives, as leaders in the workplace, this situation also calls upon us to:

  • deal with the shutdown and shift our activities online
  • absorb reduced revenue and adapt to it
  • maintain profitability, often through making hard decisions
  • communicate the right information to the right people
  • and, of course, to stay sane throughout the process! :)

With all of these pressures weighing on us, I can’t help but feel that beyond anything else, this situation is a test of our resilience. As most of us scramble to restructure our processes to adapt as the situation evolves, it also falls to us to address the understandable anxieties of our people and react with compassion. Interpersonal communication tactics aside, we as leaders also have a responsibility to show up and confront the issues that these uncertain times bring us.

This is a short summary of activities that have been helping me stay balanced and level-headed, make more accurate predictions, empathize with my team members, and not let fear steer my decisions:

  • Connect – Reach out to those closest to you. I have been sharing everything with my wife, parents, even my kids to get their opinions on my situation. Not only does this strengthen my bond with them, but input from them usually offers me a fresh perspective on issues that I’m dealing with.
  • Media detox – Limit the number of times you check the news and do so only through a personalized, filtered news feed. I use personalized Google News for this once every 3 days and it helps me to not get overwhelmed by the bombardment of tear-jerking news floating around right now.
  • Focus groups – Engage with different leaders and communities to gather inspiration from the best. I am especially grateful for Small Giants Community, Red Button, Happiness@Work, Eulogia and many others for not only reassuring me that I am not alone in my struggles, but also for the valuable experience they so openly share.
  • Routines – If you’ve got one, stick to it (as I mentioned in a previous article, I do sports, meditation, and breathwork). If you don’t have one yet, start building it with small changes (like brushing your teeth, watering plants, a 5-minute morning stretch session). In either case, avoid making big changes in your life right now. There will be plenty of time for that later.
  • Vulnerability – Remember that your true strength comes from being authentic and open. I talk a lot about this in The importance of being you. Owning up to how hard this situation is, especially in front of your people, is one of the hardest, but most beneficial things you can do for your company right now.
  • Stay flexible – Accept that many things going on are out of your control and instead of wasting energy resisting them, invest in finding ways to make space for the unexpected. One way I do this is by planning less of my day. Before the government lockdown, I planned 80% of my day – these days I plan 40%. This lets me react more quickly and support my team as urgent issues arise. Now more than ever, I’m also “swallowing the frog” every morning to make sure priority tasks get accomplished, no matter what else the day brings.
  • Help – Make intentional, personal efforts to assist others. I’ve personally chosen to contribute to 4 non-profits and have also started offering free consultations to help other leaders and CEOs deal with issues in areas where I feel strong and have something to share. In addition to improving the world around you, unconditionally helping someone else creates a physiological response in your brain that improves your mood and increases your resilience to stress.
  • Let your values guide you – Make frequent efforts to keep your personal and company values in mind during the day and lean on them heavily when making decisions. I’ll admit that I’ve made a couple mistakes here in the last couple of months and it taught me well. Now, before every single important email, meeting, or decision I make, I refer to a physical list of our values to make sure that what I’m doing reflects what I and my company have decided we want for ourselves. It may not feel like it, but if you’ve chosen values that truly resonate with you, you’ll find that they will guide you through the hard times.

Keep in mind that this is not a sprint – it’s a marathon. Without any certainty of when things will return to normal, avoid making any big changes, if possible, and lean toward strategies that look good in the long term, rather than the short. Above all, though, invest intentional time into self-care. Your people are looking to you for guidance and deserve the best of you – that starts with you taking care of yourself.

Now I’d like to turn it over to you – what types of rituals, routines, or tricks do you feel have helped you most to adjust and adapt during these times of great change?

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Roman Zelenka
Coach, Mentor, Podcaster
Czech Republic

Email: roman(at)