Tips to Stay Motivated During Tough Times

We tend to take things for granted when everything is going well.  The longer things go well, the less resilient we become. So, when disaster strikes, we switch to panic mode. This is the fragility that makes us all human.  I still remember with some sadness, the rise in gas thefts in the wake of the world financial crisis which led to the deaths of some gas station attendants.

Today and over the past annus horribilis, we are still counting and feeling the cost of this never-ending nightmare of COVID-19 pandemic. Every day, we are bombarded with news and updates of the daily scary statistics of the mounting death toll and the rising unemployment and economic desolation that COVID-19 has wrought across the world.

Many sad stories have been shared across social media platforms of the untold hardships and losses that people have endured. Luckily, many stories of hope and love and human kindness to strangers have also surfaced and have been celebrated as well.

A recent poll conducted by The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), in July 2020, about 4 months into the lockdown, found that 7 out of 10 Ontarians believe that there will be a ‘serious mental health crisis’ as a result of the pandemic.

In a wider 6-month’s study on the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 in Canada released in October 2020 by Statistics Canada, revealed a much more dire situation. Understandably, people are more concerned about losing their jobs and have high levels of anxiety and stress as a result.

In the US alone, around July 2020, 40% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, an increase from 10% compared to the same period in June 2019 before the pandemic hit.

The combined effect of government-mandated restrictions on personal movement and social interactions has deeply and negatively affected our individual and collective mental and physical well-being. Part of the fallout of the pandemic is that we have become increasingly, and painfully, isolated from each other.

Working remotely was fun at the beginning of the lockdown because of the work life balance it offered, including spending precious time with the family, as well as the expectation that it would only be a temporary situation.

However, as the remote working gradually became the new normal, it became a new source of hardship for people all over the world and the accompanying isolation, and the inevitable feeling of cabin fever, began taking a huge toll on employees and their families.

It is no wonder that employees find it hard to stay motivated given the prevailing conditions. To make matters worse, working hours have extended and blurred into personal time. Ironically, people wistfully remember how the once dreaded commute afforded them a clean break from the office that enabled a reset and respite from the demands of the office.

Additionally, by virtue of working from home, obligations to family members also takes away focus on the job. The isolation is harder on single people and worse on single parents who have young children because of the strain from juggling taking care of the children and working.

In a rare moment of vulnerability, one of my former colleagues, a senior executive, opened up during a meeting about her ongoing challenges managing both her work and her role as a single parent to a young child. She had lost the services of the child’s daycare due to the pandemic closures and was finding it hard to focus and stay motivated to work at the same level she did prior to the pandemic.

She also said she felt some guilt from neglecting her child during the day while she worked. The longer hours did not help either.  It was hard for her and for all of us. It is still hard for her but she has adjusted her schedule and blocked time off on her calendar every day to spend with her child. That way she was able to regain her focus and motivation to continue with her work. This special moment from one of our leaders helped all of us within the group to open up and share our challenges as well.

We then came up with these 5 strategies that can be helpful in regaining and staying motivated and enhancing overall resilience:

#1. Maintain Balance and Perspective: You can discuss flexible work options with your manager so as to make out time for the important people in your life. This is imperative to maintain your physical and mental health. Additionally, depending on your religion, the calming effect of engaging in thoughtful communion with a higher divine power is usually helpful and prevents despondency and depression. It reduces stress because you trust that the divine power is in your corner and will help pull you through the turbulent times. Meditation is also good. I have been told by practitioners that meditation is a stress-burster. As you mediate, remind yourself of the things for which you are grateful. Practicing gratitude boosts your sense of well-being and even your immune system, according to health experts.

#2. Keep in Touch: Technology has enabled us to communicate with anyone anywhere and at anytime. Make use of it. Texting is not the same as a call, though. Virtual video or phone calls with friends and family could provide a lift from the hassles of the day. You can also arrange movie watch parties with your social circle.  Also calling each other to conduct welfare checks boosts both your mental health and that of the person you called.  It is an opportunity to share your worries with a trusted partner, family member or friend.

A friend called me from England after a long time and it did us both a world of good. We were able to catch up on our lives. Through me, he became aware of our high school alumni WhatsApp group and was able to reconnect with many of our classmates.

#3. Create Fun Family Activities: One great activity is experimenting with food recipes. My family and I have made different delicacies from trying different recipes that we would not ordinarily have been inclined to do because of the tiredness from the daily grind and commute. Usually, the weekends feel so short and harried so there is really not much enthusiasm in spending more time than necessary in the kitchen. Doing this together strengthens the bond of family and helps keep you positive minded and energized.

#4. Exercise Often: With the closure of gyms, it is harder to maintain the routine of physical exercise. However, if you have space in your home, you can maintain this habit with simple exercises at home. Where there is not much space, you could improvise by using a corner of the home as the exercise spot. You don’t need the whole array of gym equipment, either. You could buy a single piece of equipment, if you can afford it, such as treadmill or elliptical trainer. Even a simple daily walk around your neighborhood, while taking the safety protocols, can be a boost. You will come back refreshed and ready to take on the next task at work.

Yoga is another form of exercise that is very easy to practice at home. Some of my former colleagues had a yoga club in the office and met every day around noon. They swear by it. So, exercise is definitely a healthy option as long as you keep to a regime that suits your lifestyle and physical condition.

Gardening is another great activity that helps with mental and physical health. Depending on the time of the year, you could grow plants and vegetables outdoors and indoors with small plants. You could even go all the way with hydroponics to grow fresh vegetables for you and your family.

Medical health practitioners recommend creating and maintaining a schedule with a predictable daily routine. Routines help keep the family organized and reduce chaos from having to adjust to the ever-changing government directives, including school and community lockdowns and restrictions on movement, as they respond to the rise and ebb of COVID-19 infections.  Additional benefit is that it tells the brain what comes next during the day which can help reduce the stress and anxiety. Including exercise as part of your daily or weekly routine with family does wonders to the mental and physical well-being. The most important thing, however, is to carve out time in your day to do some exercise no matter how light or short it is.

#5. Learn Something New: Take the opportunity to learn something new whenever time permits. This will help keep you from thinking dark thoughts or dwelling on the dire circumstances around you. There are many benefits to doing this activity. It could be a source of new skills that can be translated into a business; a way to upskill to protect your job; or just a way to keep your brain active. The outcome is a net positive situation for your mental health.

The excitement of discovery through learning will help pull you out of the mire of sad feelings in those down days that sneak up on you with the daily barrage of pandemic news. You could also ask to be included in some special projects at work where you will learn a new skill and also strengthen your social network at work.

These activities are all helpful in drawing you of yourself to avoid feeling isolated which could trigger depression, anxiety and stress rubbing of the motivation you need to focus and deliver on your work accountabilities.

Motivation is a state of mind. It needs nurturing on a consistent basis. However, there will be a day or two where we just don’t feel like getting out of bed. This feeling is natural and may emanate from a mental health issue brought on by isolation, precarious work conditions or even the thought of facing an obnoxious work colleague. Fatigue and burnout can also keep us chained to the bed.

At such moments it is hard to muster the willpower to undertake some or none of these activities. Do not despair because consistency is not about doing the same thing every day but getting your self up and doing it even after you miss a day or two.  Just remind yourself to take it one step at a time, one day at a time.

Just never ever give up.

We value your comments and feedback! Use the comment box to let us know your thoughts. Thanks.


Ernest Onuorah, MBA, is a financial services risk consultant, author, speaker, and career coach. He had worked at consulting and financial service firms including PWC, TD, RBC, BMO, and Home Trust Company, where he was AVP, Enterprise Risk Management. He holds the CRISC, FRM and CRM designations. He can be reached at [email protected].

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