As COVID-19 forces schools, workplaces, and events to shift from in-person to virtual, the first and foremost behavioral shift is a change in mindset. Going digital was not in anyone’s 2020 New Year’s resolutions, but as leaders, it is our chance to make the best of a bad situation.

Current literature and advice articles regarding COVID-19 focus on teleworking, virtual teams, and rules on social distancing. Industries that can move their strategic and operational functions online will adapt to the new normal. As virtual collaboration defines work and school space, I can’t help but think that something is missing. As innovative and compelling as this all sounds, I worry the effects on the isolated individuals are far-reaching with no clear data yet to measure the impact on an individual’s mental health.

Throughout my years of service and leadership in the US Army, I deployed multiple times to hostile areas. I am uniquely familiar with the fear of the unknown and unfamiliar places. Leading my Soldiers on numerous missions, they needed to be healthy and in a good state of mind as operational efficiency was vital.

With each deployment, I experienced a range of emotions, like the Kubler-Ross Change Curve. It is something that resonates with me today and something I felt worth sharing.

With each deployment, I experienced a range of emotions, like the Kubler-Ross Change Curve. It is something that resonates with me today and something I felt worth sharing.

During times of uncertainty, change management is vital to each one of us. We experience different perspectives and emotions, including shock and denial, anger, depression, experiment, decision, and finally, acceptance. I found that the amount of time I stayed in each phase varied with the successions of deployment. Leading soldiers in later missions, I was more mentally agile, able to move through each stage quickly. So, with the unrelenting spread of the virus coupled with the stay at home orders, I immediately ran into a “deployment” mindset and acceptance. These phases will not always occur in a set order. It is normal to jump between emotions at various times throughout the process.

People need to know that these waves of emotion are entirely normal in times of crisis. The anxiety of deployment is not knowing the risk of what might come next and knowing the certainty of danger. The fears of COVID-19 are eerily similar. How long will I have to stay in my home isolated from friends and family? And what happens if I get the virus, will I show any symptoms, or will I end up in the emergency room sharing a ventilator? These thoughts are terrifying.

The final phase of the curve, acceptance, does not mean you believe that everything will be okay. Instead, it means we learn to accept reality as it is. I quickly accepted deployment was for a specified period and that life would be different. On average, it took me two weeks to feel settled into a good routine. The lesson is simple: resolute leaders can turn short-term tragedy that hurts their organizations into a sense of shared purpose and community. So, as you lead your teams and families through this crisis, create a daily stock and flow of activities that keep you moving forward. Here is my list that helped me during deployments and still inspires me today.

  • Find a routine. What new daily rhythm do you set that replaces what you used to do? How can you take advantage of gaining that commuting time back?
  • Pick a task. Wake up with a goal in mind and set out to accomplish it. Even a small job completed provides a sense of accomplishment for the day.
  • Exercise. Despite gyms closing, there are numerous ways to stay active through the internet and hundreds of health apps.
  • Get outside. Even if it is merely sitting on the porch, it is essential to feel and breathe the fresh air. If you have a place to hike or walk nearby, it is a great way to be mindful.
  • Find work and home balance. It is easy to fall into the 24×7 trap of constant work. It is a sure-fire way to burnout! This crisis is a marathon, not a sprint. You must protect your time at home, and this is the importance of a routine.
  • Stay connected. Deploying to remote areas made relationships hard. If I was lucky, I got a single web call with my family. There are so many options out there now to stay connected. Social distancing does not mean we can’t stay connected with others!
  • Reflect—no better time than now to slow down and think.

COVID-19 will eventually pass, and our lives will always be a little different. Perhaps in the way 9/11 changed the way we travel today; we will look at infectious diseases and social distancing differently. As leaders, we must continue to move our teams forward. As family members, we need to ensure our families stay healthy and engaged. We need to embrace the commonalities. We are all people who need to feel safe, cared for, and understood. And that we are all on the same journey, doing the best we can. If we can take care of our people, the process and operational systems will take care of themselves.