Facing the unknown (with a Zoom call starting in 10)

How do we take on this new normal? Well, we can start by slowing down.

Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. This is what I’ve been telling myself lately. Almost overnight our lives have changed entirely. And yet, our work schedules carry on.

So how can we manage? How do we begin each day when everything is different and our deliverables remain the same? In between grocery runs, organizing our children’s at-home school schedules and worrying about the safety of our parents, we put on our collared shirts and click into the next zoom call.

It’s a lot, to say the least.

So what do we do? How do we take on this new normal? Well, we can start by slowing down. We know this situation is serious. And we are taking real measures to flatten the curve. Sheltering in place won’t be easy, but we are lucky to be home, safe and working. And yes, fears will continue to flood our minds in between pings and group chats. What if we get sick? What if I have to take a parent to the hospital? What if we lose our jobs? Our minds? What if what happens in Italy, happens here?

 

The truth is that we don’t have the answers to these questions. And that lack of clarity is unnerving. What we are experiencing now is both very personal and entirely universal. Which is trippy—being isolated, but together. So here we are, facing the unknown every hour while checking off our to-do lists in between life-affirming walks around the block.

And here’s the biggest thing: This isn’t just a new work from home schedule. This is you and your family facing the very real anxiety of a global pandemic and local crisis. Your anxieties are warranted. Valid. Justified. But that doesn’t mean we have to continue to feed them.

After consuming every article, post, email and piece of advice from friends and uncles, I had to pump the brakes. Stop reading and start reaching out to the people I love. I started texting coworkers and Facetiming my mom twice a day. And it’s helping.

But what do we do next? Since many things are out of our control, let’s approach this as we do a brief, with calm curiosity and lots of potential approaches that are manageable.

Recognize and accept

Recognize that this is difficult and accept that things are going to be different for a while, and that’s okay. We are all facing the unknown, together.

Organize

Structure is key in uncertain times. Especially if you have young children at home. Organize schedules to include breaks and walks around the block. But be flexible, this is in service of sanity, not perfection. So let them devour the screentime if need be.

Self-care

This one is huge. This crisis is going to put a lot of strain on our mental health. Incorporate meditation, journaling and solo walks into your daily scheduling. This is not a "best self" competition, however. You don’t need to learn Portuguese and become a yogi. Just be gentle with yourself and do what you can.

Lean on others

Lean on your partner. Lean on your friends. Lean on your team. Open up. Ask your team how they are feeling and what they are doing to cope. Human connection will get us through this. Reach out to friends and acquaintances who struggle with mental health issues. Text, call, Facetime or write old fashioned letters. We all need reassurance right now.

Communicate your needs

Ask your team for support if you need it. You might require some flexibility with deadlines or with conference calls. Be an example of leadership and transparency for the new hire right out of school – this is their first professional experience, and it’s a doozy. Also, your three-year-old is going to be making a lot more cameos in the creative reviews and that’s to be expected.

Get Creative

Creative play can be especially soothing in times like these. But it doesn’t need to be goal oriented or instantly curated on Instagram. Isolation-fueled creative exploration shouldn’t be a competition. Sure, creativity is what we do for a living. But when was the last time you made a collage or played with crayons? Wrote a poem, did a puzzle, painted, played card games, or reorganized your shelves? There are also virtual museums, aquariums and streaming concerts for the kids.

More than anything, this crisis has grounded us in what matters. Everyone is experiencing a uniquely personal, yet universal challenge. Our clients are dealing with this too. So let’s reach out, connect and help in any way we can.  We can share our feelings and our toilet paper and invite our kids to help. Let’s hold our families close even if that’s through a phone call.

This isn’t easy for any of us. Be mindful that your junior account person might be living alone and feeling isolated. And they definitely have two roommates, so they’re stuck in their bedroom all day. Your creative director might have three kids, one shared bathroom and be at the end of her emotional rope. So, practice empathy and patience. And please be generous with others who have lost their jobs during this time. Ask your cleaning person to stay home and pay them. Reach out to your friend that is a bartender and see if you can float him cash.

We don’t know what’s to come. But we do know that we need each other. And before we are ad people, we are people. So, let’s stay close to our humanity and infuse that sense of soul into the work we do. We are lucky to have the platforms to communicate messages of connection and calm. Let’s take care and use them wisely.

Bevan Mahaney is creative director at Grey West.

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