Business leaders and wellness during Covid-19

For business leaders, the mental, physical and emotional strain of the Covid-19 crisis has been immense, writes FitVision founder and CEO Mark O’Reilly.

Over the past few months due to Covid-19 we have all been mentally tested, physically strained and emotionally stretched, this has left our spirits perforated and our purpose floundering.

However, for many of us in business the train is still on the tracks and moving at speed. When we face times of adversity, we know managing our wellness effectively is crucial yet it can often fall to last position on our “To Do List.”

“Our wellness is the foundation which enables us to engage fully in life no matter what obstacles show up at our door”

With people that I work with I have witnessed some make rapid charges towards new positive habits with one such CEO losing two stone and running their first ever 10k during the period of lockdown. As amazing as it was to see this, the overarching truth is this is the minority, many of us have lost momentum and stressed business owners now want to get back on track.

But what is this buzzword “wellness”? People that use the term use it without defining it or, more importantly, offering practical steps to achieve it.

Practical steps to wellness for business leaders

One of the first steps I take when I talk with stressed CEOs is to ask them to view wellness as a rich resource which, when increased, enhances our capacity to cope. Our wellness is the foundation which enables us to engage fully in life no matter what obstacles show up at our door.

I often speak to executives about energy not being something that we have, but something that we must create and I want you to think of us as having 4 main energy sources – mental, physical, emotional and spiritual.

Let me use an example, if I decide that I will start my day with a 20 minute walk with my partner, physically I am energised due to the intensity of the activity and the mobility it offers my body, mentally I am energised by the rush of endorphins which will enhance my cognitive function for the day ahead, emotionally I am energised by the simple act of walking and talking as it produces oxytocin which enhances my self-esteem and spiritually I am energised as I slow my pace and do an activity which is meaningful to me. It is easy then to see how one simple act can have such impact.

My work with executives is based on the principle of small incremental changes adding up to a big change and a big result overtime. What I mean is, some of the clients I work with have tried to use Covid-19 as a crutch, a reason not to exercise, eat well, get sufficient sleep or to justify irrational decision making. The truth is the choice is ours. Do we take responsibility or look for someone or something to blame?

It is this mindset shift which is key when faced with adversity.

1. Self-Kindness

There must be room for self-kindness in this process however as we are only human.

Humans by nature have fundamental dispositions and characteristics which we possess including ways of thinking, feeling, and acting, these we do control but at times can be led astray. So, when you think of human nature think of it as something within our control but which needs to be guarded safely. Mother nature on the other hand is the creative and controlling force affecting the world and humans, an external force which we have no control over.

This constant battle between what is in our control and what is out of our control has shaped the past few months for many stressed CEOs I’ve been talking to who are trying to keep the show on the road. Approach the process with self-kindness.

2. Being clear on what really matters most to you and build your goals based on this

Have you asked yourself recently what you truly value and what brings you most joy in your life?

On an average day we can have as many as 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts meaning that it can become difficult to remain focused on what matters most if we do not have clarity on our highest priorities. Take time out to reconnect with your “Why”.

3. Commit to positive self-talk

Roughly 80pc of our daily thoughts are negative and 95% of these thoughts are repetitive. Add to that, that in the English language there are 558 words to describe emotion and 70% of these words have negative connotations.

Our self-talk when it comes to adverse situations determines whether our emotional and behavioral reactions are adaptive or maladaptive.

Although human nature means we gravitate toward the negative bias, commit to positive self-talk as it fosters rational beliefs leading to functional emotions like optimism and adaptive behaviors such as approaching a situation with confidence.

4. Train your stress response

So how do we stay in control under pressure? We can do this by following a simple three step process: First we need to regain control of stress symptoms, this can be as simple as noticing the physical and psychological changes within our internal environment such as heart rate increasing or mind racing uncontrollably.

When this occurs in the moment, we need to detach ourselves from the situation to get clarity and think logically. Physically we can instill breathing exercises into our process to regain control of the physiological stress symptoms.

Challenging the thinking causing stress would be our next step, remember the phrase ‘control the controllable’, when faced with times of stress, we need to limit emotion and heighten logic. Focusing on what is in our control allows us to deal with facts and gain perspective in demanding situations.

The final step is to reduce the pressure at the source. Once we have followed the first two steps the third becomes evident, this is our solution or action which we will then take to move forward.

In closing, business leaders and people managing worried staff need to not only practice what we have mentioned above but try to increase your levels of self-acceptance and self-kindness.

Remember to harness your self-efficacy, think of times where you showed up, I mean really showed up in the past and really nailed it, which many have in thankless situations during the pandemic.

Mother nature can be unpredictable but remember if you can remain physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned with your purpose, you have the foundation to flourish through adversity.

Fair-haired man in dark-jacket under a FitVision sign.

Mark is at the forefront of the executive wellness industry in Ireland, having followed his professional soccer career by founding FitVision which has a team providing comprehensive corporate wellness programmes to various businesses like Primark and Facebook to help their leaders, teams and people to transform bodies and minds to meet the challenges of their high-performance roles.