Self-Care in Times of Crisis

self-careOne of my favorite quotations from the past 20 years as an executive coach was something an outgoing CEO said to an incoming one as he was passing the baton to his successor: “self-care is a critical part of this job”. I think now more than ever, this quotation applies not just for those at the highest levels of leadership, but to us all.

When any crisis hits, not surprisingly, more of our energy and resources divert to navigating the change. Like a battery, there is an increased discharge which means that we have to make sure that – in the same proportion – we are feeding and recharging the battery. I call this the “drain-to-feed” ratio.

As you navigate the COVID-19 crisis, what is your current “drain-to-feed” ratio? What are ways to more proactively increase your own emotional, physical, and relational self-care?

Acknowledge How You Feel and Cut Yourself a Break

First and foremost, pay attention to the additional drain from emotions arising during this time. Over the last weeks, the most common theme I have heard from my clients is that they feel like they are on a roller coaster.

The range of moods and feeling states is invariably wider where on any given day, you may be experiencing everything from anger, overwhelm, or concern to having periods of focus, productivity, and gratitude. The totality of the human experience comes front and center.

Rather than repress these feelings or act out of them unconsciously, it is far better to name what is happening, get present, and then bring in more self-compassion.

The NYT article, Why You Should Stop Being So Hard on Yourself highlights how self-criticism can take a toll on our minds and bodies leading to anxiety and decreased productivity. Conversely, multiple studies have shown that kindness towards ourselves leads to greater achievement and improvement. Now more than ever, it is critical then to cut yourself a break.

One easy practice to check in with yourself, your team, or family, is to ask the following questions:

  • What is something you miss or that is causing worry?
  • What are 3 things you are grateful for right now? 

Get Back to the Basics

Our physical well-being and self-care is also important to pay attention to especially as working remotely from home is blurring the lines between work and home like never before. Clients have shared how they feel like Bill Murray on Groundhogs day, waking up each morning and heading straight to their computers and sitting on video or phone calls all day long with no break or reprieve. Weekdays and weekends feel similar with no Friday evening outings or sports events to attend.

As monotony creates a natural weariness, stay focused on getting back to the basics.

  • Sleep: with kids out of school, it is easy to let the nights go longer and include more TV-watching. Pick one or two nights to fill up the gas tank and get better sleep. With less driving around on the weekends, add an afternoon Saturday nap to your routine
  • Hydration: it is easy to lose your ritual of filling up the water bottle in between meetings. Remember to take a few minutes between video calls to walk down the hall or stairs and get a glass of water. Schedule meetings in 45-50-minute intervals to create breaks
  • Breathing: A great technique known to help reduce worry and anxiety is the 4-7-8 breathing technique. You can do two rounds anytime, anywhere for immediate results by breathing in for a count of four, holding your breath for seven, and then, exhaling for a count of eight.

Ask for Support, Be of Support to Others

As more of us have shifted to work-from-home, we have lost precious commute time to call a friend, walk down the hall to talk to a colleague, or head out for lunch with others. Therefore, it is critical to pay attention to the positive energy we derive from our relationships.

Rather than go it alone, find ways to ask for support when you need it and have your antennae up for how you can be of support to others. Think about:

  • Who can be your accountability buddy around self-care?
  • Who can be your helicopter when you need a lift out of overwhelm and hold a broader perspective?
  • Who are your natural cheerleaders and safe harbors you can count on for support during this time?

During times of crisis, it is natural to swing the pendulum between self-preservation or self-neglect. Instead, bring greater intentionality to your self-care. By acknowledging how you feel and cutting yourself a break, getting back to the basics, and asking for and being of support to others, you are more likely to increase your emotional, physical, and relational battery critical for navigating the months ahead.

Amy Jen Su

Amy Jen Su

Amy Jen Su is co-founder of Paravis Partners, a premier executive coaching and leadership development firm. For the past two decades, Amy has been partnering with investors, CEOs and executives in various organizations, to increase leadership effectiveness in ways that are sustainable and impactful. She is also the author of HBR Press Book The Leader You Want to Be: Five Essential Principles for Bringing Out Your Best Self – Every Day and is also a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review (

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