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We all know that lockdown didn’t have the same effect on all of us. Some people thrived, others felt utterly overwhelmed, for good reason. However Mara Klemich who is a top psychologist, neuro psychologist and co-founder of Heartstyles.com an indicator tool that can help us make the absolute best of our selves at work and at home , says that the one common denominator between us all is that we all know what this means for us a second time around. “We all learned that it’s really important to focus and prioritise our mental health,” she says. Her advice is to really focus on self-care, which includes proper sleep, routine daily exercise, harnessing positive social connections and staying mentally stimulated. “The most important thing to bear in mind is that we know how to do this!” she says.

Whether you are already in lockdown or are in Limbo like the rest of us, we asked Mara and other top experts for their advice on staying sane over the coming months. 

Learn from the first time 

“Use your experience during the initial lockdown to your advantage this time around,” says Mara. “Back in March, we learned a lot about ourselves. We learned what we did well to get through the stress of lockdown and we learned what we didn’t do so well. This is a massive positive advantage, so let’s see it that way. Think back to that time and now be proactive, take those steps that you know you needed to do to help sustain you, whether that’s social connection or self-care or coping skills.” Mara suggests making a list of what you know works and what doesn’t, and be intentional about how you will take control of your life during this time ahead.

Choose nutrition over toilet roll

In March the lockdown took us by (relative) surprise and with hindsight we realise that our priorities were a bit warped. With hindsight, we know that we were never short of toilet paper, but that eating well had the ability to vastly improve our mood, our wellbeing and ward off any illness.

We all know about the importance of eating fresh food and eating the rainbow (as many different coloured fruits and vegetables as possible), but nutritional therapist Karen Cummings-Palmer says there is also a lot of nutritional value in many packet and tinned food.  “When it comes to feeding ourselves and our families in these challenging times let’s focus on good and forget about perfection.  Whilst highly processed food is unhealthy, minimally processed food – think tinned, jarred and frozen – can the source of fast healthy nutrient dense meals.  

Nutritional therapist Karen Cummings-Palmer says there are a lot of tinned foods with amazing nutritional value

Her advice is to look for organic tinned food – it is not just about the contents (unlikely to have added sugar, preservatives and colours) but the context – some tins still contain low levels of toxic chemicals in the lining. 

“Having a store cupboard filled with foods that last months or even years means we can whip up delicious nutrition in minutes and we are far less likely to make unhealthy decisions” she says. Her advice is to stock up on good quality beans, albacore tuna in olive oil, frozen peas and herbs, tinned tomatoes and pulses that you don’t have to soak overnight.

Keep moving 

Research has shown that movement can seriously boost our immune system . According to immunologist Dr Jenna Macciochi, our lymphatic system (which carries the white blood cells around our body) only moves when we do. It is therefore vital that we get up from our desks to keep the lymph pumping throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be a full blown HIIT class – Jenna says that a walk will do – but it’s vital that we factor in movement into our day. 

Note: it is also important to remember that moving too much and exhausting yourself can also deplete your immune system so use your common sense about how much is too much.

Be mindful of mornings

We don’t need to be told this (hello The Social Dilemma), but too much tech will fry our brains. Yet with Zoom now the norm, and with limited people interaction right now , it is hard to avoid spending more time on our devices than ever. If we exercised consistently day in and day out we would burn out and the same goes for our brains – it needs downtime in order to function at its best.

One way of limiting technology is to keep the mornings free of it for the first few hours of the day. Maeve O’Sullivan Chinese Medicine practitioner and co-founder of escapadahealth.com in Ireland says this is also something that follows Ayurvedic principles. “Traditionally, those following an Ayurvedic lifestyle would dedicate the first hour or so of the day, before sunrise, attending to their own personal wellbeing, making sure they awoke early enough and refreshed enough to slowly greet each new day. The way we spend the first few moments of the morning undoubtedly has a huge impact on how we feel the rest of the day, which is why so many cultures and healing traditions see this as a sacred time of day. This time could include journaling, meditating or simply taking a few deep breaths and thoughts of gratitude for the new day.”

Self care is not self indulgent

Life was hard enough even before COVID-19 enveloped our lives. Maeve O’Sullivan says, “We can mistake the feeling of being under stress for having energy and this feeling can become addictive, so you run from early morning until late at night, turning yourself into an energiser bunny. Between holding down a job, maintaining relationships, and caring for a family, we can often negate the energy we earn from sleep, good food and good company. When we constantly put our bodies into overdraft, our mental health and physical health suffer resulting in anxiety, depression and physical ailments like skin breakouts, low immunity, digestive issues and much more. Our bodies, especially at time of such uncertainty, crave nourishment, stability and routine.”

So how often should be take time for ourselves? “The simple answer is everyday,” says Maeve, “It can be so beneficial to attach selfcare to some of your favourite beauty rituals like meditation, body brushing, and jade rolling. Not only do these beauty rituals have a fantastic effect on our skin health, they also have a wonderful impact on our inner health. These rituals also allow us the time to pause in our day, check in with how we are feeling and give back to our body so we start to pay back the overdraft from times when our bodies have been under more stress than normal.”

Stretch for success 

It’s all too easy at home to sink into our new working environment (both physically and metaphorically speaking), however according to stretch specialist and TED talker Robert Frampton, sitting for long periods  can put unnecessary pressure on the spine, which is our essential piece of machinery that interacts with the brain. He explains that the spine can also squash our butt muscles and close the front of our hips leading to wrecked posture. So what can we do? Robert suggests dedicating 10 minutes a day to stretching the tightest parts of the body. He recommends the following: 

The HIP Opener – Kneel on the floor with a wall behind you. Next, take one of your legs backwards so your shin is on the wall and you are kneeling on one knee. Then bring your other foot forward into a lunge position and there you have it, a strong feeling of stretch in the front of your back thigh. Spend 2 mins here each side. To make it easier bring the back knee slightly away from the wall. 

Shoulder opener – Sit on the floor, legs outstretched and place your hands behind you, shoulder width apart, elbows bent with your thumbs facing forwards. Next walk your body away from your hands and push the rib cage open. When doing this you should feel a strong stretch in front of your shoulders. Back off if you feel any pain and remain here for 3 minutes. Aim to keep the elbow above the hands. 

Ted Talker and stretch specialist Roger Frampton gives his advice on the importance of stretching
Stop the work traffic

For many of us, working from home is a blessing but it can also be a curse. With no ‘end of day’ finishing times, work and home life can become a blur, especially if you work for yourself. One way that we can draw a line is to instill a traffic light approach that many life coaches use. 

It works like this: When you’re working you’re on green and are full-steam ahead. As it gets into the early-evening you stay on orange meaning you’re relatively alert and can pick up work if needed. But set yourself a deadline, for example beyond 8pm, you’re onto red meaning you ignore emails and calls. This will allow you to wind down for the evening and get work off of your mind right before bed.

Identify your coping skills

We have all had our moments in the last year –  whether due to work, family life or the juggle of it all  – when we’ve been overwhelmed and feel unable to cope. Psychologist Mara says it’s important that we identify three specific things we can do to cope with high-stress situations, and most importantly, to actively use them. “These are things that you do when you know the stress levels are going up and self-care isn’t enough,” she says “It could be things like breathing techniques, practicing gratitude by speaking it aloud or writing it down, a walk outside, listening to a specific playlist. Find three and use them intentionally and regularly.”

Plan ahead

Whilst many of us feel like planning ahead is not something we are capable of right now, Mara stresses that it’s important to have a routine.  “We learned that in the first lockdown,” she says

“So be intentional about scheduling your work time, and your socialising time, your exercise time, and your “just being” time.

Identify your trouble spots

We all had our individual stresses and triggers in lockdown. For some it was home schooling, for others it was 24/7 Zoom fatigue. It is key to identify your problem area (the one that triggers stress) and plan ways that might make it easier a second time round. For example for us we felt overwhelmed by relentless cooking and coming up with new ideas for the family. We’ll be investing in a meal delivery service from now on such as www.gousto.co.uk who deliver fresh ingredients for tasty meals straight to your door.

Tell us about your work…

“I’m the Chief Marketing Officer of Chili’s Grill and Bar based in Dallas, TX.  I love getting to think about making people happy every day.  My email subject lines often involve Margaritas and baby back ribs.”

What’s your context outside of work?

“I’m married to a corporate pilot and have two sons, 8 and 5, plus a dog, Bo, and a fish called Dory.  We live in the ‘burbs outside Dallas.  I love to cook, read, travel, plan parties, and binge watch TV with my husband (after the kids are in bed).  We spend weekends (non-quarantine) at the pool, gym or ballpark.  Our families live far away, so we count on our nanny to help us.”

What is your normal day-to-day life like?

“Usually, we get the two boys off to school (Shoes! Teeth! Backpack!) and traverse the one hour commute to the office.  I talk (hands-free) on the drive to make the most of it.  Usually meetings all day, back to back at the office including working lunch.  I have about 8 hrs of meetings a day, varying from leadership team to agency recommendations/decisions to coaching and 1:1s.  There are lots of decisions.  The drive home is another hour.  Then begins dinner, bath and bed – usually our nanny will have helped with homework and to straighten up the boys’ spaces.”

Ellie Doty multitasking in her new home office
What is your day-to day life like now currently during COVID-19?

“The morning routine is much more chill – my husband and I usually both have calls beginning around 8, so we take them while the boys are on devices and eating breakfast. Then we tag-team homeschool in between obligations as best we can.  Truthfully, he does most of it.  I still haven’t figured out how to access all the portals.  Plus our 8-year old is dyslexic and has ADHD, so he needs lots of breaks.

All the usual routines are off as we are in survival mode (with me in restaurants, him in aviation).  I have put in place daily video chats with my team to stay connected.  I like having no commute though.”

How has it impacted you personally and professionally?

“Professionally we have been hit hard with restaurant dining rooms closed – that’s significant revenue loss.  Same for corporate aviation which has ground to a halt.  We’ve had a few ‘state of the union’ convos, refocussing on a new budget and new savings horizon. 

Personally, it has been delightful to be with my children and husband more than usual though.  We have been swimming and cooking almost every day, which fuels me up!”

What are you finding challenging?

“Managing fear and uncertainty for myself, especially in isolation.  Being fuelled by interaction with other humans, it’s a big change to me to lead from afar.  I also find leading others in fear and isolation a new challenge.  I’m working on practicing transparency, vulnerability and community – which still works even now.  The biggest one has got to be HOMESCHOOLING though!”

Where are you finding hope and optimism?

“It is encouraging to see how easily and quickly we come together in a dramatically new normal.  It gives me hope that no matter how this ends up going, we’ll be changed for the better on the other side.  Particularly, at the restaurants, there are millions of stories of the ‘helpers’ – teams helping guests, guests helping teams, and teams helping each other.” 

What do you miss about life before COVID-19 that you never thought you would?

“I actually miss going to the office – this life with no commute, time to cook and time with my kids has long been a fantasy of mine. But, man, it’s hard to get the sort of work done I need to without being in person with the team – it’s dozens of people and millions of dollars.  Those cats are easier to herd in person.  Also the gym.  Which I usually dread.”

How are you getting through? What are your coping strategies? Do you have any objects, routines or tools that you are finding particularly uplifting right now?

“Well, if I said a vodka drink at 5pm, would you judge me?  Seriously though, my husband and I have been coping by getting those household tasks you always put off , done (my closet looks amazing) which is super satisfying.  Music is helping too – whether peaceful Hawaiian to help everyone chill out, Edith Piaf for cooking, or loud pop hits for a kitchen dance party, there’s nothing like some tunes to shift the mindset.  Oh, and all those built-in speakers are now functional thanks to coping tool #1.”

What is your mindset about how to use your time at home? (Hustle harder with newfound time, be still and soak up the gift of time, dive into unexplored creative pursuits?)

“A little bit of all three.  The hustle was ON in the first couple weeks when we could barely break away from our phones as one blow after another hit restaurants and aviation.  Now, we are feeling grateful every day for the gift of time – with each other, with the boys, with our home.  In some ways, it is exactly the sort of full stop needed to kill the inertia of life’s obligations.  Like a flood or a forest fire, life is now ALL about the important things like togetherness with your immediate people, creative nourishment, and quiet ways to care for yourself.”

Personally how are you managing your mind and wellbeing? and that of your family

“I’ve noticed a real difference in the way extroversion and introversion preferences show up right now.  As an extrovert, I need social interaction for my wellbeing so I have been very proactive about reaching out, facetime happy hours, Zoom birthday songs, just checking-in texts.  But I hear from my introverted friends that they are in heaven! “

Despite all the negatives and the brutality of the virus are there positives you feel are coming out of this  – a silver lining?

“YES.  A dramatic reprioritization of what matters and how to show up for others. Perhaps this ‘crisis like collaboration’ will help us find the muscles to accomplish other things together like environmental protection.  It forms a case study for government in action (across all countries and states) that may open our eyes to previous rhetoric, bias and advocacy.  And, for me, on a small scale, it is such a gift to have this much time with my boys at these ages.  I feel like we are making memories we never would have made otherwise (in a good way).”

Kelli Valade is a Dallas-based CEO within the restaurant industry. She talks to 35 Thousand about how her world has changed in lockdown, from the management of her team to virtual Happy Hours and the coming together of her neighbourhood.

Q:Tell us about your work…

A: “I’m currently the CEO and President of Black Box Intelligence. We are the leading provider of data, analytics and insights for the restaurant industry. Our portfolio of products are used by restaurant operating companies to drive superior performance. Prior to joining Black Box Intelligence in 2019, I spent 22 years at Brinker International.  My last position was COO and President of Chili’s Grill and Bar. I am passionate about restaurants and I am passionate about helping those that work in, and support restaurants.”

Q: What’s your context outside of work?

A: “I grew up in Upstate NY, though I have lived in Dallas Texas for the last 27 years. 

 I am a mother to two awesome children, Morgan, a 19-year old freshman at OU #boomersooner and Christian, a high school junior.  My husband Don has been my partner in life for over 26 years; we have been married for over 21.  We have an awesome Golden Doodle named Lucy, who is particularly curious about post COVID-19 life, wondering why we are all home so much, and in general is just loving the extra attention. My hobbies are working out, especially attending hot yoga classes, cooking Italian food, and binge-watching fixer upper shows on HGTV.  I believe that I have a knack for design, though I have no formal training, but I have flipped a couple of houses . When we travel, and we do a lot (or at least we used to), we divide our time between new places and countries we have never been to before, and our second home in Boston’s North End.”

Q: What is your normal day-to-day life like?

A: “My normal day-to-day was leading and managing our Dallas-based company.  My focus has been on taking a founder and family-owned company to the next level to realize our full potential in the marketplace.  I spend my time driving innovation, leveraging strategic partnerships with our restaurant clients, speaking at industry events, and helping others understand industry trends, insights and best practices.

My new normal is doing some of the same, but my time is now being spent thinking about what our business will look like post COVID-19. Because the restaurant industry has been hit hard, so have we.  I used to travel about 25-30% of the time, speak at a dozen or so industry events a year, and teach/coach on leadership topics. That has all changed and it looks like I will have the summer off, like many others.  My day is now spent thinking about how government funding can help my company and the restaurant industry. I had to lay off a third of our team, only after exhausting all other measures to keep us financially viable and sustainable.  It was heart-breaking, but it was a decision that had to be made.

We’ve also used this time to offer our assistance to the industry at large, and we have been very busy trying to answer questions and help our customers who are in desperate situations. We are now running our data and reports for free, and letting customers defer their payments to us, in hopes that they remember us when this is all over.  It’s a risk, and I can only hope I am making the right decisions for our future. Aside from my team, the recovery of the restaurant industry is my first priority. It’s an industry I have always loved, and I have never appreciated it more.”

Q:How has it impacted you personally and professionally?

A: “Personally, and as a mom, I am a natural worrier when it comes to my family.  I have become pretty fanatical about handwashing, and cleaning products.  I have also tried to follow ‘Shelter in Place’ 100% because that is the way I believe we will stay safe, and because I believe it is our responsibility in doing the right thing. I have been at odds with family and friends at times, and that has been difficult.  I am also a rule follower, and these are the rules, so I will follow them and hope it creates order in a time of chaos. That said, this is one of the scariest things I have ever experienced, and I hate it. I hate it so much, and I want someone to tell me with certainty that everything is going to be ok.   I’d also prefer it if that same person can tell me exactly WHEN we will be okay .  Until then, I am not ok, and every day there is a black cloud that I see above us all.

Professionally, I bounce back and forth.  I think I know what my company needs from me, and I have a job to do, and that brings me energy.  It doesn’t bring me satisfaction, but there is energy for it and urgency.  I also believe the most important thing I can do right now is provide a steady and compassionate hand.  Leading with purpose has never been more important, and that same purpose is being tested and questioned every day, but it is the only way.   I’ve tried to stay calm, even when I don’t feel calm.  My leadership team has been there for me, and done an amazing job of being courageous and taking care of their teams.  I am grateful and learning from them every day. 

No one has a playbook, and no one has the answers, but I am grateful for the friends and leaders in my life that are giving me strength.  I’ve also learned to do wellness checks with people on the team – I learned that from one of my leaders, and it has been helpful.    Finally, like everyone else that is now working from home, we are finding ways to stay connected beyond the typical conference call. We’re doing Zoom meetings and finding ways to “see each other”.  We’ve even done Zoom Happy Hours as a team. Connection is so important right now, and seeing people faces on a screen makes you feel at least a little connected.  I also started doing virtual Happy Hours with peers in the industry and friends – it has helped to know I am not alone. “

Q: What are you finding challenging?

A: “The uncertainty; the fear for my own safety and the fear that people that I love could be hurt.”

kelli valade
Kelly in work mode pre COVID-19
Q: Where are you finding hope and optimism?

A: “In addition to the above, I am finding hope and optimism in talking to others. In some cases, I am reaching out to those that may have stronger faith than me.  Leaning on folks that process things completely differently than me, has been helpful.”

Q: What do you miss about life before COVID-19 that you never thought you would?

A: “I DO NOT miss my long commute to my office every day, but I miss the time to think and listen to music, and think about the day ahead. I miss NOT worrying to this degree.”

Q: How are you getting through?

A: “I have tried to stick to my routines as much as possible. I still get up early, even though I have saved 2 hours a day in commuting.  I get up now at 6 am and work out, which is a whole hour later than I used to get up, so I appreciate that.  My daily workouts and yoga are critical for me.  It’s also been critical I get “dressed” for work each day; though I am certainly not getting dressed in the same way – yoga pants are the daily uniform for me right now, and make-up is definitely NOT happening, unless I am on a Zoom call.”

Q: There is a new part of my routine that has emerged since all of this started….

A: “Once I am done working out, I sit on my front porch and try to just breathe for a minute. The mornings are quiet, and the weather’s been beautiful…It’s a chance to try and still my mind and thoughts.   Every day, however, feels exactly the same. The same potential is there for it to be a great day, but the potential isn’t really there…not now anyway.  And I find it ironic – in the quiet of the morning, you can’t feel the fear, and the chaos and the deaths. The sun keeps shining, and there’s another day upon us, another day full of potential. Yet how can that be?”

Q: What is your mindset about how to use your time at home? (Hustle harder with newfound time, be still and soak up the gift of time, dive into unexplored creative pursuits?)

A: “What a great question. I have many days tried to think about what I should be learning from this time, or what other things I should accomplish with this extra time.  Hug my kids more? Definitely.  Clean my closet out and donate my clothes?  Done. Read that book that’s on my nightstand? Not yet .   Beyond that, I’m also kind of exhausted most days and I feel like I am doing ok, just sticking to those few things. That’s a big enough list for any of us right now. 

We have, though, started doing puzzles and formalizing movie and game nights as a family, and I am proud of how my family has come together to connect and just talk.  My kids have inspired me more than anyone else. They are young adults with their own opinions, and they too are having to adjust, yet they have been concerned for me and tried to be extra helpful right now; I have truly never been more proud of them. 

Additionally, I have made closer connections with those in my neighbourhood.  We have shopped for each other, had social hour sitting in our driveways and watched people up and down our streets come out to say hello and be seen.  I believe profoundly right now, that “being seen” is one of the most powerful things you can do for someone else right now.”

Q: Personally how are you managing your mind and well being for your family?

A: “Walks, and workouts.  Everyone in my family is working out more, and walking together when we can. “

Q: Despite all the negatives and the brutality of the virus are there positives you feel are coming out of this  – a silver lining perhaps?

A: “The silver lining is the time with my family, and not taking things for granted. I believe we will forever be changed for going through this, and I believe that in some crazy way, that is the lesson that we are supposed to take away.  “Be different for getting through this, slow down after this and make the most of everything you have.  You have it good”.