Interview with Miriam Junge
Miriam Junge is a Berlin-based psychotherapist, business & life coach, author, and entrepreneur. She actively advocates for mindfulness and mental health. Her book on micro habits “Kleine Schritte mit Großer Wirkung” is now available (in German).
Miriam Junge, Psychotherapist, Business & Life Coach, Author, and Entrepreneur
The constant media and social media coverage about the COVID-19 outbreak is draining and quite scary at times. How can I disconnect and clear my mind?
It has become even more important to be mindful and pay attention. Ask yourself whether it is getting too much: do I have too much input right now? What stresses me out? I just wrote a book on micro habits. This is a method where you ask yourself what the next meaningful small step is to reach a higher goal. In this case, the higher goal is to not be so exhausted in the evening and to reduce the anxiety that keeps bubbling up. This works by defining and sticking with time slots to consume news and engage on social media to stay up to date on this crisis that triggers fears. Basically, this is a news detox in the form of a time limit, where you figure out what time of day you have the most energy and positivity to deal with the news and the anxiety this might create.
This ideal time slot is certainly not right before bedtime. It is now more important than ever to practice proper “sleep hygiene,” so no media consumption and no emails an hour before bed. Even a glance at your email inbox with all its to-dos will bring you back into work mode: your brain will automatically try to solve problems, which interferes with good sleep. Instead, have a cup of tea, meditate, or take a hot shower, whatever helps you to relax and wind down. This ritual signals to your body and mind that it is time to sleep and replenish.
Do you have any tips on how to cope with uncertainty and the anxiety triggered by it?
First and foremost, these feelings of anxiety need to be acknowledged. We are living through a period of extreme uncertainty and need to face this without getting overwhelmed. Challenges should be tackled as they arise. You cannot solve the current crisis, so ask yourself what you can do. This will help you feel less helpless in the face of an issue of this magnitude.
How do I stay in touch with people and avoid getting lonely while practicing social distancing?
Creating a feeling of closeness certainly is challenging and tools like video calls are not for everyone. In fact, it is totally fine to let people know if you are not comfortable with this and turn video off, especially in your personal life. It has become even more important to clearly articulate your needs and there are many ways to stay in touch. Keep in mind that spending time with family and friends virtually happens on a different level than a business meeting. It is ok to sit on your couch, to relax, and to include elements that make these virtual hangouts more personal, for example having a coffee or a glass of wine together.
I am working from home with my family around. Which strategies do you recommend to make this work?
Working remotely comes with its own set of challenges. A cardinal mistake is to treat this like a day off and work from your couch in your pajamas. Structure your day the way you would if you went to the office: get up at the same time, take a shower, put real clothes on, have breakfast, and work from a dedicated space in your home. You should also try to plan meetings ahead of time and not schedule them last minute. This way you can prepare better and make them more efficient, which also lowers your stress level. This is, again, all about forming micro habits.
Of course, this is extra challenging with a partner and/ or kids around. However, the same strategies apply: structure your day, communicate a lot with each other to agree on the rules of working and living together, and try to still reserve actual family time. Most importantly, you should not aim to do it all. This is not the time for ideals of perfection that are simply not achievable. This just inevitably leads to additional frustration. Try to find ways to relax together in the evening during family time and go to bed early as this situation is very draining. However, you should also keep in mind that this is an extraordinary situation that will last a limited amount of time. This is not forever.
I am worried about my family and friends but also about my business and the prospect of an economic downturn. What strategies can help with finding a balance and staying focused?
Staying focused and balancing the needs of your business with your personal life is tough in the best of times. Right now, it is even more important to cut out some of the noise. Be mindful of what you do, while you are doing it. This means no lunch during a team call or quick cup of coffee while you are working on your laptop. Try to sit down and really taste your food and enjoy the moment. Such mindfulness exercises lower your heart rate and blood pressure if you stick with them. Digital detox apps like Cleverest, a free tool I just built, can help with that because they limit your access to certain apps on your phone at pre-defined times of day. If you try to open your apps anyway, your phone will display a sad emoji – this is classic conditioning. Going for walks is another simple and proven way to lower your blood pressure – and within limits is still possible even with the social distancing measures in place. Lastly, set aside times that you focus only on your company and times you only focus on your loved ones. Working remotely can lead to a much denser workday and you need to make sure that work does not take over every minute of your life.
I will have to make tough business decisions. How can I support my team as a leader while managing this crisis? How do I make sure I do not lose my vision and goals?
Be honest and take your teams’ concerns seriously. If you claim to have all the answers, you will not be credible as a leader. Do not make promises, if you are not sure you will be able to keep them. Everyone on your team knows that you have no idea how this crisis will play out. For example, we have no idea at this moment, how long the shelter-in-place orders will last. This again falls under the insight that problems are solved as they arise. So, the question is: what can I do right now? This also helps you to deal with the anxieties or the panic boiling up in the team.
The current situation also requires you to adjust the way meetings are run, both with your team and external stakeholders such as clients, customers, investors, or partners. With your team, setting aside some time at the beginning of each meeting to ask everyone how they are doing and to share something from their daily lives. This ensures that your team members feel seen and creates a feeling of shared experiences, which is very satisfying. With other stakeholders, especially when you need to close a deal or reach any sort of agreement, openly discuss expectations upfront and ask them how they would like to communicate, build trust, and reach the goals of the meeting. We are all in the same situation and these stakeholders also have no idea how to deal with this, so it is best to directly address the elephant in the room.
This is not the time for CEOs to play the role of the visionary leader, who knows what will happen down the road but to step up and let people know that even though you do not know how this crisis is going to affect your company, you will do your best to handle this unprecedented situation. This will help you to create credibility, both internally with your team and externally with your clients, customers, investors, and other relevant stakeholders of your company.
In summary, can you provide three tips to keep in mind as we navigate these uncertain times?
- Focus on the problems that you can resolve right now.
- Practice mindfulness and focus on the moment to manage and preserve your energy.
- Communicate a lot and give conversations room allowing others to talk about themselves and you to talk about yourself to foster a sense of community.