Showing UP For Your Students During and After COVID

“When nothing is sure, everything is possible” – Margaret Drabble

In these unsteady times, we have been in awe with how our amazing POUND community has found creative and joyful ways to connect locally and globally – through virtual classes and in other ways like #passtheRipstix and a variety of inventive virtual hangouts. At the same time, we know that there are many out there who are struggling. Each of us is unique and we process our situations differently from one another. When we see those around us in pain or suffering, we want to help in any way we can.

As fitness professionals and leaders in our communities, we have an urge and need to serve others and that is where our attention and energies often go. Our class attendees turn to us for guidance, but how can we bring comfort when we ourselves are unsure of the current environment and what the future holds? Uncertainty can take a toll on our mental health, creating stress and anxiety in ourselves and in the world around us. So what can we do?

First, check-in with you – how are you doing, right now, this very second?? A major benefit to connecting to the here and now is we can take our minds away from the unpredictable future and instead, into the knowable, manageable, malleable now. Try the following to drop into your current status: 

1.Writing/Journaling. Try this exercise – answer these questions: What is one challenge that you’ve experienced during this pandemic? How did you work through it? And what did you learn?

ICON Jess McKee in London shared that she felt challenged by the size of her apartment. Even though she loves her home, she felt like she was unable to teach classes, unable to support her community in her usual capacity and it was bringing her down. She expressed her feelings to her partner and together they rearranged the furniture to create the space Jess needed to teach from home. In this process, Jess was reminded that communication is key, especially in times like these.

Asking ourselves these questions shows us that when presented with challenges, we adapt and overcome. Pausing to acknowledge our capabilities brings our strengths to light. We have done this before, we are doing it now, and we will do it again in the future. No matter how overwhelming or impossible something seems, know that each of us has the power to find a solution, to adapt, to overcome, and to grow stronger.  

2. Breathing. The mind and the body are intimately connected. Feelings of stress and/or anxiety can manifest physically in the breath as well as in other parts of our bodies. By slowing down and deepening the breath, we can shift from our sympathetic nervous system, “fight or flight”, to our parasympathetic nervous system, “rest and digest”.  There are many free-breathing and meditation apps that you can download and give it a try!

3.
Mindfulness Exercises. These types of exercises can help bring your attention to the present. Focus on just one sense: close your eyes and listen, what do you hear? Or focus your attention on a body part such as your feet to feel a sense of groundedness and peace. Many activities can become a mindfulness exercise. Doing something you love is a wonderful place to start. You might also try coloring, cooking, doing a puzzle, or playing an instrument – just to name a few!

4. Acknowledge and Empathize with YOURSELF. Whatever feelings or emotions come up, let yourself feel the full spectrum of them. And that doesn’t just mean right now during these times of change, but any and all times. Acknowledge everything that you are feeling and empathize and have compassion for yourself, just as you would for anyone you love.  

 

Second, create an action plan. Checking in with ourselves can uncover what might be triggering our anxieties as well as what lights us up. Once we recognize this, we can create an action plan that brings more of what makes us smile into our everyday lives. Action plans should be S.A.M. – specific, actionable, measurable. For example, you’ve realized that constant immersion in the news is leaving you anxious and/or sad – instead of deciding to generally watch less news, your action plan might be to reduce your news consumption to every other day. This plan is specific: every other day; it is an action: no news; it can be measured: you can write down if you did it or not. Another example might be, you notice after trying a movement-based meditation exercise that stretching makes you feel great so you decide on an action plan to set a reminder to stretch every morning from 10-10:30. 

Before we keep going, let’s take a moment to recognize that anxiety is a fundamental and essential human response. It triggers our fight or flight mode so we can recognize and react to a perceived threat which is important for survival. There are many different types of anxiety and some are especially heightened at this time while others may be feeling a bit of relief. Imagine someone whose anxiety is triggered by social situations, they might enjoy being at home on their own right now! What we need to be extra aware of is when anxieties begin to impact a person’s day-to-day functioning and happiness. That is when we really need to band together. 

 

“Leadership isn’t a position or a title, it is action and example” Donald McGannon

 

Third, lead by example. As leaders in our communities, our classes look to us and take stock in our actions and behaviors, even if we don’t realize it. When we take care of ourselves, our community is likely to do the same. Additionally, taking care of ourselves leaves us better equipped and better resourced to help everyone around us. Here are some ways to connect to and aid your students:

  1. Schedule ways to connect beyond virtual classes – zoom happy hours and coffee dates, a text message check-in, a phone call, etc. Once you have something scheduled, stick to it!

  2. Give people space to share and listen with an empathetic ear. Really be there with them and ask if there’s anything they need that you can help with.

An excellent tip from ICON Daniel Shattuck: Be prepared with mental health resources such as phone numbers, websites, or contact info of support services in your area. 

  1. Share the tools that have helped you, such as the four self-check-in tools shared above. 

  2. Support your entire community by leading awareness events to support local charities, restaurants, or individuals directly affected by the pandemic. 

  3. Get creative! Bring the joy and laughter with crazy costumes during virtual classes, a group getting-to-know-you quiz during your next virtual hangout, cooking a virtual meal together, dance challenges, book club, and whatever else you can think of!

We might be physically isolated from one another, but that doesn’t mean we are alone socially or emotionally. With so many ways to show up for our communities, the options for banding together are limitless!


Finally
, as we prepare to move out of these unique times and into a different future, let us take one more dive inward. Reflection not only brings comfort and strength but also joy, allowing us to move forward with a clear mind and a happy heart. Find a quiet moment to delve into the following: 

What are you cherishing about this time? and What learnings will you carry forward?

Finding something, or many things, that can be cherished about this time brings a lens of joy to your view of the world and to your state of mind. Even in our darkest moments, finding that spark of joy can light a flame that shows us a different side of ourselves, bringing light and laughter to the forefront of our lives. Perceiving our learnings enables us to carry them forward into our future experiences. Knowing we are capable of handling anything life throws at us and not just surviving, but thriving shifts the mind from the tunnel vision of anxiety into the expansive acceptance of whatever is on the horizon.

As fitness professionals, our lives are constantly changing and shifting, more drastically at some times than others. The only constant is us, our selves. Check-in with yourself. Take action. Lead by example. Reflect and carry on. Together, we will make it through and we will always come out stronger on the other side. Until we can see each other again in person – be patient, be brave, be kind.

Share what has helped you the most, how you’ve connected to your community, and/or something you are cherishing in the comments!

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