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Five Minutes to Thrive: Managing Emotions During Times of Uncertainty

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. --

One of nature’s most fascinating displays is that of herd behavior. Many species of land animals (herds), fish (schools), insects (swarms), and birds (flocks) abandon individuality in favor of highly-coordinated group movements for the various adaptive benefits they yield in terms of protection from predators, foraging, mating and child-rearing, and energy conservation. Birds are especially mesmerizing, as they alternate tasks within the flock dependent on the needs and movements of the whole. A bird falling out of formation will notice increased wind resistance and immediately course-correct. When a flock leader becomes fatigued, it drops back and allows another bird to rotate into its place. And when a sick or wounded bird can no longer keep pace, it will fall out of the formation entirely so as not to hold up the rest of the flock. However, when this happens, a healthy bird will also leave the flock and follow the sick bird, staying with it until it recovers.


During times of uncertainty, we may follow the herd or branch off on our own. Acknowledging and managing our emotional responses during times of uncertainty is vital to our own and the herds survival. We all have tough winds to weather in our personal and professional lives, and no member of our human “herd” is immune. Sometimes we are able to manage life’s struggles on our own by course-correcting with our repertoire of resilience skills. But sometimes our burdens become more than we can handle on our own, and that’s okay—in these times, we need a figurative (or in the birds’ case, a literal) Wingman to aid us in recovery. There’s no shame in relying on others for support; in fact, the strongest people I know keep a close consort of friends on whom they can unload their troubles. Whether you choose to belong to a herd or other group, here are some ideas for managing your emotions during times of uncertainty.


- Know your mindset and where you’d like it to be: Are you the strong-silent type, the Debbie Downer, the catastrophizer, or the courageous Braveheart? If you’re a catastrophizer and would like to be calmer, ask a calm person how they do it. Inch closer to the response you’d like to have.


- Keep stock of the things you can control: What can you choose for breakfast or dinner? What type of television program you’ll watch or even the person you choose to speak to tonight? Don’t get lost in all the uncertainty you cannot control.


- DON’T worry alone: Identify a Wingman, both personally and professionally. Make sure to tell your Wingman that they are your Wingman and use them as a support system not a dumping ground. When a burden is consuming your thoughts, it can be helpful to listen or speak it with a trusted confidant.


- Know your breaking point: Even the leader of the flock must acknowledge fatigue; know when you need to take a knee, refocus your priorities, or attend to your own needs. Only then will you be able to recover and resume the fight as strong as (or even stronger than) before.