Protecting our wellbeing at work when the world is overwhelming

March 23, 2022     

Covid restrictions are being relaxed around the world. Masks are slowing coming off and face to face interactions seem real again. After two long weary years of pandemic disruptions — and soaring levels of anxiety, depression and burnout — many of us have been looking forward to catching our breaths and reclaiming our emotional wellbeing.

When I first sat down to write this article a few months ago, I wanted to share some strategies on cultivating a positive mindset during one of the worst phases of the pandemic. My goal was to encourage us to reflect on what is truly important in our lives and how we can develop new work habits that protect our sanity in the long run.

While I’m thrilled that the omicron variant is on the decline, I couldn’t have predicted that other unprecedented events would create even more emotional havoc in our lives.

There’s the sheer heartbreak and grief about the war in Ukraine and anxiety about the global short- and long-term repercussions. We’re constantly reminded that the pandemic isn’t behind us yet. And as we recalibrate how to divide our work lives between the office and remotely, we still need to figure out how to spend less time in front of our computer screens.

The toll of chronic anxiety on our physical health is well documented. Staying on a constant level of high psychological alert also hurts our ability to focus and solve problems at work, never mind robbing us of joy.

Even though the world is more overwhelming than ever, I believe we can still find opportunities to shift our perspective and cultivate new ways to thrive and support each other. They will pay off by energizing and encouraging our teams to be the best they can be as well as keep us inspired on our own career growth journeys.

Here are some practices that have helped me. I hope they can help others:

1) Be more productive by doing less

Throughout my career, I’ve learned that “less is more” when it comes to setting and accomplishing my personal and professional goals. Given that we have a limited amount of energy, it’s important to be extra vigilant to spend it on endeavors that give us results and improve our lives. During the pandemic, when our psychological reserves are taxed, it’s even more critical to focus on what adds value and get rid of what doesn’t. This is a good lesson to remember when we plan our workflow with colleagues: Are there email exchanges that can be streamlined? What are the most essential meetings to schedule and how can we make them run the most efficiently? For a good roadmap on how to more effectively prioritize your time, I highly recommend Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism.

2) Remember your strengths

These past two years have shown us how resilient we are. If you’re like me, you surprised yourself with discovering new ways of coping and thriving in all areas of your life.

I urge you to remember those silver linings when you encounter new challenges during the coming months. Better yet, write them down. They provide a good reminder of the internal strength you’re able to summon when you need it.

2) Create a better ‘new normal’

The upheaval that accompanied the changes in the way we worked and socialized during the past two years also provided some eye-opening lessons. Perhaps on a personal level, you may have realized you need to pay more attention to their work-life balance. Or you recognized constructive new ways your teammates could work together. As we develop our “new normal” it’s important to remember you can create something better.

In this recent article “Resist Old Routines When Returning to the Office,” in Harvard Business Review, the authors offer a framework for retaining the productive habits we adopted during the pandemic. Perhaps even more importantly, the authors encourage people to identify and get rid of practices that weren’t helpful.

In other words, we have a unique opportunity to shake up our routines and not immediately go back to the old way. Let’s be extra thoughtful in selecting the best practices in structuring our office routines, workloads, team responsibilities and schedules … and discard the rest.

3) Help each other & be kind

Take extra care of yourself, but also take care of each other. This is an integral part of Bristol Myers Squibb’s culture of teamwork. Remember that kindness is contagious: find new ways to pitch in or offer someone help, even if they don’t request it. And show everyone just a little extra grace. Send a simple text asking “How are you?”, engage in an after-work social catch up, or find a way to give some personal time to colleagues. You will feel better, too.

4) Stay connected to your purpose

During dark times, I believe we can find perspective by remembering our own mission at Bristol Myers Squibb. We’re creating medicines that ease people’s suffering. Our work matters. Every day we show up and contribute our best energy to do good for humanity. Let your personal purpose keep you focused and moving forward as we continue to create a better future for all.

About the author:

Catherine Owen is senior vice president of Major Markets, overseeing a portfolio of oncology, hematology, cardiovascular and immunology products in 19 countries outside the United States.

She is committed to improving patients’ lives. Catherine represents Bristol Myers Squibb as a member of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations on its Patient Access committee, and is on the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital board in New Jersey.

Catherine is passionate about helping people develop and strengthen their best work skillsets and serves as a career mentor for many. She received the Medical Media & Marketing (MM&M) Hall of Femme award in 2021, the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association Luminary award in 2018, and represented Johnson & Johnson at Forbes “NexGen” Most Powerful Women in Pharma. 

About Bristol Myers Squibb

Bristol Myers Squibb is a global biopharmaceutical company whose mission is to discover, develop and deliver innovative medicines that help patients prevail over serious diseases. As global citizens, we work sustainably and responsibly to create a positive impact in the communities where we live and work.

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