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Career Tips

Turning worry into work

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
May 2, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 17


IIllustration of a checklist.
Credit: Shutterstock
Good planning requires a checklist.

Are you longing for those simpler days when you needed personal protective equipment for the lab and not the grocery store? The pandemic has increased everyone’s stress levels, and in some cases, to an unprecedented degree. Worrying about the future can become debilitating, but it can also be energizing. Here are some ways you can turn your nervous energy into something positive and productive.

Make a list. Start by making a list of all the things you’re worried about, from small disruptions like whether you’re able to manage working from home, to total disasters like the possibility of your loved ones getting sick or you getting laid off. Just getting your concerns out of your head and onto paper (or your computer) will make them seem more manageable. You may want to categorize and prioritize your list. And seek input from significant others, as their priorities may be different.

Make a plan. Identify the most-likely and the worst-case scenarios. Then start planning for what you will do if each happens, as well as what you can do now to be prepared. What can you learn, obtain, or do? How can you prevent or mitigate the worst-case scenario? Even if the worst does not happen, your plans may be used to address less severe outcomes.

Do what you can, even if it’s not perfect. While a videoconference may not be as good as meeting in person, it’s better than canceling altogether. Unleash your creativity to find ways to do what needs to be done, and let go of the rest. Reset your expectations—everything has been disrupted, so what makes sense now?

Accept that there will be some things you cannot control. Recognize that it’s not your fault, and allow yourself to mourn for what is lost.

Run the marathon, not the sprint. Resist the temptation to panic work and do everything, thus burning yourself out. Use your plan, and create new routines for starting work, taking breaks, and ending your workday and transitioning to home. Establish a bedtime routine, if you don’t already have one. Regular routines help your brain and body know what to expect, which lowers stress. Eliminate habits or routines that previously worked but don’t fit your new normal.

As long as you are changing, try to change for the better. Work on the simple things, like getting enough sleep and exercise and eating healthfully, so you are physically prepared for whatever may come. Don’t expect to become perfect overnight; just strive to be a little better than you were the day before.

Stay connected. Even introverts need to connect with others occasionally, and people are more open to connecting now. Commiserating (with humor) and sharing coping strategies make for great bonding. Many people are experiencing the same issues, so ask for ideas and guidance. Share tips and resources for teaching online or conducting business long distance. Appreciate flexibility in your coworkers, and return the favor as they manage their own challenges.

You can’t control everything, but you can control your attitude. Approach your problems as challenges to be solved, and tackle them with a positive attitude. Before you know it, you’ll be looking back on how well you survived the pandemic and feeling grateful for all you learned from it.

Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first issue of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (


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