Some anxiety is normal but how can we avoid becoming victims of group panic

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How do we protect our brain and our heart from group panic? I view myself as a relatively calm person, but even I struggled to sleep well the last few nights.

Considering that the number of Corona related deaths in Europe is increasing significantly, it is not surprising that we, especially parents, worry. Like most people, I already had my own personal issues to deal with before the home isolation.  I was still reeling with sadness. My father passed away one month ago in a ICU hospital unit in Romania. It wasn’t Corona but a very aggressive form of a neurological disease. The memory of the two weeks  spent with my 73 year old father in ICU makes the statistic on death rate for elderly very real for me. When you lose a parent you lose a part of you, at least that’s how I feel now.

Through this weird situation of having the whole family being at home all the time, I somehow find it easier to deal with the constant heavy heart. As a  working mum who needs to juggle home-schooling, cooking and 1-2 video calls a day I don’t have time to check the news during the day. However in the evening, after watching the news, the bad thoughts are coming in. Sometimes they continue through the night.

It is tempting to fall into a state of self-pity but instead I decided to stay active by spending enough time outside with the kids. Treasure hunts are a nice distraction. To deal with my inner worries I started to read articles and tips from the ICF executive coaching  community.

Here are four tips  I found useful to help me avoid anxiety and panic.

1. Be aware of the anxiety influencers around you

When anxiety fosters prevention it is a good thing, but when the threat is uncertain, as in the case of the current corona virus, our mind can easily underestimate our body’s ability to cope. People with pre-existing anxiety conditions are particularly vulnerable.

I know by now exactly who are the people that will send me panicky whatsapp messages or would give me that weird feeling after a phone call. I deliberately choose how to react to them.

While a healthy dose of anxiety will help us cope, extreme and prolonged anxiety can become panic. When we are in a panic state, we suffer, we stress out our children and we create new problems through our reactions, such as buying toilet paper and masks.

2. Limit media exposure and stick with reliable sources

I used to check news throughout the day and I now keep to one official update through the  the Dutch news (‘NOS Journaal’). I received a lot of fake news via social media. After being burned once or twice I started to ignore that. Thoughts and predictions, especially the examples given on social media, can fuel panicky feelings.

I am not saying we should ignore the problem. It is important to be informed about the safety precautions and how to be supportive to others, helping them think more calmly. I was inspired to see my neighborhood has a volunteer group that offers to help people with grocery shopping.

3. Reduce anxiety by reducing risk and taking care of yourself

No matter your age and your state of health, don’t feel silly or embarrassed about taking the required precautions. If the government tells us to keep 1,5 meter distance, just follow their advice for the safety of everyone.

During this uncertain time, I found it important to keep up my self-care routine. A friend of mine just told me via video call today that she keeps doing her 7.45 a.m daily sporting routine and dresses up nicely as going to the office. Consider what helps you most, such as taking a walk in nature, meditating, exercising, or talking to a friend.

As long as you step back from the flow of news and take time to connect with the people you love and care about, you will feel better.

4. Keep the lines open with your parents. Be a positive influence on their day, they get enough anxiety influencers through the news

I started to call my mum every morning. I know she is alone and the mornings are toughest without my dad. However what is tougher for her is to hear everyone calling her the ‘risk group’.  She is not used to see herself as a victim and by calling her ‘risk group’ we instill more anxiety in her.

The language we use with our elderly parents and friends can either lift their spirits or  place them in a victim mode. It is not about ignoring the danger, but about considering their situation and being empathetic. This morning I had to stop myself from using the same patronizing speech with my mum everyone else does -‘take care, you are at risk, don’t go outside of the house, etc’. How would I feel if someone would tell me this, over and over again?

We can go through this together, but let’s not spread more panic.

Instead, let’s spread hope.

Author: Steliana van de Rijt-Economu, Executive Leadership Coach and author of ‘Mothers as Leaders’.


Equality starts at home

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Tomorrow is the 8th of March, the International Women Day, #eachforequal, but...

What does equality really mean for us?

I grew up in a traditional family where the role of the woman and the man was set many years ago.

My mother was a girl with ambitions and my dad was a boy with ambitions and… as life happens, they both stepped in the traditional role of mum and dad at home.


They did that well for 52 years and, sadly, two weeks ago my father passed away following a painful terminal illness. While I am suffering terribly for his loss, I am also left wondering about ‘who I am’, ‘how I was raised’ and the huge vacuum in leadership my father left in our family.

My mother is left wondering who she really is, or better said who she is outside of the role she played for the past 52 years. She needs to assert a new type of personal leadership.

I started to wonder more and more about the leadership model I give to my children. They are watching every day how I communicate. They are forming a definition of equality through that lens.

One common thread I noticed in all the interviews I held for the ‘Mothers as Leaders’ book is the way both women and men attributed their drive to succeed and the development of their life values to their family context and to their childhood observation of their own mother.

At the funeral of my father last week I was reminded once again about the weight of that insight.

Equality in the opportunities for boys and girls, men and women will not be achieved only through corporate D&I targets,country policies and recruitment targets, the real equality is paved in each of our homes.

The equality is felt through the moments we create between each other and it is created through how we lift each other up through supportive communication and compliments or we bring each other down through self-defense communication.

Some people say that leaders are born, others say they are made. I think we are all born with the possibility of being leaders but also with the desire to follow because the desire to belong to social structures has existed in humans since the hunters and gatherers time.

We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves: an idea, a dream, a purpose. There is a moment in life when you hear a beautiful story, a story that resonates and brings out something that was there, inside of you, all this time. You feel that a woman or man really understands you and has a vision that you believe in. You are inspired; you follow and together you have created…the Leader. Without you, she was just a woman with a dream.

In an ideal world, both boys and girls would have equal opportunities for following their dreams. Of course, achieving them depends on their personal commitment and their hard work, but we as society should not add extra barriers for women. In the year 2020, we still have a long way to go for achieving equality in our world of 7 billion people and 2 billion mothers. With a deadly coronavirus spreading so quickly we become even more conscious of the need for a new type of leadership for our planet, one that transcends borders.

I have made it my life mission to support women to continue dreaming and following their dreams after becoming mothers. This blog is a place to share stories, provide inspiration and learn from each other. Do subscribe and you will receive monthly articles. If you liked the article and you want to reach out, write me on the Contact form and I will be in touch.

If you are based in The Netherlands, you are invited to join the ‘Mothers as Leaders. Dare to dream’ workshop taking place on March 22nd, at the FemaleHub in The Hague.

Happy International Women’s Day! Let’s celebrate our successes and let’s DREAM FOR MORE.

When dreams come true

After few days of anxiety about presenting my book in front of my children, husband, mother- in-law and neighbours, the moment of the truth came on Wednesday, the 29th of January.

That’s when I had my official book launch at the Paagman bookstore in The Hague. It is now available in their stores and online.

I was honored to see that more than 30 people joined, some that I knew of but most were just people interested in the topic of motherhood. I fully savoured the moment knowing that all the nights I spent writing in the past years didn’t go in vain.

To give you a flavour of the event here is a 50 seconds video of my speech.

I was reminded of P. Coehlo quote in The Alchemist-

‘When you want something the whole universe conspires for you to achieve it’

What makes someone a leader?

KaraleadingSome people say that leaders are born, others say they are made. I think we are all born with the possibility of being leaders but we are also all born with the desire to follow because the desire to belong to social structures has existed in humans since the ‘hunter and gatherers’ time. We want to be part of something bigger than ourselves: an idea, a dream, a purpose.

There is a moment in life when you hear a beautiful story, a story that resonates and brings out something that was there, inside of you, all this time.  You feel that a man or woman really understands you and has a vision that you believe in. You are inspired; you follow and, suddenly see other people following as well. Together you have created … The Leader. Without you, she was just a woman with a dream.

When I was as a child, I liked stories with brave kings and princesses and I thought leading was supposed to happen from the front. I had a romantic view of leadership, one that was supposed to be inspirational and uplifting for the people. The first crack in that romantic image of leadership happened on December 22nd, 1989.

On that day, I was playing in the courtyard of our village farmhouse while my mother was doing the laundry. The radio was on playing some classical music. Suddenly, the music stopped and I heard some loud voices saying: ‘The Dictator left, we are free at last, ‘Ceausescu is gone’. In the first ten years of my life I was raised to believe that the ‘Dictator’ was the Father of the country, looking after all the children, like me. I simply could not understand why these people called him a dictator. He was kind and generous and was giving children the opportunity to be brave, learn and to become heroes of our country. He was even giving us presents and sweets at the end of the year, just like Santa Klaus did in the western world.

A year before,  at the age of nine I finally earned the honour to be the ‘pioneer captain’ of my class, a special award in the communist political ranking of school kids.  On that December day, when the music on the radio suddenly switched into shouts of the revolutionary people, I knew that I would lose my pioneer captain title. Hearing the hard truth about our ‘father leader’, who kept people in poverty and crushed the freedom of speech woke me up from my romantic leader ideal.

On that day I learned that leaders who are created through the stories they spread or control can vanish in a flash. I also learned not to trust power, because power can corrupt anyone if held in one man’s or woman’s hand. After 1989 my idea of leadership changed completely. I looked around me for role models and, fortunately, I didn’t have to look far. My grandmother inspired in me generosity for the poor; my grandpa taught me the joy of commitment and duty; my father instilled in me the power of self-confidence and self-belief; and my mother gave me the power of perseverance and discipline.

This childhood experience instilled in me a certain rebel attitude towards people who see a leadership role as a position of power, but it also influenced my deep belief that mothers are leaders, despite the perceived lack of power.

 Nature hasn’t created a single relationship as powerful and naturally strong as the one between a mother and her child. From giving life,  nurturing and raising children and up to they eventually fly the nest, mothers are often the leaders who guide and keep families and communities together.

So, if mothers are indeed leaders, how can we let the whole world see it and admit it?

Anyone who is a parent knows that the best school to develop emotional intelligence is the practice of good parenting because parenthood in itself is leadership.

Daniel Goleman, the man who brought the topic of emotional intelligence into the spotlight in the ’90s, wrote in the HBR article   ‘What Makes a Leader’ about the critical importance of being aware of oneself and of other’s emotions. He also wrote that leaders who want to be successful in today’s world need to develop five crucial skills of emotional intelligence. Adapting Goleman’s’ concepts to women and drawing on my own experience as a mother, I developed a beautiful basket of gifts, including exercises and tips that will help mothers show the world their inherent leadership skills:

  1. Awareness & Empathy: the art of recognising and deciphering your own emotions and the art of being in tune with other people’s feelings.
  2. Social Awareness: the ability to appreciate the diverse perspectives about you and to flex your approach to a situation while staying true to your core.
  3. Self-Management: the strength to recognize and regulate your disruptive impulses and moods.
  4. Social Skills: the intuition required to find common ground and build rapport with other people, balanced with the discipline for managing and harvesting relationships and networks.
  5. Ambition and Drive: to work for something bigger than money and short-term gains.

However the most important gift for any woman who becomes a mother is the inner self-belief that if you had the power to create life you have the power to do anything you set your mind on.

‘Good enough mothers can become incredible effective leaders’. Helen Murlis

What do you think makes someone leaders?


About the Author:

Steliana van de Rijt-Economu is a mother of two and a leadership consultant and coachShe believes that the world would be a better place when more women and mothers  ‘lean in’ to take formal leadership positions in society. In 2019 she published the book Mothers as Leaders.