You’re Wired for This: Dealing with the Uncertainty of COVID-19

Editor’s note: All of HomeLight’s coronavirus information for buyers, sellers, and agents is available on our COVID-19 hub.

Business anxiety. Financial stress. Emotional and mental health struggles. We’re all feeling pressure as the coronavirus pandemic impacts our lives and our work in real estate.

But there’s good news! In this episode of The Walkthrough, counselor Katherine Jansen-Byrkit says we’re all “wired for uncertainty.” Listen in as she walks us through the steps to take care of ourselves so we can take of our businesses.

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If you enjoy this episode, please subscribe to get future episodes delivered automatically: Apple Podcasts/iTunes | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

Links and Show Notes

Full Transcript

(SPEAKER: Matt McGee, Host) You and me? We have something in common. Something very important in tough times.

We are wired for uncertainty.

Those aren’t my words. That’s from our guest today.

We’ve spent the past month talking to agents like you about your business. How has the coronavirus changed the way you do business? How do you market in times like this? How do you manage a team or brokerage when no one can even go into the office, for crying out loud?

Today, let’s shift our focus and ask new questions — personal questions, not about your business, but about your mental health and your emotional wellbeing.

In times like this, how do we take care of ourselves?

You already heard part of the answer. We are wired for uncertainty, but there’s more to it than that.

This is The Walkthrough.

(INTRO MUSIC)

Hey, everyone. I’m Matt McGee, Editor of HomeLight’s Agent Resource Center. On this show, you’ll learn what’s working right now from the best real estate agents and industry experts in the country. At HomeLight, we believe in real estate agents. And we believe that by helping agents like you be even better at serving your clients, the entire industry improves. If you’d like to reach me with feedback, ideas, or questions about “The Walkthrough,” you can send an email anytime to walkthrough [at] homelight.com.

Hey, we’ve reached a minor milestone with this episode. This is episode number 10 of “The Walkthrough.” Of course, it goes without saying that we didn’t expect to devote half of those episodes to a worldwide pandemic and its impact on agents like you, but life is full of surprises, isn’t it? Anyway, whether you’re new to The Walkthrough or you’ve heard all 10 episodes — but especially if you’ve heard all 10 episodes– thank you so much for being part of our Walkthrough community.

You know, one of the things that we’ve talked about a lot is the importance of mindset. That’s always true in real estate, but never more so than right now when the coronavirus pandemic has impacted pretty much everything you do as a real estate agent. Taking care of your business starts with taking care of yourself. I believe that and I hope you do too.

Today, I’m excited to introduce you to Katherine Jansen-Byrkit. She’s a psychotherapist and licensed professional counselor as well as a published author. For the past 15 years, she’s been in private practice in Portland, Oregon. Katherine is working with clients right now who are dealing with some of the same struggles you and I face: uncertainty, anxiety, grief, aloneness.

Well, today, we’ll talk about how best to deal with those things and more. You’ll hear Katherine explain that we’re wired for uncertainty. She’ll talk about the value of structure and routine and why helping others is a certain path toward helping ourselves.

I don’t mind admitting that I share a couple personal struggles and stories in this conversation. I hope you find them relatable and that you find Katherine’s replies helpful. So with that said, here’s my conversation with Katherine Jansen-Byrkit.

(BEGIN CONVERSATION)

Matt: What I’ve been doing on recent episodes when I’ve been talking to real estate agents, I wanna start the same way with you. I’ve been asking just for a sort of check-in. How are you doing? Are you healthy and safe these days? How are things going for you in the Portland area?

Katherine: Well, I appreciate the question and concern and I’m doing good. I’m doing well. I’m using all the things we’ll probably talk about today. So to know that that’s — it’s not just the…you know, I just happened to not get the virus yet. It’s about staying well and staying emotionally well. But yes, thank you for asking.

Matt: You’re very welcome. And that’s wonderful to hear. Let’s start by me pretending that I am one of your patients and I have made an appointment. And I wanna come in and talk to you because I’m having some good days and some bad days, Katherine. So some days I wake up and I feel fine. Everything’s gonna be okay. We’re gonna get through this. You know, it’s not a big deal. Other days I wake up and like I am legitimately, you know, gripped with fear and struggling to start the workday because of everything that is going on in the world. Is that normal?

Katherine: It is so normal. In fact, you know, I would go as far as if we’re not experiencing that, we may not be as aware of what’s going on. So it is very normal. And that’s one of the first things I do with folks I work with is normalize it and humanize it so that they don’t think there’s something wrong with them or not take good care of themselves on those hard days where they might need something more or something different.

Matt: I’ve been talking to a lot of real estate agents in the past month. We’ve had agents on each of the past several episodes of our podcast. I think agents everywhere are dealing with financial uncertainty, health uncertainty, family uncertainty. And that is the word that I hear the most often from agents when I ask, “How are you doing?” You know, “What’s going on? What’s your mental condition is,” is it’s this uncertainty. So when you are dealing with a patient who is going through something like this, like how can someone deal with so much uncertainty in their life?

Katherine: You know, uncertainty is about fear, so we want to create a sense of safety wherever we can. I would offer additionally that we have uncertainty in our lives but not at this level. So we forget that we actually are wired to deal with things we can’t predict and don’t know in the future. We have a resilience within us. So if we can walk back and really trust that and feel that inside, that I don’t have to do, cross all those bridges in the future right now. I can know that I have resources, inner and outer and resilience to kind of navigate those future waters.

I would say for some people, they just need to bring it down to one day at a time or one week at a time because when you look so far ahead and we don’t know some of the answers of timeframe, it’s almost like you’re on a mountain doing a big major trek or hike. If you keep looking up, you just get too overwhelmed. It feels too big. So we just put the, you know, our feet in front of us. And then I guess again to kind of handle the affairs that you can so that it is not just about uncertainty, it’s also about those things that we can control.

Matt: You mentioned that we’re wired for uncertainty. I think that sort of gets to the point that we have uncertainty in our life. I mean, uncertainty is a constant in our life, isn’t it? I mean, like, yes, it’s amplified now because of what’s going on in the world and it maybe is impacting all areas of our life more than normal. But just because something is uncertain doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily gonna turn out bad. Correct?

Katherine: I love that. Yes. Actually, we don’t really know what’s gonna happen five minutes from now. You and I think we’re still gonna be in this interview. We probably will. The reality is we have…it’s a little bit more an illusion of control and predictability. And so, again, we can trust that not only do we have what it takes for whatever is to be and that… but I love your point that we also wanna have a neutrality around that. That it’s not the sky is going to fall. Maybe the clouds part. So those are two really powerful pieces to work with when those feelings come up in terms of a feeling of uncertainty.

I would go as far as to say it’s important to have relaxation practices and mindfulness kinds of practices because uncertainty is felt in the body, not just in the mind. You know, it’s physiological. We feel anxious. And so, knowing how to work with the physiological effect can also kind of be very helpful. So to me, part of that is not letting my mind go into the future too far because then my body kind of follows where my mind goes.

Matt: So it’s things like, you know, making sure to block time for prayer or meditation or just being with yourself and in the moment, that’s the sort of thing that you’re talking about?

Katherine: Yes. And actually, a lot of people when they are introduced to the idea of mindfulness, they think of it as just kind of only being in the moment and in a kind of Zen state, which is wonderful. And it is about being in present time and living in kind of the sense of the now. But there’s another added piece that doesn’t always come with a definition, and that is being present in the moment, accepting what is. And that willingness to accept what is rather than fight what is, is also much more deeply calming than just trying to stay in this moment. And so, it kinda has that added quality.

But yes, I think having…and a lot of people have a lot of time to or more time to work with. Using this as one of the opportunities is to use this as an attempt to develop practices around slowing down, having quiet, even if it’s not a full meditation practice, just three to five minutes, you know, with a cup of coffee, of stillness or like you say, prayer is huge. And then on the other side of the pandemic, perhaps that is something that doesn’t have to go away. It’s not just about navigating COVID-19.

Matt: Right. So you said like even just three to five minutes can be helpful. It doesn’t have to be like, you know, you hear when people are doing workouts, you know, it’s gotta be 30 minutes of exercise a day or, but even just a couple minutes of just, you know, taking a deep breath.

Katherine: Yes, exactly. And I’ve had a few cases over the month where, you know, there was this idea in the beginning of like, “Wow. I have this time so I’m gonna spend like two hours on the treadmill,” and then I’m not spending any time on the treadmill. So sometimes we have to, first of all, understand that there’s some heavy lifting going on psychologically with this that we’ll probably only in retrospect fully appreciate and so we’re more tired. It’s harder to be motivated even though, you know, again, we have some time to work with. So a little goes a long way and a little is enough. Like it’s really okay to do 15 minutes and let go of my other ideas about fitness. So, yes, you make a great point. Just a few breaths. Three to five minutes really changes the chemistry in the brain. And I start that day differently and travel through that day differently when I’m using mindfulness practice like you describe.

Matt: Let me tell you what happened here in our house, you know, a month ago when this became a real, like legitimate issue for all of us to tackle. My wife — who is a real estate agent — she loves to bake. You know, like probably once or twice a month, she will be baking a cake or cookies or whatever it might be. But then once the state of Washington had the, you know, stay-home order and we weren’t able to go out except for emergencies and shopping, Katherine, literally, every night for a week, she was baking, right? So we had brownies and lemon bars and chocolate chip cookies and every night. And so, is that like what you were talking about? Like we flee into what we know or we race toward what we know and what makes us comfortable, that sort of the familiar and the structure?

Katherine: Yeah, the familiar because that’s one of those things that’s solid and that’s wonderful. It’s also kind of coping strategies. And I would say to be really compassionate with ourselves in times like this where it is so intense. I would also very much hope for you and I and all others that… It’s a slippery slope. You know, some are overdrinking, overeating. They’re going to things that feel comfortable but ultimately create a second set of problems and additional stress. So that we want to be gentle at a time where, “Okay, I’m probably gonna watch a few more movies.” You know, where my kid is than I normally would just kind of increasing the bandwidth but really being mindful of the effect with how stressed we are on any activity we choose in terms of its impact.

But, yes, routine and structure, I would say outside of COVID-19 and a time with a pandemic, it always matters. It’s really the scaffolding of our mental health. But because we have it so organically happening, not in times like these, we maybe haven’t connected that dot, that it is so important to our mental health. So for some people, they struggle. They just want freedom. They want a structured time. I say then just build that into the structure. But our whole human system really orients and organizes around that sense of predictability and routine. So it’s really good to have it in place. Be flexible with it.

And kind of to your point with your wife, say she was baking and wanted to bake with music. But, you know, you needed to do a Zoom meeting or you wanted to have some time with friends on Zoom, and those two things can’t coexist in the room. They’re just different things. Having a routine also helps a family kind of coordinate their needs so that we’re not competing, our needs are not competing with one another.

Matt: Right. I love that. It’s interesting too, in a lot of the conversations that I’ve had in the past month or so, a lot of agents that are having to work from home are talking about, you know, “I really wanna have a structure in place. I really need to…you know, I’m gonna start my day with X, Y, and Z and then I’m gonna do this and that and the other.” And so, I think it’s interesting to hear that it sounds like you’re saying that that is very beneficial, not just for their business, because I think that’s why they’re doing it, but it’s also beneficial for their mental health as well.

Katherine: Yes, absolutely. And I think that that kind of… I’m even encouraging people that are partnered like you to even still have date night. Now, that means you might, Matt, have to go into a different room because you’ve been together all day, but it’s important to have quality time and not just a quantity of time. And now, we have so much of a quantity of time. So I’m encouraging people to make sure they have a little bit of space and practice autonomy that family members can kind of have some downtime and separate time but to not forget that quality time too.

Matt: About a minute or so ago, you mentioned the Zoom meetings, and that’s another thing, Katherine, that a lot of agents are just really adopting right now to keep in touch with their clients and their coworkers. I am a person, you know, with my job at HomeLight, and I said this on one of our recent episodes, I’m the type of person that usually would be like, “Oh, my gosh, we have enough meetings already. I don’t need more meetings.” But on our team, we’re doing a daily meeting on Zoom and for whatever reason — I can’t explain it, maybe you can, but I can’t — I love seeing the whole team every day and it’s been very reassuring for me. We never did daily meetings before, but I’m really loving it right now.

Katherine: My guess for you, Matt, and many others are like, it is a tethering to the — you know, the context, of course, is your professional walk together collegially — but it is the tethering to others and at the end of the day, the undoing aloneness, especially in these times, especially when we don’t have so many sources of contact with others, people have been even…like all the little things. It’s not even, I can’t see my close friends. It’s that I can’t be out, you know, being friendly to strangers. I can’t see people that are acquaintances and all those little things add up to a feeling of connection and belonging that we share with others and we just live that life every day.

So right now what others are doing to kind of stay professionally, you know, connected to one another is providing, I think, a huge thing in navigating this, both for your team and others. And then I would end with maybe this kind of thing. Maybe your team meeting wants to happen more often, maybe not daily, but what would that be like to just say this had a place and we didn’t know until we needed it and now we just need it for maybe a different reason.

Matt: There are some days I find myself, you know, I wanna know what’s going on with the virus, with the pandemic. I wanna know how things are going here locally in my area and the Tri-Cities, how the state is doing, what’s going on nationally. So, you know, I get online. I go to Facebook or wherever it might be to find the news. But, gosh, Katherine, so much of it is depressing and bad news. And like there have been nights where like I can’t get to sleep because I was just online reading something that’s like it’s the end of the world as we know it, right? So how do you balance that need to know with, oh, my gosh, this is too depressing?

Katherine: Well, too depressing and/or anxiety-producing. So I would say there’s kind of a tuning fork inside of us, Matt, where if we listen deeply and if we learn to listen well, we can know how much is too much. We live in a culture where more is better of a lot of things, so if I get more news, then that will help me feel more safe or be more organized. And actually, that’s not true. There’s a point, a saturation point. And so, I think we just need to know where that is and sometimes that’s…unless there’s something big and somebody will tell me or a partner will tell me, I’m gonna take a day off of the news or I only do it in small doses and make sure the source is not an alarmist kind of source and to, again, understand that we are not probably ourselves these days.

So things are gonna affect us more and to be…not maybe that we’re fragile, but certainly, that we have some vulnerabilities. So, you know, if you have a tough day, whatever that tough day is, is that a day that it’s great for you to do two hours of news? Maybe not. So to take a pause and really check in with oneself before they’re engaging in the kind of the new cycle and getting information. It has its place, of course, especially when we didn’t know when schools were gonna close or where are we in the curve. But we just need to know how to have a boundary around that.

Matt: And when you say check in with oneself, you’re just saying like stop and examine, you know, what kind of day I’ve had and am I really ready to read what I might be about to read?

Katherine: That’s right. And that’s a new practice for a lot of people. They just kind of go on more of an autopilot. They haven’t had that sense of a tuning fork. And so, this is one of the upsides of this pandemic is we need to check in with ourselves because we’re actually in a marathon, not a race. You know, this is some weeks. We have some weeks to go and to stay well on a lot of levels, physical, emotional, for some people, spiritual, financially, right? So checking in with oneself. It’s kind of like do I need water and it’s mile 11 on a marathon. I would be checking in to see if I was feeling dehydrated. So that’s what that practice looks like and I think we can know pretty quickly intuitively whether something’s good for us or not. I’ll give a personal example. Myself is, I like documentaries but I’m just really aware right now this is not the time for me to be watching intensely sad things, that I normally just care and I wanna contribute and I wanna know what’s going on, but my system just is not as resourced to take in more suffering.

Matt: I think we should talk too about grief and loss because I’m sure, you know, knock on wood, I don’t know anyone yet who has come down with COVID-19, but I’m sure that we have listeners who have been or will be affected by this at a very, you know, personal level. So how do we comfort someone in a situation like that? How can we comfort friends or coworkers who may be going through that pain?

Katherine: Well, it’s a question of maybe what is our best comfort no matter what and especially in a situation? So there’s loss that’s direct and there are losses that aren’t associated with death and this. Then, there’s the potential that somebody has experienced the death of a loved one with COVID-19. And then for many, there’s this fear of a parent or grandparent that they might get it. So it’s really important to be working with grief so that you can be a support and comfort to others and again, work with a sadness that doesn’t end up being clinical depression because you don’t wanna deal with it on the other side of this.

So I would say our best practices in working with grief are just to be present with somebody. A lot of people don’t want problem-solving. You know, when I’ve lost someone or they may be in harm’s way, just not being alone and just being really supported empathetically with what I’m feeling is huge medicine. So that’s generally my coaching, anyway, is just be with somebody in pain and this is a form of pain, grief, and loss or even anticipated loss in this case. And, you know, it’s excruciating to hear these stories where if my grandparent dies, this was a client this week, I won’t be able to go to her funeral. I won’t not only be able to go say goodbye, I won’t be able to go to her funeral. That’s a different thing, obviously, with this pandemic.

You know, in times of grief and times of fear, our instinct is to gather and actually what we’ve needed to do from a public health standpoint is scatter. So that is just so…like, you know, we can’t really get our head and heart around that. There’s not an easy answer, so just kind of being with pain. Yeah. But I recommend we just lead with empathy and presence first because then it’s like, “I am really with you. That just sounds so hard. I can really feel that. My heart is also broken.” You know, that piece and the 30 seconds or 3 minutes and then, “Hey, is there anything that I can help you with around this?” We can even ask. And that’s different than launching into, “Let me help you with your pain by fixing a problem,” and then it’s not so helpful.

Matt: I see a lot of agents right now are shifting from sales into community service mode. You know, they’re volunteering to grocery shop for the elderly, they’re making masks, stuff like that. Is that a situation where you think they are helping others but then also helping themselves in the process in terms of emotional, mental health wellbeing?

Katherine: Yeah. Hugely. Absolutely. And, you know, purpose has its place in our mental health, emotional health, overall wellbeing in powerful ways. Additionally, if we can be part of a response to this pandemic, it really undoes what has been an effect of this pandemic, which is to feel powerless. “I am helpless and I feel endangered,” which is actually those two things together are components of trauma. So if I can be empowered, and so I’ve had a few clients… I have healthcare workers, so that’s obvious. They’re our front line. It’s really scary, but it’s super meaningful. But those other folks that all of a sudden, their projects have shifted to doing this kind of work, something where they’re making, you know, a movie for a County Health Department or something of that sort, it’s so wonderful. It’s so helpful.

So I encourage people very much. And it might be simple. It might just be not to have to go, you know, build Rome. You could just get extra groceries for your neighbor consistently and that one person you’re helping, you’re making a huge difference in their lives. So I love that question as well in terms of the purpose it plays. When we help others, we change. People would say, and they’ve done some research around this, that actually, the effect is stronger on the giver than the receiver. I get more from it than even the person I’m offering something to.

Matt: If I were to say, Katherine, what are like the three or four things that I need to know or to do to help myself get through this, what would you say?

Katherine: I would say self-care that is really deep care. So definitely at a physical level, at an emotional level, get support, feel your feelings, take care of your body. That’s probably gonna be a marker, those that fare well with this and those that don’t. You know, again, when it was just a few weeks, a lot of people were like, “I can power through this,” but now we realize we need to be nurturing our own wellbeing in a very like quite a critical kind of way. So self-care is not selfish. So that part also.

Then, I’m a resource to others when I take care of myself. So self-care. Feel the hard stuff, and that’s part of the emotional self-care. But I would encourage people to really look for the good that is, you know, there’s good within hardship and that’s out there a lot. But that’s a really important way to get to the other side of this and be well.

I would say contribute to the wellbeing of others. That’s what we were just speaking of, that that purpose, that contribution will go a long distance.

And I would say it’s time to remember that we’ve been through hard things and that we are wired with deep and core resilience. And so, I don’t know what your adversity, Matt, in your life has been. I know mine. When I actually sit and get quiet, now, in the middle of it, I might not have known I could handle it, but I did. And so, it might be nice to go back and really revisit where our strength lies. And it doesn’t mean we did things perfectly or we weren’t feeling vulnerable in it, but that can be kind of a powerful thing.

(Speaker: Matt McGee, Host) A powerful thing indeed. I really hope you enjoyed that conversation as much as I did and I hope you got as much mental and emotional benefit from it as I did.

I’ll do the takeaway segment in just a moment plus a couple of listener emails and shoutouts, but first, a little bit more about Katherine. If you enjoyed this conversation, be sure to check out her book. It’s called, “River to Ocean: Living in the Flow of Wakefulness.” In the book, Katherine shares her holistic approach to wellbeing — mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual. You can find the book on Amazon.com, at Barnes & Noble and other bookstores. And Katherine emphasized that she wanted the book to be available at libraries too, so that’s another option to get your hands on a copy. You can get more information about Katherine and the book on her website. It’s Harborglowpublishing.com. That’s all one word. No hyphens. Harborglowpublishing.com. Of course, I’ll have that link in today’s show notes.

Okay. Let’s do takeaways. Here is what stood out to me from today’s conversation.

Number one, Katherine said, “We are wired for uncertainty.” I love that phrase. Remember, just because something is uncertain doesn’t mean it’s going to turn out bad.

Number two, Katherine said that we should have relaxation and mindful practices that we can use every day, things like prayer or meditation. And she said even if just for a couple minutes, it will still help.

Number three, Katherine talked about the value of structure. She said, “our whole human system orients and organizes around a sense of predictability and routine.”

Number four, she said community service is a great way to feel empowered. Her quote was, “When we help others, we change.” And she said the effect of giving is often stronger on the giver than the receiver.

Last but not least, at the end, I asked her to sum up things to share, maybe the three or four most important things to help us get through this. She talked about the value of self-care. Take care of ourselves physically and emotionally. She said, make sure we spend time looking for the good. She advised us to contribute to the wellbeing of others and she said, remember that we have been through hard things before and we are very resilient at our core.

Questions for Katherine? Questions for me or HomeLight? You can email us anytime. Again, it’s walkthrough [at] homelight.com.

A couple quick shout outs and then we’ll wrap things up. Thanks to Donna Hobscheid in Wisconsin and Mugsie Quinlan in Florida for the kind emails after last week’s show. They both said they had some specific ideas and tips after hearing me chat with Tom Tezak about real estate in second-home markets.

So that’s all for this week. Thanks again to Katherine Jansen-Byrkit for joining us. Thank you for listening.

Stay in, stay healthy, and sell some homes. We’ll talk to you again next week. Bye-bye.

Header Image Source: (Prostock-Studio on Shutterstock)

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