Acting on values improves quality of life

Why values matter – what I’ve learned from Covid 19

4 May 2020

I’m standing by the window, cradling my cup of tea. All I can feel is panic rising through my body, like lava bubbling up from a volcano. It’s all because I’m seeing my neighbours return with a third boot full of shopping.

I can remember the feeling as if it’s yesterday. In fact, it was the middle of March and we knew lockdown was imminent. We’d been receiving non-stop messages of scarcity from the media. Images of empty supermarket shelves were preying on my mind. Despite this, I made the decision not to stockpile.

Lockdown values

I had felt a sense of relief wash over me, as we had agreed to only buy what we needed. I could feel the calm in my body as we decided to only shop once a week. “It doesn’t matter what other people are doing”, we said, “we are going to do what we believe is right”. “We would manage” and I felt good.

But, there I was, experiencing unfamiliar sensations of panic. They were the same feelings that pushed my neighbours into stockpiling, I felt it rising from my stomach in a hot wave. There’s one day to go until our designated shopping day and my whole body was screaming at me to go now. Immediately.

Experiencing anxiety

As so it turns out, my beliefs play second fiddle to my biology. In a fight between the two, the biology was winning. It usually does. Have a look at for more on how to tune into what your body is trying to tell you.

Now, I work with people with anxiety all the time. I understand this. Knowing this didn’t stop my body from telling me to get in the car and shop. My mind was joining in too, “what if there’s nothing left” it said. “What if you can’t feed your family? Isn’t that your job?” on and on it went. And the more my mind was telling me my decision is wrong, the more my body let me know it was agreeing.

Check out for more on how your stress affects your body.

values give our lives direction

Values matter

It was then I experienced what it’s like to crash smack bang into my values. Faced with Cornonavirus fear and panic, it can be easy to lose touch with what is genuinely important to us. What we believe (our values) is not something we usually think about when we are just getting on with our lives. But in a crisis, like Coronavirus, we tend to focus more on what we value. When we focus on our values, it can help us to create some kind of order out of chaotic situations.

Now, of course, we have values all the time. They’re there humming away in the background, directing us to be kind, thoughtful, loving, etc. Very often we don’t take much notice of them. But when things get difficult, that’s when they become more important to us.

What are values?

Values are our guides to living. They’re the qualities that are deep down important to us. Values are how we want to be, and what we want to do in the world, such as being a caring parent, a loyal friend, being loving, honest and courageous.

Values help to motivate us to take action, to move our lives in line with how we want to be. For more ways to motivate yourself, have a look at

What about goals?

But they’re different from goals. Where goals can be achieved, values can’t. So, if say, you want to be a caring parent, it’s something you need to try to be all the time. In contrast, once your goals have been achieved, they’re done.

Being aware of your values can help you to face difficult situations. It may be overcoming lack of confidence because you value having a fulfilling job, or me facing anxiety about stockpiling.

Facing difficult situations

So, challenging situations, like lockdown, can help you to think about what really matters to you. Research shows that being clear on values can help reduce stress, anxiety and feelings of helplessness.

What’s more, if you’re not in touch with your values, you can end up acting in ways that go against how you really want to be in the world (say by hoarding). This can lead to more stress and anxiety, and even distressing feelings such as guilt and shame.

Try these exercises to help you get clear on your values

writing about values clarifies them

Values writing

Writing about your values helps you to identity what is important to you. What’s more, research shows writing about your values can improve your health and motivation.

To get started, spend ten minutes writing about one of the values that are meaningful to you. It could be family, marriage/couples/intimate relationship, parenting, friends, work, education or training, fun, spirituality, community, health, environment or creativity. As you start to write, ask yourself,

What do I care about in this area? What do I want to do in this area that reflects this caring? Where in my life has this value been important? What do I admire about other people who pursue this value? How can I have this value more in my life?

Try to focus on the qualities of your life as you want to live it. Qualities that are important to you. There is no right or wrong. It’s about what is important to you.

We’re not used to writing about values, so sometimes it can be hard to find the exact words. It’s the qualities of actions that are important. We can perform the same action, say cleaning the bathroom either begrudgingly or lovingly. The action is the same but the quality of the action is different for us, depending on how much we are acting in line with our values.

When I am 80

This exercise helps you to clarify your values.

Find somewhere comfortable to sit and where you know you won’t be disturbed. Close your eyes while you imagine that you are eighty years old and you are looking back on your life as it is right now.

Notice what you spend your time doing. Are these the activities you enjoy? What would you like to be doing? What will your 80 year old self think about how you spend your time?

Now finish the following sentences:

I spent too much time worrying about…..

I spent too little time doing things such as…….

If I could go back in time, then what I would do differently from today onward is…..

Making values come alive

Once you understand the values that are important to you, you can start to put them into practice in your life (if they’re not already there)

It can help to draw up a table like the one below, to create a list of activities that are in line with your core values and the person you want to be. Don’t forget to identify the difference between general strategies and more specific actions for the value you choose to work on.

ValueGeneral strategiesSpecific action
Being a supportive parent1. Spend more time with my childrenTeach them to paint Help them with home schooling Go for a daily bike ride with them Ask them questions

2. Set a good exampleStop smoking Eat healthily Stop complaining about things in front of them Wash hands regularly

3. Reduce their worries about CoronavirusSpend time talking to them about why they are at home Don’t have the news on in front of them Ask them about their feelings

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