COVID-19 has played out differently in our lives, but we’re united in the human condition of being locked down, social distancing and feeling concerned about the future. Because it’s clear, there’s no ‘normal’ to return to; instead, it’s a brave new world.
I’ve been working with clients globally and their organisations throughout this process, and I’ve distilled this into three distinct phases we are going through.
We’ve all been through that, in varying shades.
The panic-buying of toilet paper. The fears of ourselves or our loved ones getting COVID-19 and dying alone, wondering if there are enough ventilators. The sleepless nights, the migraines from over-worrying, the relentless scramble to buy desks because everyone is now sharing the same space 24-7.
Except that often, what we do in this stage can be seen through the lens of impulsivity, driven by a primitive urge to survive. We are preparing for Apocalypse— extrapolating to 50% worse of the worst case scenario.
During this time, rationality barely matters.
The primitive part of your brain— the limbic system— kicks in. It remembers and amplifies the negative.
What more if you have mouths to feed, elderly parents, mortgages to pay for lest you lose the house, living hand-to-mouth, businesses and workers to take care of. The list goes on.
So we hoard eggs and vegetables that will eventually expire. That, and worrying, helps give us that temporary sense of control.
What’s not helpful is to shame each other for being worried, or for someone else’s unwise government initiative.
Yes we need to work together and to hold our political systems accountable. But standing on our moral high horses isn’t helpful.
I write this because we need to have a compassionate understanding of the anxiety-related behaviour that has driven our species to survive and take over the surface of Planet Earth.
Without this, we only feel blame and shame for our behaviours. Or we alienate from each other.
In 1966, Lazarus wrote about how we first appraise how threatening, challenging or harmful a situation is. We then evaluate our competence and resources to re-establish some sort of equilibrium between ourselves and the environment.
To cope, therefore, is to execute our responses, which leads us to the outcome.
And whilst we are processing COVID-19, this is exactly what we are doing— coping with the situation, on a day-to-day basis personally and professionally.
Research on coping states that there are two primary ways. Problem-focused coping refers to actions taken to solve the problem or to alter the source of stress. Emotion-focused coping refers to behaviours we undertake to manage emotional distress.
Both are useful.
Our lives have changed considerably.
The home is now our office, childcare centre and canteen, on top of everything else. So whilst we learn to create solutions to our changing reality, such as remembering to wash our hands more often or having to carve our desk space for five people, our professional and personal lives have intermingled. We spend way more time with our housemates than we may be comfortable with. Then there is the ugly reality of job loss, and the economic recession we are plummeting into.
On top of that, we have to digest the reality of what’s going on.
For some of us, COVID-19 (especially with being quarantined/locked down) may be triggering older stressors and past demons.
Let’s get real. Even for those of us with great set-ups in our home, you’ll get upset or frustrated. Sometimes, you’ll get excited, like signing up for a dozen online courses or aspiring to bake. Then you may get upset because you didn’t follow through.
As you watch death and disease take their toll, there are injustices you’ll get upset about. There is a lot of unfairness in the world, after all.
These are human reactions. You are only human, and that’s what makes you precious.
Here’s some things I’ve been working with my leaders and clients to transition their organisations on, that you may be interested in reflecting upon:—
- How to work from home productively and effectively— mindsets, routines, spatial layout, physical and mental health especially if you are sharing space with others.
- Improving psychological (and general) immunity— building your brain pathways to create a sense of control and success, especially in uncertain times.
- How to lead your team to psychological safety and build resilience.
- How to take care of yourself if you feel isolated or anxious— staying at home, quarantine and lockdown are linked to trauma and adverse mental health outcomes. We focus on who is most vulnerable, and what to do.
These may give you a game plan on how to go through your day-to-day.
Above all, you need to create a foundation of psychological safety— feeling fundamentally safe enough to function.
So be gentle with yourself.
You will move between panic and processing. But you need to do that before you actually pivot. You can’t bypass digesting your reality before you can think about your future.
The time will pass anyway.
There is a world to return to, albeit a different one.
We can wallow in panic, making all sorts of excuses, or we can decide what kind of people we want to come out of COVID-19 as.
(Note: With lockdown, domestic violence cases are increasing. If that’s your reality, please stay safe and make exit plans. Connect with those you’ve become isolated from. There are kind people who will help you. And please don’t beat yourself up if you’re not using this time to pivot. You have very different priorities).
When pivoting, here’s where you can create a deeper sense of control whilst partnering with reality.
I remember sitting next to my business mentor Ramit Sethi at lunch. There, he talked to us about the tripod of stability, that a person must have three things in their life they are happy with. From this tripod, we can leapfrog into the freedom to experiment and be spontaneous, or to up-level our lives.
Even though I’d read about this concept, hearing him utter those words in-person was life-changing. I realised, I hated how fat I’d grown, I had an emotionally-abusive partner, and alot of demons in my past. In other words, I had no tripod. So I set about to create a tripod, and left that relationship in a few months. Today, my tripod has got too many legs to be called a tripod. But I’m not complaining.
I tell this story so you can think about certain aspects of your life you can create stability with:
- Personally: what is my relationship with my work, time and energy, mind, health, home, self, money, people in my life. Am I living in a way that allows my unique personality to shine, and is my life purposeful?
- Existentially: what is my relationship with concepts of spirituality, life and death, personal demons, and my carbon footprint.
- Professionally: what is my relationship with my career goals and values, what energises me, and how do I redesign my practises for maximum impact.
With each of the areas, questions to journal upon include:
- Do I like my relationship with this?
- Is it sustainable?
- What can I do differently?
- What stories do I tell myself that keep things as the status quo?
- How can I keep working on this and knowing I am on the right track.
And whilst there is a reason for why things are the way they are, it doesn’t mean we can’t rise above them. Understanding is one thing, being defeated is another.
Last, if you are a leader, then COVID-19 is a forced social experiment that teaches us we have practises that don’t work well, and many which require transformation. So, how can you resculpt your business’ values and mindsets to remain flexible and thriving.
And above all, how can we all incorporate the lessons of COVID-19 so we’ll never feel so helpless again.
I’d like to end with words of wisdom from my spiritual mentors Tay & Val, who offer that “Crisis, along with its energies of uncertainty, discomfort, and extraordinary shake up societal norms and everyday routines to reveal enlightening insights to—what we value, what’s ultimately important, and what legacy we want to leave behind. We’re in a way, “forced” to tap into the core truths of who we are, do a stocktake of who we want to become, and pivot accordingly.”
If you’d like to find out more, join the conversation in our next open workshop.