We are in the middle of a pandemic. Working hard, albeit at home, and as busy if not busier than before. The purpose of this Article is to stop for a moment to consider:
· How we might be feeling in ourselves
· How we might be performing/coping in our lives and at work and
· What steps we could taking to become stronger and more resilient during this experience.
I have been holding ‘Resilience and Wellbeing Clinics’ for clients on Zoom and TEAMS since this pandemic took hold. The feelings that people have shared on these calls include loss; psychological fear about wellbeing; an existential crisis about purpose (questioning the value and meaning of the particular project or work that they are being asked to do and its significance when considered against the chaos in the world); real loneliness and isolation; lack of stimulation and missing the trips out into the world of work with colleagues; confused boundaries between work and home/family life; fear of one’s own disengagement socially and how this might set one back later when things return to ‘normal’; anxiety as parents in trying to achieve it all (the work, their burden of responsibility for the other members of their family, and trying to keep the family structures/meals/ family time and rhythms going); concern about certain members of the family, such as teenagers missing out socially or younger children falling behind in their schooling; and ultimately anxiety about the future. More recently, as the pandemic becomes more like BAU, there is a feeling of fatigue.
Perhaps some of these feelings resonate with you. Perhaps you have others to add. As an organizational psychologist I can tell you that this is very normal. Strong feelings are to be expected when faced with significant change, especially when this is imposed. Our personal experience of change is often described visually by reference to the model below. (Adapted from Kubler Ross).
The way forward
1 Emotional intelligence at the early stages
There are distinct phases in the Model, and it is useful if we can focus on the early stages first and see what is going on for us there, at the personal level.
Shock might have arisen when we saw images of the cruise ships not being able to dock or people dying in China. We could not fathom that such a thing was possible
Denial might have occurred when we deluded ourselves into thinking that the pandemic would remain in China or even Italy. That it could have no impact on us (UK/my place of work) and certainly not one for you or me. Or it might have come later, mid-March, when you were asked to work from home. Perhaps you thought, that’s fine. I can do that. It won’t change much. In fact, great, I will now have a shorter commute. Your friends and family might well have colluded in this belief system, that all was well and would stay the same. Even the weather colluded for a while in having some of us feel as if we were on a kind of home-holiday
Awareness is when reality hits home and the imposed change begins to mean something for us personally. We see that there is a cost to it for us. Maybe we risk losing our job or otherwise suffering financially; or miss our colleagues; or experience family members as interrupting our natural rhythm; we may worry about the lack of boundaries between work and home or feel demotivated, finding it harder to do the actual work. This is the phase when strong feelings kick in and we get triggered or overwhelmed by them. This awareness or reality check can come in waves over a period of time.
It will be a very different experience for each one of us and depend very much on our own personal circumstances and family ecosystem. Nevertheless, the risk is that we stay stuck here, drained by our debilitating feelings and responding to life and work from that place. The only way to move on from this stage is paradoxically to be with it; to face up to these difficult and uncomfortable feelings and to gain insight into our responses. Are our behaviours reactive and based on fear (‘Fight’ or ‘Flight’) or do they reflect a real adult recognition of our needs ? If we can ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ we will gain real freedom from our reactiveness. If we don’t, those feelings will likely be running the show and disable us from moving along the curve towards a new co-created future.
Staying in tune with yourself in this way will enable you to move more easily into the next phase of the cycle, starting to build resilience in the face of a new normal.
Exercise 1 My Now
Spend some time each day noticing the following:
· How are you feeling?
· Where is the feeling located in your body ? e.g. tight shoulders or fast heartbeat?
· What is it exactly? Can you give it a name or a label?
· Allow yourself to accept and let the feeling just be there as it is without trying to suppress or change it in any way
· Ask yourself why you think this particular feeling is arising? Where has it come from?
· Enquire into what it is that the feeling might be telling you about what you need right now
· With this new knowledge and insight see what changes might be available in terms of a response
2 Optimism: Hope springs eternal in the human breast
At this stage you may be able to develop some optimism about what might be possible in the face of this situation. Ask yourself, what it is that you want for your life/family/work? How do you want to come out of this situation in 3, 6- or 9-months time? Why do you do this role at work/what motivates you about it? What would great look like for you personally and professionally after all of this? Covid 19 is not stopping you from dreaming about things that are practicable and possible; things that are within your sphere of your control. Have the courage to dream them now.
The effect of this dreaming or visioning will be to pull you in the direction of your future and a ‘better’ new normal; better because it is being shaped by what you want to have in it. This will then, in part, dissipate your feelings of loss and upset about the impact of Covid 19.
Exercise 2 Magic wand
Imagine you have a magic wand and that you can do almost anything with this wand. ‘Wave’ five things that you would like to have achieved by (September/December/insert your own time frame here). Suspend judgement or evaluation at this stage and just make them up. What do they look and feel like? Then assess and choose what specifically you would like to realise and write a detailed description/drawing/collage of your ideal outcomes
3 Structure: One small step at a time
You will already have seen the advantage of creating some structure in your day when working from home. Disciplined mealtimes and bedtimes for example.
Being more intimate with your feelings and needs after completing Exercises 1 and 2 above, you can collaborate and ask others for what you want. But you can also do small things, just for you, that are nourishing and make you feel better about yourself, your work and your life. Small structured acts can go a long way towards replenishing us; time spent in the evening watching a Netflix series on your own, an evening walk with your partner, a longer bedtime story with your child, attending an art class online, re-engaging with your old piano pieces or learning to touch type. The list is endless.
Experiment with different things and celebrate small successes along the way. This will bring you naturally from the left to the right side of the curve above, letting go of your pre-Covid-19 reality and enabling you to shape and manifest your new reality and future.
Exercise 3 What would give you more joy?
· What structures do you have in place at the moment? What’s missing, if anything?
· What’s possible for you that would create more joy?
· Taking your ‘Magic Wand’ Outcomes from Exercise 2 above
§ Working backwards, what steps did you take to realise your ideal outcomes?
§ Working forwards, what steps do you need to take now in order to get there?
§ Diary these activities now and stick with them
§ Celebrate your successes along the way