I think it’s fair to say 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. It’s clear there’s no “normal” to return to; it’s a brave new world.
I’ve been working with clients and their hormones throughout this process, and I’ve distilled this into three phases we are going through.
Phase 1: Freaking the heck out
We’ve all been through shades of panic by now. The panic-buying of toilet paper. The fears of getting COVID-19 and wondering if there are enough ventilators. The sleepless nights, the migraines from over-worrying, the relentless scramble to create a new normal for #WFH
What’s more, if you have mouths to feed, elderly parents, a small business, mortgages to pay lest you lose the house, living hand-to-mouth, businesses and workers to take care of. The list goes on.
What we do in this stage can be impulsive driven by an urge to survive. We are preparing for the 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.
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. We need to have a compassionate understanding of the anxiety-related behavior 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 behaviors. Or we alienate each other.
Phase 2: Process
Through our competence and resources, we reestablish some sort of balance between ourselves and this weird new environment.
While 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.
Two types of coping:
Problem-focused coping refers to actions taken to solve the problem or to relieve stress. This is how we adapt what we’re physically doing to best manage the situation: Remembering to wash our hands more often, carving our desk space for five people, learning how to unload our groceries safely, and so on. The home is now our office, child-care center, and canteen, on top of everything else.
Emotions-focused coping refers to behaviours we create to manage emotional distress. Both are useful.
While we learn to create solutions to our changing reality, we also have to digest the reality of what’s going on. Even for those of us with great setups 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.
For some of us, COVID-19 (especially with being quarantined/locked down) may be triggering older stressors and past demons. As you watch death and disease take their toll, there are injustices you’ll get upset about as well. 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.
Seeking safety. Above all, you need to create a foundation of mental safety—feeling 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.
Phase 3: Pivot
The time will pass anyway.
There is a world to return to. 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.
When pivoting, here’s where you can create a deeper sense of control while partnering with reality.
Consider the different 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 energizes me? And how do I redesign my practices 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?
Above all, how can we all incorporate the lessons of COVID-19 so we’ll never feel so helpless again?
Yes, I know the world is full of uncertainty and change right now.
But you’re doing it. You’re here. You’re growing. And growth is never comfortable. What you’re demonstrating is that you have the single most important ingredient to winning in life…
As Thomas Edison so wisely said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
So stay engaged and keep going.
You can and will do this. I believe in you.
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