Coping during the COVID-19 Crisis
Social media is awash with advice on how to structure our days spent on lockdown; bolstering our productivity; and discovering previously latent creativity. For those lucky enough to still be working, there is guidance on remote working and maintaining a routine. For those who find themselves “furloughed” or without work there is direction on how to fill the day. For those home schooling there are ideas aplenty for diverse timetables to expand your child’s knowledge and further their education whilst schools remain closed.
For those who find this advice helpful, stick with it, but for those who find themselves flagging just two weeks in, can I offer an alternative perspective?….
We are all affected by this crisis, but each of us is on our own journey. Cut out unnecessary or unhelpful “noise” that tries to tell you what you should be achieving or how you should be feeling.
Creatures of habit
Human beings, on the most part, are creatures of habit: we find comfort in the familiarity of a routine. We like feeling we are in control and few of us like change unless it’s on our own terms. Unforeseen change that is thrust upon us can often be met with resistance, which may be both an intentional, active response of defiance and also an involuntary, reactive emotional response. Our wellbeing is dependent on our ability to adapt, accept and overcome when change or uncertainty come our way.
COVID-19 has brought unprecedented change to all our lives and I hear myself, like many, talk wistfully of when normality might return and we can resume going about our lives as before. However the sage advice of those who have survived such adversity as war, violent conflict, or global disasters suggests “there is simply no way that our lives will resume as if this had never happened” (Ahmed 2020) and rather than focusing on getting back to where we were, we should allow ourselves to be gently steered towards the realisation that the legacy of this pandemic will live with us for years, perhaps decades, to come and inevitably change the way we live, work, learn and interact (Ahmed 2020). An academic scholar in Political Science, Ahmed (2020) recommends the only “emotionally and spiritually sane response is to prepare to be forever changed”, outlining in the process of acceptance the importance of allowing ourselves time for mental adjustment so we can ultimately move forwards and embrace the new normal.
Adjusting to the new normal
So how do we adjust? There is no manual or predetermined time frame for this. It is perfectly normal to feel low, anxious or unsettled during the initial transition. Ahmed (2020) recommends working through these feelings by focusing on ensuring immediate physical and psychological needs are met such as ensuring access to food and pharmaceuticals; managing finances; and putting in place social connections with family, friends or neighbours (looking out for those isolated or most vulnerable).
Getting in place some robust arrangements for these essential needs should bring some sense of stability and start to enable adjustment to the new conditions we all find ourselves in. Only now will we, perhaps, be in a position to start seeking out new challenges (social media is full of suggestions). Keep expectations and goals realistic and achievable, and recognise that mental adjustment does not necessarily move in an uninterrupted upward trajectory, but may plateau or even decline at times. Ultimately, however overwhelmed we may feel, our resilience will hopefully bring us out the other side. Where possible do not make this journey alone, but seek out or embrace the opportunities to connect with existing or new friends/neighbours/family members/colleagues: collectively we are stronger. Try to foster an attitude of gratitude and thankfulness where possible (which I do not suggest through rose-tinted glasses, but instead fully appreciating some have or will lose loved ones through this; others their jobs, businesses, and homes). Gratitude may be broadly defined as the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself; representing a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation (Sansone and Sansone 2010). In clinical research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness; enabling people to feel more positive emotions and build stronger relationships, thus improving wellbeing and resilience. Be open to new opportunities: crisis brings a time of danger, but also a time of potential and opportunity. Be kind to yourself and others: by all means use this time to sign up for an online course or take up jogging, but don’t beat yourself up or feel guilty if you do not emerge from this crisis without a PhD or able to run a marathon. “Life is tough enough right now without the word failure hanging around our neck, and the last thing any of us want poured over our isolation diet of beans or pizza is the sauce of guilt” (J. John 2020)
Sansone, R. A. and Sansone, L. A. (2010) Gratitude and Wellbeing: The Benefits of Appreciation. Psychiatry (Edgmont): Nov; 7(11): 18–22
Ahmed, A.S. (2020) Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure. The Chronicle of Higher Education: 27/03/20
John.J (2020) Lightening the Load on Lockdown. www.canonjjohn.com 30/03/20
Article by Wendy Vessey – KML Occupational Health – Lead OH Nurse and Advisor
Wendy qualified as a registered adult nurse in 1997 before gaining her Registered Specialist Community Public Health Nurse (Occupational Health) qualification and a BSc. (Hons) in Occupational Health and Safety Management in 2001. She has worked as an occupational health advisor/clinical lead for the past 18 years; working in the science and technology sector for 15 years before joining KML Occupational Health in 2017. She was awarded a MSc. in Organisational Psychiatry and Psychology from The Institute of Psychiatry; Kings College, London in 2013; writing her research paper on the development of personal resilience in the workplace.