The past few months have been characterised by unprecedented levels of uncertainty and anxiety. We have all experienced a sense of collective grief, where we had to come to terms with losses and new ways of working, living, and socialising. Collectively and individually, we have experienced unfamiliar emotions, with highs related to the positive aspects of the disruptive times, and the lows underpinned by a constant sense of loss and inertia, as seen in the lack of opportunities to connect with family and loved ones.
Underneath the various emotions, there lies constant “stress” or “anxiety”. However, the underlying emotions are multi-dimensional and does not refer to one emotion or stressor alone. We are dealing with prolonged uncertainty and a sense of loss on all the levels of our lives, which makes it difficult to identify and deal with our corresponding emotional state.
From an occupational perspective, the lines between work, home and family have been blurred. Individuals find it hard to self-motivate, and tasks such as planning and complex problem solving may seem more arduous than before.
There are certain emotional resources that can help us cope better in difficult situations. Resilience, which forms part of psychological capital, refers to an individual’s capacity to bounce back from adversity and to experience personal growth by overcoming negative effects. By actively focusing on building resilience, we increase our capacity for handling adversity and in return our mental state is protected.
The following practical guidelines can be used by individuals or managers as a means to assist individuals in a team through all that has transpired and to regain their focus:
Face and accept the new reality by identifying the correct emotions.
Refrain from using generic emotional terms such as “stress” or “anxiety”, but rather focus on the specific emotions experienced on a daily or weekly basis, and try to gain an understanding as to why these emotions are experienced. If you are not connected to your own emotions, you may also struggle to connect with those around you. When we allow emotions to move through us by fully experiencing and understanding them, through asking ourselves why we experience the particular emotions, they often diminish and become much more manageable and comfortable.
The Kubler-Ross grief model may be useful in identifying the stage of coming to terms with the current reality.
Connect and reconnect
Remain connected to loved ones and colleagues by sharing your ups and downs, as well as the aspects of your life you are grateful for. By fully sharing our experiences, we allow each other to grow on a collective level with various perspectives. Connecting with your team on a deeper level than purely focusing on work and operational tasks can be a significant contributor towards the team’s overall morale, functionality and productivity. Remember, we are all protecting our own vulnerable states on some level. By fully sharing these perspectives with others in an effective team context, you allow a team to reconnect and resume with a stronger team culture.
Being able to find meaning is at the core of a resilient mindset. It is possible to experience tremendous personal growth during and after a challenging time. Dr Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, wrote in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”. Choose to grow and cultivate a purpose towards a calling. This is the time to re-evaluate priorities and align your goals and desires with your purpose.
Create mind space and time to properly reflect on your current reality in order to realign your goals. Use the time well to reassess what drives and motivates you, your values and professional aspirations. We often become so consumed by occupational- and personal demands, that we do not allow ourselves to be a priority. In order to continue making the best contribution at work, you need to allow yourself sufficient time to recuperate and remain healthy. Focus on all aspects of well-being, including cognitive-, emotional- and physical health.
In closing, although there is no easy way of dealing with what has become the “new normal” and our current reality, we encourage directors, managers and individuals to focus on their own mental health during this time and to set the stage for those around you.
I am more vulnerable than I thought, but much stronger than I ever imagined – R Tedeschi and L Calhoun.
Useful tools and books to read: