I’ve been thinking about change as the wind starts to feel a little colder, the leaves are turning to beautiful reds and oranges and the nights are increasingly encroaching on my evenings (and why does it feel like such a surprise every year?). And more specifically, I’ve been considering how we’re dealing with change during the pandemic.
Change and the pandemic
We’ve all experienced such a massive shift in our lives over the past year and a half, and many of us have navigated this without any explicit support. While a company going through a transition might use change consultants to come in and help employees adapt – most of us have been just trying to ride out the shifting currents and keep our head above water, while also keep an eye on the horizon.
Change pretty much always guarantees that we will gain something and we will lose something. So, it’s very likely that something about your life changing dramatically was a kind of loss, whether you thought of it that way or not. You may even have some residual grief or charged feelings about it that are still affecting you on some level.
If you’re wondering how this would manifest, here’s an example: as the world opens up more and more, a person feels strong emotions arising, but part of this is actually residual after-effects of that initial shock and period of change. Or, someone seems to have coped well on the surface but deep down they’re not feeling good, or they seem fine but every now and then bite someone’s head off, then maybe there’s an edge there that needs to be addressed.
Navigating the after-effects and residual emotions
So what can we do, if we still have some residual baggage to shake off?
It goes without saying, but if you need help from a pro then seek that out first.
But, if you’re doing pretty well, a good first step is to look at the way change affects us. One of my favourite models for this is the Kubler-Ross change Curve, and this is interesting because it is basically the same as the 5 stages of grief. It helps us to understand the complicated emotions we go through in response to a significant change.
Looking at this diagram you can probably relate to at least a couple of things you felt when the pandemic started, and perhaps at different points through the whole 18+ months. It’s helpful to know that while we generally move from the left to right, we can also slide back a step or two, or get stuck at one of the stages (except the last one). For example, some people who are not coping well may be stuck at the frustration/anger or depression stage (although some groups seem to have taken up camp in the denial stage, they actually appear to be stuck at anger to me).
Can you identify a stage that you are currently struggling with? If you can, try to keep an open mind and wonder what the best way to move through it would be.
Emotions, triggers and perspective
It’s also a really good idea to try working through the emotions you’re feeling that are not resolving themselves. There are loads of different ways to process emotions, too many to cover here – but talking to a therapist, doing some creative self-expression or writing in your diary (journal) can all really help.
Another helpful step is to identify anything that is currently a trigger for you and think about the reason for it. Some examples of triggers include: someone may have found lockdown hard because the isolation may have reminded them of not having friends at school, but another person may hate it because they feel powerless and they usually feel safe by staying in control, while someone else may detest being told what to do by the government because it reminds them of their unkind and controlling parent. There are so many ways we can be triggered and most are specific to us, shaped by our experiences growing up and our personality.
There’s an exercise in another post that I think you may find helpful if you’re having a really hard time accepting the situation – whether that is the pandemic in general, returning to the office, or another tricky situation. On the 2nd half of this page you’ll find an exercise called Embracing the Challenge designed to help you get more perspective and feel more empowered, positive and in control. If you enjoy it, why not send it to a friend?
I want you to know I’m not writing about this in a cerebral, detached kind of way – I’ve had to process a lot throughout the past year and a half and I continue to work with my emotions as I move forward through inner and outer change, while supporting my coaching clients in their own similar-but-different processes. This isn’t self-indulgent – it’s a way of staying connected to yourself and what’s important to you and making sure you’re moving in the right direction.
Look ahead to where you’re going
Generally speaking, although it’s great to keep an eye on problems, we want to be moving towards something positive instead of away from negatives. It helps us stay in a more open and creative state, consciously choosing the right kind of life, instead of living defensively. This will look a bit different to all of us, but if I use myself as an example, I was getting a bit down over people not wearing masks because I have a long history (20 years) of working with clients to keep them healthy, many of whom are vulnerable and will be affected both by rising infection numbers, and psychologically by not wanting to leave the house. However, the stress was very bad for me and it wasn’t going to change the behaviour of the general public, so I still wear a mask in order to live in line with my values, protect others and stay healthy, but I try to orient myself towards the projects I am working towards and supporting clients in having the quality of life at home and work that fulfils them.
Getting the balance right between working through your emotions to surf the waves of change, while looking in a positive direction is tricky, and we won’t get it right all the time. It’s easy to “decide” to be positive while deep down we’re feeling a bit low or angry, but this work is not about perfection, it’s about checking in with ourselves and making adjustments – sometimes just tiny, but important ones.
Whatever direction you are heading in, I hope this has helped a little. Feel free to share this with a friend if you know someone who’s been going through a challenging time and could use a little boost.
And I want to leave you with one last question – if change is always a gain as well as a loss, what is it that you have gained over the past year and a half? It might feel good to take a moment to be grateful for these unexpected gifts.