Covid-19 has caused a sudden disruption for most people with some or all of the following: work/income, physical safety, connections with loved-ones, social contact, and freedom to do as one pleases. This is a recipe for negative emotions to take over, causing your life to spiral downward.
The good news is that we can all rebound and adapt. Your initial reactions to unwanted events usually happen automatically. But once you move beyond your automatic responses, your power lies in three areas of intentional choice.
- How you choose to view/interpret the situation that occurred
- Where you choose to place your attention/focus
- The actions you choose to take.
When you look closely at why some people adapt well to adversity while others don’t, you’ll find that the above factors play a central role in the differences.
Making it personal
Anytime we experience unwanted change, we feel grief or loss. The “Five Stages of Grief” is the response that’s built into the human psychological system. People can differ in how long they remain in each stage. For example, some people may stay in sorrow and depression indefinitely. This is where your choices come into play. Also, people don’t necessarily go through these stages in a step-by-step manner and can move around and experience multiple stages simultaneously.
I’ll use my own experiences with the five stages of grief related to Covid-19 now that we’re six-plus weeks into it. My story is just an example of what’s helped me rather than a prescription for others. The benefit of understanding this model is to increase your awareness to help you make wise choices to adapt to your current situation.
Stage 1- Shock and Denial: In early March, it became clear that Covid-19 would be huge in the US. I was immediately in a state of shock and denial. I told myself things like “this can’t be real” and “how’s this possible? I couldn’t believe it was so severe, so fast!
What helped me move forward: I allowed myself to feel the shock and know that it’s a protective mechanism to deal with overwhelm. I was aware of my desire to “wake up and find that this was just a dream.” When I found myself obsessing over these thoughts, I chose to view/interpret the situation as merely our current reality, which I can learn and grow from.
Stage 2 – Anger: My emotional pain naturally triggered my anger response. I saw multiple sources to blame: Other countries and various parts of our government bore the brunt of my frustration.
What helped me move forward: I recognized the natural pattern to assign blame as a way to avoid taking responsibility/action for what I can control. Blame is much easier than taking personal responsibility! When my desire to lash out arose, I practiced choosing to place my attention/focus on what I could do to adapt. This was a continuous effort. Sometimes I did well, and sometimes I found myself caught in the blame game. With practice, I conditioned myself to minimize blame and focus on ways to turn my challenges into opportunities.
Stage 3- Bargaining and remorse: I remember thinking, “maybe if people take 4-6 weeks of social distancing, the infections will stop, and we can go back to normal.” I also regretted some recent financial commitments I made and wished I could “turn back the clock”.
What helped me move forward: I recognized that I wanted to create an alternate reality where everything goes the way I wished. This awareness and discussions with people I trust helped. I was merely going through the normal grieving process. I then chose to view/interpret the situation through the perspective of “it is what it is.” Wishing things were different would only distract me away from moving forward.
Stage 4- Depression: I felt down and out. I had feelings of hopelessness, fear, and lack of control over circumstances. Would family, friends, or myself get sick and die? What would happen to my clients and my business? It became clear that things weren’t going back to normal anytime soon. Some mornings I was mourning and didn’t want to get out of bed.
What helped me move forward: I realized that it’s natural under the circumstances to suffer some level of sadness and depression. I chose not to berate myself for having negative thoughts and feelings. I wanted to ensure that “temporary depression” wouldn’t become chronic and severe. I chose to take actions that create positive emotions and attitudes. I’ll write further about this in an upcoming article.
Stage 5- Acceptance: After about two-three weeks of Stages 1-4, I accepted that Covid-19 related changes weren’t going to fade away suddenly. I had faith that things would “work out” and we (society) would find ways to adapt, just as people have through the millennia. I chose to place my attention/focus on the positive aspects of the new environment. I also chose to take actions that would allow me to create positive results. This included committing to resuming important routines that helped me pre-Covid. This has resulted in more positive feelings, thoughts, and actions that have led to me being be reengaged and productive again. I have optimism for the future and feel good about myself again.
The choices I’ve made to adapt have not been easy due to old habits. In the past, I would have remained in a negative state and obsessed over how unfair my circumstances were. I would then use my feelings as justification for not taking the positive actions that would help me move forward. Knowing my old patterns (that still want to kick in at times!) helps me appreciate the power of choice. We all have to create more effective habits that bring far better results. We don’t need to be stuck in our old ways if we’re willing to make an effort to change. The main difference between the most successful people and other lies in making different choices and creating different habits.