Tips for coping with uncertain times

We are living in exceptional times, the country and the world are paralyzed. Companies that are not primary are closing down, making employment records. Entrepreneurs are terrified, markets are collapsing. We have recently experienced another deep crisis and we have not yet recovered; that crisis has already traumatized us as a society. This crisis seems even more serious, as it affects us personally and individually and panic paralyses us at all levels.

We have to bear in mind that we are imprisoned, with our personal belongings, but locked up after all. And perhaps part of our family is even in another country and even if it is in this country, we cannot see each other. This crisis has also taken away from us the comfort of the embrace of our loved ones, the closeness.

This confinement that we are experiencing, and which will surely continue, as we have already been told, is causing us various psychological symptoms that will become worse if we do not know how to handle and understand them.

I will try to describe some of the symptoms we are experiencing on a personal level, to see what we can do to combat them, and then I will try to do so on a business level.

Firstly, the feeling of lack of control. We are facing an enemy that we do not know about, that we do not know when he can attack us, our loved ones are in danger, we do not know if we are infected, some people have already lost close relatives.  Our ancestors did not understand what happened when it thundered, they lived in constant surveillance of the environment, on which their lives depended. Somehow, we live again that alert situation that we have in our genes, but we cannot run away to avoid it so somatization or cumulative behaviors occur (the toilet paper disappears from the supermarkets).

This uncertainty produces a tremendous anxiety, also a feeling of fragility. In addition to the fear of getting sick ourselves, there is the fear of infecting our loved ones. Social avoidance and occasional rejection behaviors are observed, with the added anxiety that this produces.

Some people describe a certain feeling of apathy, as not wanting to do anything, usually preceded by a feeling of helplessness.

Apathy is the gateway to depression, we have to be very vigilant with this symptom and force ourselves to keep trying to maintain a daily routine. Later on I will give some tips to combat these symptoms.

It creates a feeling of dehumanization and lack of freedom, where our identity is tested, like all animals, we need to move and now we are restricted. Our identity is not only built with our particular experiences but also in social relations. Let us remember that man is a social “animal” and that he has evolved throughout history thanks to social interaction and teamwork with his fellow human beings.  And we also have limitations on this. Our identity is a fundamental part of ourselves and is built on what we do and how we invest our time.

If we confine an animal in freedom, after some time it will have certain symptoms, as a manifestation of some kind of psychosomatic disorder; for example, if it is a dog, its hair will fall out, etc.

Psychosomatic disorders are those in which the emotions pass directly to the body, without passing through the mind in order to elaborate them. It’s like when you get upset and you catch a cold. The more we are able to be aware of our emotions, the less they will pass to the body.

If we don’t move we will have constipation and loss of muscle, we will sleep badly as we abandon healthy habits.

Throughout these days, we will all have moments of anxiety, frustration, helplessness and moodiness but by being aware of how we feel, managing these emotions can be made easier.

It will be easy for sparks to appear with the people we live with, it will be convenient to avoid fires.

With a series of control measures, we will be able to mitigate the consequences of this unwanted confinement:

  1. Order and discipline: getting up at the same time, keeping an agenda of activities throughout the day. This agenda should include both physical and mental exercise.
  2. Physical exercise: we should do an hour of exercise every day, which includes aerobic movement, twice a day, for example, or for a while every hour and a half. Physical exercise increases the cerebral and articular irrigation, improves the mood by the production of dopamine and serotonin.
  3. Mental exercise: learning provides protection to our emotional barrier against adversity. It motivates us, a human being without goals, without challenges gets depressed. Take advantage of this moment to learn what motivates you, something new and challenging. Also reading novels that evade reality can help, without falling into the ease of television.
  4. Meaningful relationships: take advantage of the time we now have to call family and friends. Get back in touch with those friends who have not called for a long time and who have given you so much in their time.
  5. Humour: it is the most powerful tool that exists to raise your spirits. Trying to keep it up is fundamental in these times and being Spanish, it is in our blood.
  6. Feelings of community: that thing of going out to the balcony to applaud helps us feel part of a community, we support each other.
  7. Altruism and gratitude: to thank the health professionals, the military, the farmers, all those people who are working to take care of us. To help, to do some altruistic activity, just to think that our isolation benefits the community. Both produce an automatic well-being, living as a reward.
  8. Stop thinking: when we begin to feel negative emotions or catastrophic thoughts, think “Enough! Thinking about happy memories, situations that made us laugh, remembering what we do have instead of what we don’t. Avoiding looking too much at the news, which is becoming more and more discouraging.

Viktor Frankl wrote: “when all goals have been uprooted, the only thing left is the last of human freedoms: the ability to choose one’s attitude in the face of a set of circumstances”.

At the business level. The company is an enlarged self with a great deal of complexity, a union of many individualities and a common roof. And with different characteristics in each sector, something that we will all have to investigate.

Firstly, not seeing each other in the office, being together, the danger of disconnection is great. By disconnection I mean lack of attachment, lack of coordination or teamwork, feeling of loneliness, isolation. As far as attachment is concerned, we are mammals, however effective online communication techniques may be, humans need contact, proximity. There is a classic Harlow experiment where the little monkeys preferred to cuddle up to a structure with skin than to one without skin that only provided them with food. As a wise English saying goes: touching makes love.

If in most companies, there is a lack of group cohesion, it is normal that working remotely complicates it even more.

In second place, the workers of the company can suffer the effects of the confinement, and if inside those effects there is the fear, the uncertainty, it can lead to the depression and the operativity will be affected undoubtedly.

Business uncertainty further increases anxiety and panic, so creativity is nullified. Creativity is what gives us the ability to find ways out of difficult situations. If companies are paralyzed, in panic mode, they lose their ability to react, they are left on standby. Or the counterpart of paralysis which is the storm of movements.

Therefore, in these times of uncertainty, transmitting closeness and security to the client will be essential for companies. The human being needs, even more at this time, certainties. To make a good communication plan that transmits an image of solidity and closeness.

Making video calls in which you can see our face, calling our customers to interest us in their health and that of their families, will make them loyal and strengthen their ties with us and our company.

Ana Heras Piedrabuena

HR consultant and trainer at Proa Comunicación