25 Sep What if the 6 month wall doesn’t just pass like clockwork?
The World Health Organisation declared a pandemic on March 11. That means we are just over six months into this new global alternative reality.
While it seemed like things were getting better, now the pendulum seems to be swinging in the other direction. Most people are reporting feeling fatigue, sluggishness, no energy, dragging themselves through the day.
A post on Twitter earlier this week by Professor Aisha Ahmad – an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto – explained the difficulty of reaching the “six-month mark in any sustained crisis”, which seemed to perfectly describe this feeling.
In her tweet thread – which has had over 50,000 likes and has been retweeted 20,000 times – she asks the question, “How can we keep going?” she said: First, in my experience, this is a very normal time to struggle or slump. I always hit a wall 6 months into a tough assignment in a disaster zone. The desire to “get away” or “make it stop” is intense. I’ve done this many times, and at 6 months, it’s like clockwork.
“Rather, this is our next major adaptation phase. We’ve already re-learned how to do groceries, host meetings, and even teach classes. And we have found new ways to be happy and have fun. But as the days get shorter and colder, we need to be ready to innovate again.
“In my experience, this 6-month wall both arrives and dissipates like clockwork. So I don’t fight it anymore. I don’t beat myself up over it. I just know that it will happen & trust that the dip will pass. In the meantime, I try to support my mental & emotional health.
“Take heart. We have navigated a harrowing global disaster for 6 months, with resourcefulness & courage. We have already found new ways to live, love, and be happy under these rough conditions. A miracle & a marvel. This is hard proof that we have what it takes to keep going.
I mulled over why this post resonated so strongly with me. I came to realise it was not only that Professor Ahmad described what I am currently feeling, she offered something that has been absent in recent months. Hope. This too will pass. I really want to believe her.
Will it pass by itself?
Dr. Ahmad’s experience is that this ‘slump’ or ‘wall’ will pass by itself in 4 to 6 weeks. However, she does acknowledge “This time, our crisis is global and there is nowhere to run.” And “This is my first pandemic, but not my first 6-month wall.”.
The psychological impact of disasters can be in the form of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), Depression, Anxiety, Emotional Distress, and Sleep Disorders.
In a recent article by The Atlantic Steven Taylor, a psychiatrist at the University of British Columbia and the author of The Psychology of Pandemics (published in October 2019) talks about the mental health challenges associated with COVID-19. He says this situation is “very different in important ways.”
Most people are resilient after disasters, and only a small percentage develop chronic conditions. However, most disasters affect a specific area or region. Even after a catastrophic hurricane, for example, normalcy resumes a few hundred miles away.
Professor Joe Ruzek, a long time PTSD researcher at Stanford University and Palo Alto University, says certain key tenets of disaster response no longer hold up. People cannot congregate at a central location to get help. Support for those who need it most may not be forthcoming or seem a priority. He says that a pandemic is less like a disaster in that its ongoing and unknown elements, and we have to stay in the situation, we cannot escape. This can lead to a feeling of hopelessness.
What can be done to support individuals and teams?
Disaster mental-health specialists often talk about the five core elements of intervention—calming, self-efficacy, connectedness, hope, and a sense of safety—and those apply now as much as ever.
Ruzek is an advocate for web-based interventions for mental health. He has stated that “we now have emerging research showing their effectiveness and once designed, this can intervene in mental health problems, depression, anxiety, PTSD, but this can be applied to other problems too: how to reduce conflict, how to be more successful, how to be better in the workplace.”
These interventions include a lot of educational information, setting goals, setting targets and self-monitoring. They help people change their activities and learn skills to manage stress.
Most recent studies into the effects of COVID-19 on the mental health of the general population calls out 3 specific protective factors:
- Social Supports
- Preventative strategies:
(i) implementing effective communication
(ii) providing adequate psychological services
Protective factors provide a shield when things are already challenging, and preventative strategies help to ensure we don’t tip over into the stressed zone.
How does this apply to organisations?
When work is home and home is work, there are many ways in which organisations can better support their teams through this next phase. Over the coming weeks, we will be exploring academic research, thought leaders, and current data, diving deep into each of these areas from an organisational perspective, offering insight and sharing experiences of real companies that we are working with.
COVID-19 is a moving target, the timelines and rules keep shifting and changing. Pandemics are confusing. This is why clear, honest communication is vital for leaders to allay unnecessary anxiety.
So yes, this too shall pass, but beware the thought: We’re all suffering, so just get over it.