You can’t just ‘carry on’, well not as normal anyway. The impact that the Coronavirus pandemic is having around the world is like nothing we have seen before. The scale of the impact this will have on our society and economy on a national and global basis hasn’t been seen since World War II.
Whole countries are in lock-down, many industries are on their knees, and the world-wide economy has had a seismic shock that it will take many years to recover from.
This will affect all of us personally, even if it’s just trying to buy a loo roll or packet of pasta! Travel disruption is impacting family gatherings not just holidays. People needing to visit loved ones or simply get home are finding themselves stuck halfway around the world. Many businesses, across all industries, are under threat and having to adapt and adapt quickly. Some people will lose a job or a business, others will find their working patterns disrupted with meetings and events cancelled or having to work from home. Schools and exams are under threat. We cannot even find solace by going out as people are avoiding pubs, restaurants, cinemas, etc, that is if they are open at all. Even most sporting events are cancelled and global competitions such as the 2020 Euros and Olympics are under threat.
Worst of all, some of the elderly, or those with under-lying conditions, will contract Covid-19 and not survive. The grief this will cause many families will compound the effects of the virus they are already feeling.
So how are we to cope with all this? From an individual and personal perspective we need to develop the resilience and mental strength to see us through this period. For most of us this is not life or death, but this is what I learnt from going through situations that was both life threatening and life altering :
Don’t panic. The people stripping supermarket shelves bare are acting out of fear. The fear is genuine and valid, but the response is emotional and irrational. There is no disruption to the supply of toilet rolls, and no reason why we should need more, but panic buying by a few has created a self-fulfilling prophecy of shortages. We cannot control eternal events, such as the emergence of the Coronavirus, but we can control how we respond to it. Make sure you respond with your head and not your heart and you won’t go far wrong.
Keep a long-term perspective. With things changing by the day, conflicting advice and strategies emerging from different experts, politicians, countries, and a barrage of social media mixing fact and fiction, it is difficult to keep a sense of perspective. But what we do know with absolute certainty, is that this will pass. In 12 months-time we will be back to dealing with the latest Brexit negotiation (remember that?), or climate change, or a military/terrorist conflict. i.e. we will get through it – as tough as it may be at times, so let’s turn our attention to how you do that.
Do the right thing. Take responsibility for avoiding, delaying, and preparing for the virus. Do this personally and professionally, for your family, colleagues, and business. This isn’t just for practical reasons it is for the peace of mind of knowing that you have done what you can for yourself and others. But there are boundaries, remember the serenity prayer: have the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Focus on the things you can do something about.
Look after yourself. In times of stress and worry, as well as physical illness, it is much easier to cope if you look after yourself. Look after your body with sleep, exercise, and a good diet. Look after your mind by removing undue pressures or stresses, avoiding those who are negative and will sap your energy further, and give yourself permission to take the time and space you need. Know what your own warning flags are, that stress is mounting. It might be losing patience with minor things, or mood swings, or something else. Whenever you detect your own warning flags, take a break, go for a walk, and take an action to reduce your stress.
Avoid the negative thinking trap. It is not all doom and gloom despite what others think, and the impression the media creates. It is not Armageddon – honestly, it’s not. And all those things you thought you could or should have done to avoid the impacts? Well you didn’t have a crystal ball to know this was coming. If you find yourself caught in a downward spiral of negative thoughts then stop, pause, and breathe. If you find yourself talking to others caught in this trap, then turn it around or turn yourself around and walk away. Focus on the positive and constructive thoughts. The world has responded quickly, many scientists are working on finding a vaccine, the vast majority of people will only suffer flu symptoms for a few days and then be better, and the outpouring of goodwill to health workers is heart-warming. Even the experts and politicians are saying that, in all likelihood, the impact will be far less than the worst case scenarios people fear. And remember, China is past the peak and returning to normal already.
As we go through the next few months, and the changes start to touch different corners of our lives, there will be small moments of opportunity. Perhaps spending more time with family or reaching out to those you have not seen for too long, or possibly having the time to do things that need doing. There may be other opportunities that come along such as spotting a new direction to take your business or career. For others it will be a time to learn about personal or business resilience, or just taking the time to learn something new. There are always opportunities in change – watch out for them.
If you would like to find out more about coping with the changes that are going to affect you personally, then my first book How to Keep Calm and Carry On, will give you the tools and techniques to help. If you are responsible for others and need to lead them through this period, then my book Change Leadership will make a difference.