Lockdown challenged everything I believe to be true about myself. It challenged my identity and has forced me to redefine myself as a woman, mother, grandmother, friend, life business and strategy coach and as a doyen of women’s empowerment, transformation and human capital development. It has made me kinder and unkinder, harder and softer, wiser and infinitely sillier. It has exposed my duality and has challenged every belief I held dear about myself, people and the world.
Why? Because in South Africa our response to the Covid-19 Pandemic was fast and furious – three weeks with no physical and social interaction with loved ones, friends and clients, only quick trips to the shops for food and essentials (if they were available). The impact of lockdown on my world, everyone South Africans’ world, was immediate and harsh personally, as a member of a community and professionally.
Each of us faced different challenges. For some survival was the challenge, others isolation, others the impossibility of living the regulations in a community not designed to support the rules, for many fear and anxiety overtook everything.
In my world clients, both individual and corporate went quiet for the first three weeks of lockdown because we all believed it would be a short but torturous time where we counted down the 21 days to what we assumed would be our resumed freedom.
Now, many months later, with a measure of freedom resumed, I, and many others, especially women, are still reeling emotionally from the shock of experiencing a world gone mad.
And a significant part of the madness was the explosion of media and social media solutions to our imposed isolation. Because during lockdown we were inundated with everyone and his dog’s solution to the personal impact lockdown would have on us.
Each social media stream offered us a smorgasbord of alternately uplifting or depressing, accurate and inaccurate, informative and disingenuous communications about the current and future state of the world and our place in it.
We are told we can all, at the end of lockdown, be on route to becoming multi-millionaires, business owners, chefs, be qualified as data scientists, artists and, of course, if we listen to the icons of self-development, we can rev ourselves into new, slimmer, faster, more amazing versions of ourselves as we de-stress, stretch, bend and contort ourselves, while creating a vision board with all our “I wants” stuck to cardboard or on electronic media.
For most of us, especially the mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, the reality of the Covid-19 lockdown is that we have been forced to deal with a situation unlike any experienced in the world before. Despite how the pandemic has been described, this is not a third world war. If it were war time we could meet with those we love, we could clearly see the ravages of conflict, we could mourn for the loss of those we love, we could congregate in places of spiritual support and experience the benefit of discussing our challenges in a supportive and agreeably chosen environment. We could look at each other with eyes mutually haunted by post traumatic stress and shared pain. We could work in common environments where we could enjoy feeling that we are adding real value and meaning to the world, something that is especially important for women.
What has not being addressed in the deluge of self-improvement is the trauma we are all experiencing. Removed from physically intimate social contact, forced to keep our distance from fellow human beings and, even when we do venture out of the confines of our homes, we must mask and glove up and are unable to connect and read the faces of the people around us. When we see people we know, there is no hug or handshake greeting, we pass like ships in the night and, only recently, have been able to visit family, friends. When we have meetings we do not meet colleagues, clients, human beings, we see circles with initials or, if we are lucky we see a picture, cartoon that represents the people with whom we are interacting.
An essential part of our humanity is being cauterized by the unknown enemy, the invisible Covid-19 virus.
As we plan to return to a more interactive, business and community driven lifestyle as lockdown is eased, as we deal with the economic trauma of this experience, there is another facet of our life that we need to address: our mental health.
As we have barricaded ourselves behind our walls and doors, as we seek essentials in the shops, we have been dealing with moment by moment fear, stress and anxiety. Week after week, month after month, the underlying foundation of our emotional well-being has been challenged, if not eaten away. Some of the challenges that will need to be addressed include:
- Grief and Loss
Not just the death of family, friends, relatives but South African community loss. When the HIV/Aids immune deficiency virus first hit communities worldwide, it was the first time outside of a war situation that people experienced multiple deaths. Nearly everyone had an experience of knowing closely, or at a distance, individuals with the virus or whose lives had been lost to the virus.
So too, with Covid-19, we know people in our community who have died, medical professionals who have died, friends or family who have died. And, we need to grieve and mourn for those losses.
As well, we need to grieve for the loss of our way of life. The careless and carefree way in which we have interacted with each other and the world. The assumptions we have been able to make about how life would be and what our future would look like.
Our preoccupations have changed, our goals have changed, yet as human beings, we do not react well to change and it will require adaptation and courage.
2. Fear, Anxiety and Stress
And organisations will be dealing with fear driven, grief stricken, survival-oriented individuals who might overtly toe the corporate company line, driven by those very emotions and survival instincts, but might not have the emotional capacity to be innovative, creative and productive.
Organisations who themselves are facing survival challenges are less likely to be willing to invest in employee wellbeing, yet, the very fact that they see people interventions as a luxury and as Boards take the red pencil to people focused budgets in order to create quick financial wins, will ultimately end up crippling their organisations.
There is an interesting phenomenon worldwide – in recession, when money is short and personal spending limited, one of the expenditures that individuals do not cut back on is investing in their psychological wellbeing. The self-development industry does not contract in a recession because people are willing to spend money on their emotional wellbeing, a lesson from which business and government could learn as they seek to rebuild in the post pandemic world.
3. Financial Stress
While many negative emotions are driven by the life-threatening aspect of the virus itself and will need to be addressed by new ways of interacting, working and by new standards of hygiene, there are other factors, out of the individual control of employees, that impact on us and create negative emotions.
Many people have lost employment as a result of the pandemic. And, while organisations might have an employee who has a job and is earning an income, these very employees might have partners and family members who used to contribute to financial wellness of the family but can no longer because their business or employment has vanished.
Organisations are reducing employees’ incomes by a percentage because of loss of production, loss of market and financial challenges and this loss of income affects the ability of the employee to service their debt and expenses, creating huge stress and anxiety.
I have a colleague who was advised that her daily contracting rate was being reduced by 50 percent. She called me in a rage, she was not going to accept this and had created a story in her head that made sense to her about her motivation for refusing to work at this lesser rate.
She needed to be able to vent, she needed time to process the value of the income she was rejecting and to find a place of negotiation.
Without a sounding board, she would have made a financially damaging decision, but with access to a sounding board, she sounded like an empowered and mature individual at the end of the day and negotiated a rate with a reduction but less than 50 percent.
We will all need those people who listen and reflect with us in our lives if we are to rebuild lives shaken to the core by Covid-19. If you do not have such a person in your life, you might want to reflect on your friendship group to identify one.
4. Social Media Madness
As the administrator of a WhatsApp group and having a facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter account I have been amazed and concerned at the extremes of information that is shared and how vulnerable we all are to being influenced without checking whether what is influencing us is based on solid information from reliable sources.
The negativity and paranoia that has become part of our way of life creates endless powerless rage, stress and anxiety.
It used to be that we were just challenged to be good looking, successful, travelled and world wise on social media. Now we have to sift endless streams of information that can have us climbing the highest emotional heights and descending to the lowest emotional depths. As well as being bombarded with endless calls to exercise, remodel, rebuild ourselves into Post-Covid-19 superpeople.
Do not underestimate the power of social media to affect you, your workplace, friends and family with negative perspectives that, if unchecked, can lead to depression, hopelessness, helplessness and a “why bother” attitude.
Filtering information against a litmus paper test of truth is critically important for mental health and checking material sources is one way to ensure that your attitude and mood are not affected by misinformation.
5. C-Suite Challenges
And finally, in the corporate world, the C-Suite are also facing challenges and stresses at an unprecedented level. They are not just navigating the business’s usual stresses, with pressure from shareholders on profitability, liquidity and solvency issues, but they are also facing survival strategies in an uncertain world.
For the C-Suite the challenges are not just business challenges, there is the sense of accountability and responsibility for their teams and the survival choices they are compelled to make, that they know rebound throughout families and communities.
They face the Sophie’s Choice of saving some at the cost of many and, while business is business, to divest C-Suite teams of their humanity is inhuman.
The emotional wellbeing of the C-Suite is equally important. They often won’t turn to others for help, often out of the believe they need to be strong or for fear of being stigmatised for mental issues. When they reach the tipping point, if support is not available and utilized, the consequences can be grave. the emotional wellbeing of the C-Suite is equally important. They often won’t turn to others for help, out of pride and fear of being stigmatised for mental issues. When they reach the tipping point (without support), the consequences can be grave
We have all seen the strain of accountability reflected in the faces and some of the choices of our political leaders, the same strain applies to our C-Suite leaders.
The Future in Business
The future is uncertain and that is our only certainty. For companies and employees alike the only truth that is certain is that taking care of the mental health of the C-Suite teams and their employees is the only success factor over which we have absolute control.
On the business front investing in Pandemic townhalls, discussion sessions, check-ins, one-on-one mentoring and coaching is an investment in innovation, creativity, productivity, accountability and loyalty – necessary survival strategies for business post Covid-19.
What about me?
On a personal level, this has been for me a time to invest in my own mental health, discovering what adds lasting value to my life and gives my life a sense of purpose and meaning. And it is really hard to do this when clear thinking is overwhelmed in a tsunami of negativity in the media, of fear internally and of anxiety for the future.
A simple technique
If you do find yourself overwhelmed by fear, anxiety or negative thoughts, here is an three part exercise that will help you manage these feelings, that enables you when you feel overwhelmed, so that you can surface and start building a new future:
- Pick ten minutes in every hour, any ten minutes. These are your ten minutes of negativity. Every hour, in that particular ten minutes (I chose from ten past to twenty past the hour) you are allowed to worry, be anxious, to let fear rule your mind. You can think the worst you can imagine. You are going to lose everything, you are going to starve to death, you are going to have to live on the streets. The very worst things imaginable.
You are only allowed to be negative in those ten minutes, not at any other time, so if you miss it in one hour, you have to wait to the next.
If you want to be negative at any other point, you must just tell yourself that this is not the time for negativity and get busy doing anything other than being negative, but promise your fearful self that its turn will come in the next hour.
- Now you make a list of things that need to be done. Things that will contribute to your future in some way. It might be phoning the credit card company and making a payment plan, it might be planning something you can do, however small that will make some income, it might be repeating an affirmation, it might be planning how something you love doing could become a moneymaker.
- I remember when things were really bad and I had only debts and no money, I created and affirmation I still use today: “I have enough money to pay my debts and expenses”. It took a very short time saying this affirmation for it to become a reality.
So one thing, just one, every day that does something to create a future.
- Finally, every day create a time of active imagination. This is when you imagine how it will be when…. You see, hear and feel yourself in better circumstances. This needs to be done with intensity and attention. It’s not fantasizing about winning the lottery, it’s about actively imagining the future you desire.
You don’t have to be in dire straits to use this technique, you can just want to feel better, happier, more in control. Practising this technique can make terrible circumstances improve and can make tough times easier.
I have clients who have been unable to see a way out of their current circumstances use this technique and within days, they have been laughing at their seemingly unsolvable problems as the solutions begin to reveal themselves.
I also usually do it at the same time everyday, so it becomes a discipline.
As we clamber out of the hole created by the Pandemic, there is only one certainty for us as women, we have to keep going, planning, managing. We are the backbone of the society in which we live, we are its heart, its pulse, its future. We are not perfect, we rise, we fall. Our survival, our conquering doesn’t come from what happens to us, but what we do with what happens to us.