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Adjusting to the New Normal: How to Cope with Rapid Change

by | Mar 22, 2020 | General Career Advice

Adjusting to the New Normal: How to Cope with Rapid Change

Wow. A lot has happened in just a short period of time. It’s enough to make your head spin, right?

In the past two weeks, the world as we know it has dramatically changed in response to the COVID-19 virus. Many professionals are now working from home for the first time with little to no preparation. In some areas, schools have also closed, which means these same folks are trying to care for their kids and prevent them from falling too far behind in their studies. Some businesses are experiencing major slowdowns, while others are completely shutting down (leaving workers unpaid), and still others are ramping up to help deal with the situation.

No matter your personal circumstances, we are all being tested right now. Our ability to manage change is more important than ever.

I am reminded of the many training workshops I’ve led where we’ve discussed change and how to manage it in the workplace. I often ask participants to recall times in the past when they went through major changes—the emotions they experienced, the strategies they employed, and how they ultimately adapted successfully. Every one of us has been through this cycle countless times before. Sure, the changes we’re experiencing now are perhaps bigger and stranger than any in the past…but we all know how to do this. Have faith in yourself.

Many experts have studied change and how humans respond to it. Turns out, we are biologically hardwired to resist it. After all, for our cavemen ancestors, change often signaled a threat to survival. So, physiologically, we experience the stress response, even if the changes we’re experiencing are not immediately or imminently life threatening.

Managing your stress in this time is especially important for your own health—and for the health of your loved ones as well. Keep in mind that, through our behaviors, we are teaching our children how to handle a crisis. Let’s show them what it looks like to accept change gracefully and to contribute positively to our communities in times of need.

Change also takes a mental toll. Our brains like to play tricks on us. Martin Seligman, a world-renowned psychologist and researcher, identified three common mental fallacies we experience during change, which he refers to as the 3 P’s. I’ve listed them below, along with some tips for overcoming them.

Mental Fallacy #1. Permanence: We start to believe that the painful change we’re experiencing is going to last forever.   

Let’s all remember that this is temporary. Whatever you’re dealing with right now, it will change. We don’t know when and we don’t know how. But this situation, as it currently stands today, is not permanent. In fact, we should all prepare for things to continue evolving for a while, perhaps quite dramatically. Try to approach the changes with a sense of curiosity rather than fear. Sure, there are some scary realities we’re dealing with. But focusing on the fear doesn’t help you or anyone else.

Mental Fallacy #2. Pervasiveness: We start to believe that the change we’re experiencing has impacted ALL areas of life, rather than a select few.

Yes, a lot of things have changed. But there are still certain areas of life that remain the same. There are some stable things. You might have to look hard to find them, but they ARE there. You can also create stability by maintaining as much normalcy as possible.

Personally, I’m trying to keep a consistent schedule. I’ve had all of my training events for the month of March postponed and it looks like April is soon to follow. I was expecting to travel about 50% of my time for these months, and now I’ll be at home. I’ll still wake up at 5:00 every morning. I’ll still make my usual breakfast and start work around 8. I’ll still work a full day, even if that means I have to get creative with my projects. Sure, our teenage kids will be home all day, and that’s different. But we can eat dinner together at night, and take family walks in the park, and play board games together after. Maybe this new life isn’t so bad…?

Here’s the point: Routine is important. The more we can find consistency in our daily lives, the better; and let’s try to find a positive spin where we can.

Mental Fallacy #3. Personalization: We start to believe that the changes we are experiencing are worse for us—they are impacting us on a personal level disproportionately.

Here’s the sad truth: This situation has brought out the worst in some people. Fear is powerful, and it can make you do and say some pretty nasty things. Believe me, I get it. I was throwing myself a big old pity-party last week. I was totally consumed by the news and found myself slipping into a deeper depression with every event postponement email I received.

Then my sister called. This situation has caused much bigger problems for her, and yet, she was concerned about the employees at her company. It dawned on me that we’re all in this together. No one is exempt. We are all frustrated. We’re all scared. We’re all impacted.

In the grand scheme of things, I’m pretty fortunate. If you are currently working from home…if you’re currently healthy…if you currently have a freezer full of food…you’re fortunate too.

Let’s keep our perspective.

Over the past week, I found it useful to turn my attention outward. I made a last minute decision on Monday to host a bonus free webinar on the topic of Working Remotely. If you missed it (or couldn’t get in because we were over capacity), you can watch the replay here. When I began to focus on how I could help others, I felt a whole lot better about my own situation.

Consider what you can do to support others during this time. Reach out to co-workers, neighbors and family members. We may be physically distancing ourselves, but we need each other now more than ever. A kind word can go a long way. A simple favor can be a life-saver. Give whatever you can to whomever needs it.

I will admit: This situation is not the typical “change” scenario I discuss in my training workshops. But you can bet I will refer to it in the future once this is all over. I will share the story of people like you who met this challenge head-on. I will talk about how we came together to help one another, and how we discovered a new depth of strength inside ourselves.

This story of change is still unfolding, and we all have the power to help shape it. Let’s make this an empowering story we can proudly share for generations to come.

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About the Author

Chrissy Scivicque is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and certified Professional Career Manager (PCM). She is an author, in-demand presenter and international speaker known for engaging, entertaining, educating and empowering audiences of all sizes and backgrounds. Learn more here.

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