The road to recovery from COVID-19

Nov 13, 2020

How can we make sense of a seemingly random event like the COVID-19 pandemic? Tom Armstrong talks about coping and the critical role of human support and interaction in helping us navigate the road to recovery.

We are now close to one year on from the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Asia, and the negative impact of this random event is more evident than ever. People feel less safe, less in control, more vulnerable, less confident, and more anxious than before. Those suffering most may be asking why now, and why me? A recent read of Ronnie Janoff-Bulman’s book, Shattered Assumptions, compelled me to fully consider the impact of random events like COVID-19, where so much of the immediate impact is negative.

It is difficult to say where this pandemic lies on the trauma scale. Many people have had little impact on physical health, work, and mental wellbeing. However, many others have been affected through the loss of loved ones, loss of livelihood, having to put life progression on hold, and general anxiety about the state of the world.

How can those who have suffered cope? I think we can divide coping into some broad areas.

Self-help

Create a routine, eat well, take regular exercise, maintain a journal, spend time in nature, spend less time looking at mobile devices, watch a good movie, meditate, sing, start a new hobby or make a simple daily plan. These things are within our control and are good for our wellbeing, regardless of the degree to which COVID-19 has impacted us.

Interpretation of events

Our interpretation of life events is shaped by our life experience and tends to be the result of unconscious processes. However, over time and through reflection, we can work on the meaning of events.

While not deluding ourselves, we can reframe events. This work enables us to incorporate, and make meaning of, what has happened in our world. For example, maybe this crisis has given us time to spend more time with family, really listen to the opinions of those we differ with, hear the birds sing, or appreciate the flowers in full bloom. Maybe, because of this pandemic, we’re learning to be more considerate, appreciate the simple things in life, and be grateful for what we have.

Take action

Taking our own actions is important to give ourselves a sense of control and the feeling of agency over our lives. While our ability to take specific actions may be restricted right now, there are still many areas of our lives where we can make our own choices – calling a friend, getting up early, going for a walk/run and so on. In time, our feeling of freedom to take more action will return.

Support

This is a two-way street where we can both receive and give support. It is a dynamic process. What does this support look like? It can be material support, such as money or services, or it can be information support – tools and advice about resources that are available to help a person in need. Equally, it can simply take the form of listening, empathising, accepting, and valuing another person.

Because we are fundamentally social beings, social support is critical for our sense of self-worth. Social support is positively associated with psychological wellbeing and mental health. We all can offer support and a supportive environment to those who need it.

The road ahead

There will be a return to more ‘normal’ times when social restrictions are lifted. In the meantime, we all have the choice to support and help each other as we navigate the current challenges and seek to reach the other side safely. We may get bruised along the way, but when it’s over, we will have survived and through our actions and experience, we can be wiser, stronger and more human.

Tom Armstrong is an Executive Coach, Facilitator, Mentor and Chartered Accountant.