You don’t need me to say that it’s been a difficult few weeks for us all. Our lives have been turned upside down with no clue of when things will return to normal.
It has been interesting to see how people have been reacting to these seismic changes. Remember when the masses were out in force in Scarborough despite being told to distance themselves not so long ago? My aunty who I’ve always thought of as a hugely positive person was chatting to me a few weeks ago; I was amazed at how angry she was saying that the government were overreacting and her carefree life had been curtailed indefinitely (she was also angry about being classified as “old” at the age of 70). I was out walking yesterday and bumped into my neighbour who is normally a glass half full, positive individual who seems unfazed by most things. She was saying she’d had a massive wobble and had been tearful nearly all day. You may relate to a myriad of emotions which you’ve experienced over the last few weeks.
Dr Elizabeth Kubler Ross, was a psychiatrist who is well known for the work she did around how people respond to bereavement. The change curve is based on her work and is widely known in the area of change management.
The change curve describes four phases:
- When a change is first introduced, people’s initial response may be shock or denial, as they react to the challenge to the status quo – were people in denial when they were hitting the London parks in the good weather despite warnings about social distancing?
- Once the reality of the change starts to hit, people tend to react negatively and move to stage 2 resulting in feeling angry, resisting changes and being fearful about the impact of the change. This is a stressful and unpleasant stage
- At stage 3 of the change curve, people stop focusing on what they’ve lost. They start to accept the changes and explore what the changes mean and how they must adapt. This is a healthier place to be as it’s about looking forwards. I’m amazed that my elderly parents (84 and 87) are now proud owners of an iPad and are facetiming us every day. This will be our new norm!
- By stage 4, individuals not only accept the changes but also start to embrace them. There has been lots of talk about how our lives will change forever after this pandemic. Just think about the acts of kindness which we’ve all seen and celebrating key workers each Thursday with clapping for those people who are supporting us all
I can readily relate to the change curve. My daughter started refusing to go to school 18 months ago because she had severe anxiety. This had a severe impact on our whole family. My mood swung between being incredibly angry and feeling heartbroken for how her life was being ruined by isolation.
I got stuck in stage 2 for some time which has been described as ‘in the doldrums’. The doldrums by the way is an equatorial region of the Atlantic Ocean with calms, sudden storms, and light unpredictable winds. The crews of sailing ships dreaded the doldrums because their ships were often becalmed there; the designation for the resultant state of depression was apparently thus extended to these geographic regions themselves.
With little support, we had to find help and forge home schooling for her for most of the academic year. It took me some months to accept our situation and to eventually explore the positives and be grateful that it had happened at the time when it did. We’ve had some real breakthroughs as a result of going through our annus horribilis.
The current climate is hugely traumatic for many of us with the loss of freedom and of our old way of life, concerns around our health, our relationships, our jobs and our financial security. Understanding the change curve may be useful for individuals to understand the different stages of transition, appreciate where they are and that it is a well-recognised journey which we must tread when experiencing change.
There has been so much in the news about “flattening the curve”; with knowledge of the change curve, you can help to minimise the negative impacts of change and help yourself and others to adapt. The things which you can do at each stage are:
- Stage 1 – people need to know what’s happening and how to get help. Communication is key (think about the daily governmental briefs).
- Stage 2 – people need to be able to express their feelings. Listening to people and providing support is vital. Remember, this is where we can easily slip into the doldrums so we need to be able to recognise any signs.
- Stage 3 – this stage is key for exploring what positives could come out of the change. It’s an opportunity for learning and acceptance but it takes time. I’ve been bowled over by the number of people who are viewing this as a real opportunity for change, particularly around home and flexible working.
- Stage 4 – this is where the changes start to stick and the positives are embraced by people
We’re all on the change curve. Please help others to realise where they are and that it is completely normal. We are all experiencing loss in varying degrees. Support others depending on where they are. There will be light at the end of the tunnel. I know it’s a cliché but I remember staring into the black abyss at my lowest point in our daughter’s lockdown 18 months ago. That was a gamechanger in how we now support her. The learning was immense and ironically, it was also a dry run for our current lockdown which I am weathering in a resilient way…unpredictable wind and all!