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Adaptability during times of uncertainty: readjusting your approach to a crisis

In the first part of a new content series on adaptability during times of uncertainty, Emma Sue Prince discusses how, despite the fact that the coronavirus pandemic has meant we all feel a loss of control, we can get some of it back by choosing how we personally respond to it.

16th Apr 2020
Director Unimenta
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What is adaptability? It’s the ability to change (or be changed) to fit altered or unexpected circumstances. Every one of us has the basic capability to be adaptable. Without this being hard-wired in us, we would not be able to function in the world. It is a basic survival skill – the ability to adapt smarter and faster than any current situation is what has allowed us to flourish and consistently make progress since caveman days. This is not the world’s first pandemic – and it won’t be the last. Right now though, it may be a challenge to see how adaptable we can actually be.

The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings.
– Kakuzo Okakura

For most people, the current situation is akin to a major war and the majority of us have not experienced that. We are looking at very long-term adaptability, whilst at the same time scrambling to understand and adapt to constantly changing situations around us, such as working from home, home-schooling our children and how we feel about being locked down.

For some it’s about coming to terms with the loss of work and deep financial concerns. For others, the health risks are unfathomable and very scary either for themselves or their loved ones.

We need, therefore, to begin with how we are feeling. In a way our current situation demands that we all become a lot more self-aware. That means being easier on ourselves and working out where we might be and what we are experiencing. This COVID-19 situation is the same as any crisis in that before you can adapt you have to focus on your security – whether that is food, protecting a loved one who is vulnerable or a key worker, or just looking after immediate needs.

After that you need a plan, and this will be all around functioning under a lockdown situation, i.e. how are we going to work; what sort of family unit are we in and how do we carve out space or, if we are alone, how do we create connection? How can we do everything in our power to look after our health if we feel vulnerable? Taking care of our basic human needs has to come first before tapping into adaptability.

All of us at any point can feel overwhelmed, but the most helpful thing to bear in mind is that feelings are always temporary. The best thing you can do is accept them, be more aware of where you are and then do things that help you. I think understanding that we are all grieving in a way is also helpful.

podcast link

Focusing your energy

How do we best adapt when everything around is uncertain and changes rapidly day-to-day and sometimes hour-to-hour?

The easiest thing is to understand where to place your energy. When we are distressed and upset and especially when we feel out of control, all our energy will go into the things we can’t control. People are feeling isolated, and they start to get scared and anxious. We also have no reference points for dealing with this kind of crisis – this automatically feeds into the fear part of our brains because so much is unknown. Fear comes mainly from the narrative we’re telling ourselves.

We, as humans, do not like to be out of control of what is going on. With the spread of the coronavirus, we have absolutely no control over those variables – what we can control is how we’re going to navigate through them. Although it is healthy to identify the negatives of the current situation, people can find a sense of satisfaction in regaining control of how they perceive their situation. This is the power of reframing one’s narrative. I encourage people to view this crisis as an opportunity to refocus on mental health and the health of your relationships with those around you.

To be adaptable right now, place your energy on the things you can control – your daily routine, taking care of yourself, how often you choose to look at the news, what work you can realistically be getting on with during this time or making time to reflect on your current situation and what you might do in the future. If your worry is about finances, put your energy into what you can control, i.e. applying for that grant or loan, or taking a mortgage holiday, or loan break. Your control is on the small actions day-to-day. You will want to veer towards big decisions and big actions but right now, adapting successfully is about focusing on the small things.

Interested in this topic? Read Emma-Sue's recent content series on critical thinking.

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