Getting stuck is not a problem; staying stuck is. During the COVID-19 crisis so far, we have been through a myriad of emotions from disbelief and shock, to fear and anxiety, in response to this massive change and disruption. These emotions left unchecked can lead us to fight, flight or freeze. If you find yourself getting stuck in these familiar places, getting unstuck will help you move forward in the COVID-19 crisis. In fact, practicing getting unstuck is what builds resilience in the face of change.
As we are human beings and not robots or automatons, change is inevitable in our lives. If we don’t adjust to it, in whatever form it comes: marriage, parenting, divorce, death, old age, moving country, schools or jobs, loss of any kind, we will be miserable. Adjustment comes with the turf. It’s part of life and we need to move through it and get on with it.
Change is stressful
Change, whether positive or negative, is stressful but it also provides us with an opportunity for personal growth. Building the skills to transition from one life-space or stage to another, proves that we can cope. We have to develop a belief that we can do this. Ask yourself: Where and when you have coped before? How did you do it? Can you use those skills again?
Seven stages of adjustment/transition
How we ‘do’ transition is important. Yes, that’s a verb, we can’t do transition by reading books. We have to get on the horse and ride it.
I interviewed veteran educator, counselor, speaker and author, Dereck Jackson, about the seven stages of adjustment or transition. “Knowing there are various stages that one moves through and circles back to gives you a starting point for the journey. Knowledge is power and, strangely enough, knowing there is a pathway provides a modicum of comfort; knowing that others have walked this path before and survived. Make no mistake, even positive changes like marriage, becoming parents, changing jobs, moving homes or countries require us to move through the same stages.” He explained the various stages which I have captured below and have found them really helpful not only now during the COVID-19 crisis but while dealing with the trauma and adjustment that came with becoming a widow two years ago. They were spot on and may be helpful to you too.
- Initially, we become immobilised by our fear
- We find reasons not to do something even if it is a positive change we really want
- We may develop psychosomatic symptoms: a tummy ache in the child moving from primary to high school, backache in someone starting a new job, or a headache due to the stress of COVID-19. Any excuse to not get out of bed
- We resist change even if we seek it
- This stage calms us down
- A sibling going to a new school thinks, “If my brother could do this and he’s so dumb, then so can I!”
- Only old people die from the Corona Virus so I’ll be okay
- We visit our old school or old company soon after leaving, hoping they will take us back
- If Victor Frankl and Nelson Mandela could survive, so can I – this is a thought I have had over and over during the COVID-19 crisis
- We get down in the dumps
- We think negatively: “I can’t do it.” “I don’t have any friends.” “I can’t have my party in lockdown.” “It’s not fair!” “Who do I think I am that I can do this job?”
- This is a withdrawal cycle
- When a child goes back to visit their old school 6 – 8 weeks later, or you go back to your old company, you discover they are too busy to spend much time on you and they don’t offer you your place/job back – this can be a shock but it’s also a reality check
- You don’t feel well-resourced or skilled for the challenge or task at hand
- Mothers with children often create more of a problem than there is because they want to take the pain away instead of helping their child work through the problem. We must never forget that when we allow someone to work through a problem or challenge we are helping them to build resources to cope now and in the future. Let individuals own their own problems
- On the way to acceptance of change and our new reality we may circle back to depression or move forward into the testing phase
- We know we have to deal with the change or the problem
- We know we can’t go back, that we have to move forward
- We find ourselves accepting that we are in a new reality and we start to test it
- We keep testing and trying new ways of doing things in this new space until we find something that works. We are now on our way to rewiring our beliefs about ourselves, our actions and behaviour
- The problem with lockdown is that it doesn’t give us the opportunity to test our new reality which can lead to frustration
- As lockdown starts to ease we will start accepting our new reality and we want to test it but for now, we feel stuck
- The problem with Covid-19 is that the government sets the pace of transition and this causes frustration if we want to ‘get on with it already’
- Parents who are now guiding their children through school from home are feeling inadequate which can push them back into depression
- Children who thought their parents knew everything are disappointed and they also flip into depression
- Confidence can be affected or even shattered
- We have to get unstuck before we can get back on our bicycle
- During the testing phase, we start to compare our new reality with our old reality – our new life with our old life, our new normal with our old normal
- We realise we have learnt new skills over this transition and adjustment period
- We have learnt to deal with boredom
- We have learnt to make friends with loneliness
- We have become more independent and resourceful
- We have taken the time to get to a new reality
- We can declare: “I’m happy with my new life,” displaying flexibility and adaptability
- If we declare: “I can’t cope, I’m stuck,” then you are wishing for what you can’t have. You become a prisoner of your own making
- We start searching for meaning
- We are able to look back at where we have been and we find meaning – we can make sense of it and see a bigger picture
- This is where the growth sits
Transition is a process, not an event
I have always loved Dereck’s dry sense of humour and pragmatic approach. He emphasises that transition is a process, not an event. He provides an analogy of marriage versus a wedding. “The wedding is an event and marriage is a process that lasts a lifetime.”
We are always in the process of becoming and life throws us curve balls and deals us a hand of cards that we have to play. We get to choose which cards we discard and which we will keep and work with. Our lives are filled with a continuous stream of losses that we have to adapt to. Some are bigger and some are smaller but we continue to process them for a lifetime. We are never out of a process: we just embrace new circumstances and move on, taking ownership, absorbing them, moving forward. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time.
Advice for getting unstuck
Dereck offers some words of advice for the journey through the seven stages:
- Don’t try and stop a stage. Support yourself, your children or friends through a stage.
- If parents handle the transition well, their children will usually handle it well too.
- Cry, please cry, but get better.
- Don’t try and push a child into a stage because you feel they should be depressed because you are.
- Don’t rush an emotion or a stage either.
- Create a positive belief system- you can and will cope.
- It’s not what happens to you that is a problem, it’s what you do about it.
- Take responsibility for your own emotions, actions and behaviour.
- Use the power of choice – choice is never fully taken away from you.
- Instill a daily routine for predictability, structure and sanity.
COVID-19 like any other loss will be with us for the rest of our lives as we will be processing it forever. It is part of the fabric of our lives. It is part of our history and narrative. The important thing is to ask ourselves: What have we learnt from it? This is only possible when we get to the stages of internalisation and finding meaning.
Bear this in mind too: everyone on the planet is going through the same seven stages of adjustment and transition. Some will do it faster. Some will do it slower. There is no timeline. Don’t get hooked on a date or a set period of time. Step into the process and keep moving. Embrace each stage no matter what it feels like. If you need support, get it. Don’t get stuck in fight, flight, or freeze. Find a way to get yourself unstuck. I hope the explanation of the seven stages will help you as much they have helped me.
Human Potential & Parenting Expert helping you to win at work & life
Listen to the podcast with Dereck Jackson here.https://www.nikkibush.com/help-for-parent-children-families-processing-trauma-covid19/