With many small businesses struggling to survive (and many parents struggling to stay sane), getting back to some kind of normalcy seems imperative. It also often seems impossible. Your brain may be telling you to rescue your businesses and homeschool your kids, but all you want to do is eat ice cream, watch Tiger King, and obsessively bake.
Are you a weirdo? Will this ever end? How do people manage to adjust to major crises like the pandemic we're now experiencing?
This is uncharted territory for most of us, but not for Aisha Ahmad, a political science professor who has studied wars and other life-shattering catastrophes across the globe.
"I am just a human, struggling like everyone else to adjust to the pandemic. However, I have worked and lived under conditions of war, violent conflict, poverty, and disaster, in many places around the world. I have experienced food shortages and disease outbreaks, as well as long periods of social isolation, restricted movement, and confinement," she wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education recently (hat tip to the always excellent Kottke).
Ahmad's article is directed at fellow academics, but her reassuring lessons on how people generally move through crises are just as applicable to business owners wondering if their state of mind is normal. Ahmad outlines the three stages we all tend to go through when the world turns upside down.
Stage 1: Seeking out security
If you've felt pretty awful (and unproductive) the past couple of weeks, take heart. "It is perfectly normal and appropriate to feel bad and lost during this initial transition," Ahmad writes. "Consider it a good thing that you are not in denial, and that you are allowing yourself to work through the anxiety. No sane person feels good during a global disaster, so be grateful for the discomfort of your sanity."
"Let go of all of the profoundly daft ideas you have about what you should be doing right now," she advises. "Instead, focus intensely on your physical and psychological security." Consider that permission granted to spend "unproductive" time connecting with loved ones, stocking your pantry, or discussing contingency plans with those closest to you.
Stage 2: Opening up to new challenges
While it's natural to hunker down in the initial days of a crisis, Ahmad's experience suggests that eventually you will get the urge to peak your head out of your shell. "Once you have secured yourself and your team, you will feel more stable, your mind and body will adjust, and you will crave challenges that are more demanding. Given time, your brain can and will reset to new crisis conditions," she predicts.
Which sounds lovely to those of us still working through stage one, but Ahmad stresses this adjustment can't be rushed. Listen to your own inner voice, not the expectations of the outside world.
"Now more than ever, we must abandon the performative and embrace the authentic. Our essential mental shifts require humility and patience. Focus on real internal change. These human transformations will be honest, raw, ugly, hopeful, frustrated, beautiful," she writes. "Be slow. Let this distract you. Let it change how you think and how you see the world."
Stage 3: Embracing the new normal
As grim as things seem at the beginning, Ahmad reminds us there is light at the end of the tunnel. "On the other side of this shift, your wonderful, creative, resilient brain will be waiting for you," she reassures readers. "Things will start to feel more natural. The work will also make more sense, and you will be more comfortable about changing or undoing what is already in motion. New ideas will emerge that would not have come to mind had you stayed in denial."