Compromised Comfort Zone
These days, 95% of us are facing change.
New routines at work: working from home instead of going to the office.
New routines for meeting clients: meeting on Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype, Facetime, WhatsApp, Hangout, BlueJeans and many other online platforms, instead of gathering in meeting rooms, yoga studios, online teaching, or conference halls.
New school routines: home schooling/taking online classes instead of sitting in a classroom.
New work-out routines: teaching yoga/meditation online instead of in person.
New house-hunting routines: real estate agents presenting homes on camera, instead of meeting potential buyers in person.
New routines for young people: doing chores for elderly people or founding social movements instead of hanging with friends.
New family routines: families living in a shared space 24/7.
Common to all these situations is unpredictability. Usually, when we change jobs, houses, cities or countries, we see the transition coming. We start preparing mentally, taking one step at a time.
We not only didn’t see the COVID-19 pandemic coming, but the precautions necessary to keep as many people as possible healthy caught us entirely by surprise. Nobody thought this could affect the entire globe.
Copying with stress during transition time is a four-step process.
I HONEYMOON PHASE
New things are often exciting, since, at the beginning of a transition, we tend to have high expectations and to look only on the bright side (or vice versa to imagine only negative outcomes).
Staying home means not working, hence enjoying free time.
Working from home means not having to dress up, drive through crazy traffic or use overcrowded public transport every day.
Lockdowns provide the benefit of spending time with loved ones at home.
Elderly relatives’ vulnerability leads to the fear they will all get ill and possibly die.
II STRESS PHASE
Everything has at least two sides. After enjoying some excitement, we slowly start seeing the other side. Therefore, looking at previous examples:
Not working also means a lack of income.
Not meeting with colleagues in person means a loss of informal information flow (from an open plan office, coffee breaks, etc.).
No matter how much we love our family, being with them 24/7 can be absolutely overwhelming.
Looking after elderly people can become quite a burden.
This is when stress starts. Handling stress is a very individual process. Introverts tend to withdraw, looking for a quiet place to cope. Extroverts tend to look for social interaction, needing people to vent to.
In non-pandemic times, the stress phase is already a lot to deal with.
During pandemic times, a second layer of stress is added onto the above process, since typical coping solutions may be challenged by the consequences of lockdown. Private space may be very limited or only temporarily available. Social interactions, on the other hand, are limited to online meetings. During this process, we slowly start seeing that yes, we have gained something new (e.g. working from home) but it comes at a price.
Symptoms of stress can be any out-of-the-ordinary behavior, from more or less eating, drinking or sleeping, to an excess or lack of joy, blame, anger, aggression or violence. Our limits are being tested. How much of the new situation can we take? How much is too much?
III ASSIMILATION PHASE
Building new routines is crucial to eventually start feeling comfortable. This involves, for example, determining when to take a break, which hours to be available online, when to spend time with family in the same household, when to work out and when to enjoy “me” time. Recreating our comfort zone is a process of literally recreating our life – insightful, and at the same time pretty intense. Not all of us are comfortable doing it. Respect to those who dare to try.
IV A NEW NORMAL
Routines give us the feeling of control, of being able to predict. They make us feel comfortable and secure. Creating new routines or, if possible, maintaining existing ones for oneself and one’s children and family members is absolutely essential when dealing with change.
Expatriates and Third Culture Kids both learn how to cope with change during ex- or repatriation. If you happen to know such a person who has already successfully coped, try to learn from them – ask them for advice. An alternative is to consult a cultural coach or intercultural trainer. Both professionals are well aware of the above process, as they coach expatriates and international professionals on a daily basis to best manage the changes that come with a prospective relocation. If you are finding that it’s too much to cope, don’t wait to get yourself help. Reaching out for support is essential for your own well-being, as well as those of the people living with you who can, in turn, learn from you.
Edited by Robyn Penny
Guest blog at Business Fit Magazine