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Returning to Some Semblance of Normalcy

As this crisis both evolves and resolves, we will all return to a version of what we had before.  We will have all learned new things and developed new skills through this crisis, but it will return to normalcy in some way.  The challenge that leaders will face is how to help people move back into their typical patterns.  While we will likely have safety measures and precautions as a new part of our life, at least for the foreseeable future, the rhythm of daily life and work will replace the homebound experiences that many of us have now.  Here at CMA, we want to offer a few ideas to help leaders with this.

  1. Down-regulating the anxiety. For those of you that were working during 9/11, you may recall the airports changing dramatically over the course of days and weeks.  For several years, the “threat level” was posted in all airports.  It was always posted as orange.  Red meant an imminent threat, and yellow and green meant lower levels of threat; yet, for years it stayed constantly orange until it was taken away.  Why was it taken away?  Because staying at a constant level of alertness both reduces your alertness and is extremely stressful.  By asking people to stay constantly vigilant, it wears them down, and it reduces their actual levels of vigilance.  A lot of what leaders will be doing during this time is sending the message that it is okay to not be anxious every day.  That anxiety was there because we needed it to protect us from immediate threat, but it is not serving us well now that we are back to work.  We need to encourage staff to engage in safe behaviors and to let the behaviors become habits and not things that are practiced out of anxiety.
  2. Something to look forward to. People tend to live their lives with narratives—stories they tell themselves in their own brain.  We all do this.  In many ways, these stories are reflections of reality, and, in some ways, they are a reflection of our own hopes, biases, or experiences.  Leaders need to begin to move from a past-oriented, anxiety provoking narrative to a future-focused one.  Getting the team as focused as possible on the new initiatives that the organization will be engaging with, even in light of restrictions, is much more productive than focusing just on the restrictions.  Look for the positive and future-oriented narratives that you can introduce to your team as people return to work over the summer.
  3. The “Rule of Two.” While I could find no specific research on this, individuals that did work with survivors of the 9/11 attacks talked about the “Rule of Two.”  They noted that it was the “second” of everything where the sense of normalcy would return. Not on the first Monday back to work did people feel okay, but by the second Monday they were finding their routine.  The same could be repeated for the second week, the second month, the second Memorial Day weekend, and so on.  People tend to use the “first” of everything as a way to reflect and process, but by the “second,” they look to return to more typical patterns.  So, knowing that getting through the “first” of everything will be the harder part of the leadership challenge, and potentially communicating with others, that by the “second,” things will get better.

CMA continues to wish everyone peace and health during this difficult time.

By: Terence J. Bostic, Ph.D.