“Crisis forces commonality of purpose on one another.”- Michelle Dean
Amid the ongoing concerns about the coronavirus (COVID19), our concern for the health and wellbeing of our families, friends, and neighbors, continues to be our highest priority.
Restrictions on public assembly capacity, businesses are shutting down, many are remaining at home quarantined. We’re taking every precaution to protect ourselves and our families, and social distancing is the norm for the duration of this crisis.
Taking all necessary precautions may enable us to avoid contracting the coronavirus, yet, more importantly, are the precautions and recommendations we seek to protect our mental and emotional health and wellbeing.
Concerns over the rapid spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) is stressful enough for people following the updates. The toll that fear and anxiety may be taking on the public mental and emotional health will have a longer-lasting effect.
How we’re processing the information and the impact the current pandemic is having on us is vitally important. It’s normal for all of us to be experiencing certain levels of stress and anxiety, and our responses may be helping or hurting us in the long run.
Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are different. Stress in and of itself is normal, and stress is not the problem, our response to that stress may very well be. Stress alerts us; it heightens our awareness of what’s happening to us and around us. An informed, proactive response is healthy, and a hasty reaction can be unhealthy.
Anxiety may be a response to stress. Dr. Archibald Hart commenting on the nature of anxiety states, “Anxiety results from a combination of chemical reactions in the brain to a stimulus, fearful and worrisome thinking, troubled feelings and an exaggerated and persistent stress response.” (1)
Stress eventually fades; anxiety doesn’t disappear if not addressed. Prolonged anxiety may very well become a disorder.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after experiencing some very stressful, terrifying event. PTSD can be the result of exposure to prolonged or frequent smaller traumatic experiences as well.
Some interesting facts about PTSD include:
70 percent of adults experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime
20 percent of people who experience a traumatic event will develop PTSD
About 8 million people have PTSD in a given year
1 in 13 people will develop PTSD at some point in their life
Statistics on the prevalence of PTSD in the United States vary depending on the specific group or population being studied. Overall, PTSD affects around 3.5% of the U.S. population, approximately 8 million Americans, in a given year. (2)
In short, I became acquainted with Post Traumatic Stress following the events of September 11, 2001 (WTC attack). As a Firefighter assigned to units in Brooklyn, NY, for much of my career, I was on duty the morning; the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center in NYC.
My unit responding from Sunset Park in Brooklyn arrived moments after the second plane struck the South Tower. The debris from that tower was still falling as we arrived on the scene. Standing in the lobby of the Marriott Hotel (located at the foot of both towers), we received our assignment, the 75th floor of the North Tower. The Hotel took a direct hit from the collapse of the South Tower, trapping us in the lobby.
Rescuing some civilians and freeing two FDNY members before finding our way out approximately 20–25 minutes later. Outside, I find myself in front of the North Tower as it collapses. The scenes First Responders witnessed that day no one should see.
For much of the following year, my wife and I were going through the process of grappling with the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress and all the symptoms, I with survivors guilt, reoccurring dreams, flashbacks, and other symptoms. For two years, I traveled around the country, telling my story, answering questions, and processing my thoughts and feelings concerning the experience. (3)
I cannot overstate the importance of sharing your feelings about what you’re experiencing. If you’re often thinking you need to speak to someone, do not put it off. Like all First Responders, my training enabled me to maintain composure and focus on reaching objectives during the incident, unaware of the vast impact that day was having on me unconsciously within.
PTSD prognosis has improved in recent years as researchers and medical professionals have found increasingly effective treatments. The long-term prognosis for PTSD is good, and treatment frequently eliminates or reduces symptoms.
Data on PTSD prognosis demonstrates the importance of seeking treatment. People with PTSD who sought treatment had symptoms lasting an average of 36 months, while those who did not seek treatment had symptoms lasting an average of 64 months. While approximately one-third of people do not achieve full symptom elimination with treatment, most individuals experience a significant reduction in the intensity of their symptoms.
Prognosis may be improved by:
- Prompt treatment engagement
- Social support
- Avoided re-traumatization
- High level of functioning before the onset of PTSD
- Absence of other mental health conditions (2)
Have a Plan in Place
“Don’t wait until you’re in a crisis to come up with a crisis plan.” – Phil McGraw
Amid the ongoing COVID-19 crises, you as a leader are responsible for your organization and your personnel. You must communicate and connect with your people as soon as possible, especially if your company is working remotely. Be prepared, be informed, and keep them informed.
1) A rapid response is crucial
Discover define and address problems as soon as possible. As a leader, you must be the first to roll up your sleeves and get involved in identifying what is happening to understand your current situation and how to communicate it to your key people.
2) Control your emotions
If you, as a leader, are unable to manage your emotions, there’s little chance of you reassuring your staff in a time of crisis. It’s the visible stability of a leader in times of crisis that communicates confidence and strength to the people.
3) Communicate Clearly
People need to know what’s going on, is there a plan, and what should they be doing? People are reassured while being informed by those in charge.
- Who is making the decisions?
- Who is organizing the team?
- Who is gathering relevant information?
- Who is involved in formulating the plans?
- What are we required to do at this time?
Writing down the main concerns so you can better grasp the impact the crisis is having and communicating what needs to be known and with whom goes a long way in averting panic.
4) Assemble your influencers
- Leading through a crisis requires informing your key influencers.
- Having your influencers taking part in implementing a plan of action during the crisis accelerates your ability to get out in front of the situation.
- Enlisting the help of your influencers raises the probability of gaining control of the impact the crisis is making.
5) Implement your plan
In a crisis, conditions can sometimes change rapidly, setting your best plan in motion step by step gives you some breathing room to address changing conditions.
- Focus on the task at hand
- Periodically assess the conditions
- Move on to the next step
- Make adjustments as you go
- Don’t look for short cuts or a quick fix
Once the crisis is over, plan a meeting with your team to critique how you handled the crisis. Note what worked and what didn’t, and what you will do differently in the future.
- Dr. Archibald Hart Caring for people God’s way, “Stress and Anxiety” pg.168
- PTSD Facts and Statistics https://bit.ly/2U92OON
- Read testimony https://bit.ly/2J0WUZx