The human response to change has been predicted by Kubler-Ross. This response can be seen to minor events such as being stuck in traffic to major incidents and catastrophes. The human mind builds an imagined future built on past experiences that prepares us for what to expect, with these expectations in mind we prepare strategies to deal with what we are likely to experience. Anytime there is a difference between this expectation and reality there is potential for our threat response to be triggered. We navigate from an initial threat response until, after acceptance of reality, we find new opportunities.
The real and existential threat of Covid-19 is unprecedented, we have limited experienced of anything like this before and therefore we have no tried and tested strategy to deal with it. The natural response in this situation is one of anxiety with the associated emotional states of shock, anger, denial and resistance. This can be understood through the lens of David Rock’s SCARF model.
Status – we have had to forego our sense of power or authority to a virus no-one had ever heard of four months ago. This sense of helplessness is confounded as we look to leaders in government and business to provide direction only to find that they too are struggling to find any coherent strategies to deal with it and are making best guesses on how to proceed on an hourly / daily basis.
Certainty – with no clear strategy and a situation that is changing constantly the high levels of uncertainty and ambiguity are a major cause of anxiety.
Autonomy – it is difficult to know where we can exert any sense of control or independence. We wait to be updated by the news and can be inundated with conflicting opinions from different news sources. Central decisions are being made by our own government and others that have profound impact in how we can live our lives, whilst these decisions are utilitarian and therefore best for the majority, it is natural for us to be feel concern when our personal liberties are removed.
Relatedness – as we come to terms with social distancing and the reality of lockdown it is natural for us to be concerned by the lack of connection to our wider community. There is some relief in knowing that we are all in this together but in times when we are apart from family, friends and colleagues there is heightened concern for our sense of belonging as social creatures.
Fairness – the rules seem to be constantly changing, just as we get used to a new reality then things seem to change again. We have an inbuilt sense of justice that allows us to operate in social groups, as the ‘unfairness’ of the situation increases so does our anxiety. We have been privileged to live in times and in societies where we have been conditioned to believe that this type of thing happens to someone else, the challenge to our sense of entitlement is a further threat trigger.