I was speaking to a friend over the weekend who was feeling vulnerable at work before the lock-down and is feeling anxious during lock-down now that she is furloughed and out of any normal communication channels. The management style in her organisation is pretty aggressive (and sulky) and she’s had no communication from her manager in a month. She’s had two standard letters from HR; the last one arriving to say that she would not be going back to work in two days time as indicated in her previous letter. She feels like she is being crashed about by waves that she can’t see.
This article is based on the e-mail that I sent her; if your work place feels threatening at the moment, and you are feeling anxious, then this is for you too.
E-mail to a friend who is feeling anxious during lock-down and shouldn’t be.
According to various pieces of research, there are a number of factors that have an impact on how we respond to situations (for example see anything by David Rock, Amy Brann, Prof Steve Peters, Jan Hills)
David Rock’s SCARF model gives us a structure for thinking about what is happening to us during change. We respond either with a threat response or a reward response; we either like what is happening and get positive hormones or we feel threatened and we send out fear hormones, preparing us for our imminent death! This is all influenced by our own circumstance and how we view things. Nevertheless, organisations have a responsibility to not harm their staff; mentally and physically.
Status – our sense of personal worth
Questions to ask – How does this affect my status? Does this impact on my credibility? Where am I on the pecking order? How do I compare to others?
Certainty – our sense of the future
Questions to ask – How well can I predict the future? Do I know what is likely to happen next? Do I have the information that will help me predict the future?
Autonomy – our sense of control over our life
Questions to ask – To what degree can I make decisions and choices? What control do I have? What input do I have over the things that affect me?
Relatedness – our sense of safety with others
Questions to ask – Am I safe with other people? How much do I trust others? How connected do I feel? Am I in or out of the “in” group?
Fairness – our sense of fairness in the system
Questions to ask – Is what’s happening fair? Am I experiencing fair connections and exchanges with others? Is the system intrinsically fair?
Looking at this and asking the questions, you can see that almost every aspect of the current situation is likely to generate a threat response in you at the moment. Each of the areas is likely to trigger stress hormones. If you were on a battle field you could use that to beat everyone up; you would be invincible. The trouble is that you can’t! So you are left with a mental soup of hormones telling you to run or fight but you can’t use those hormones up. It is no wonder that you are struggling – anyone would! You are in a constant state of alarm which needs turning down.
But there is good news here – what to do about it.