The change, and continued change, that the COVID-19 pandemic has wrecked on our lives, has caused many of us, if not all, to experience significant levels of stress and anxiety. Each day brings with it more challenges and fears. How long will the lockdown last? What will this crisis mean in terms of my future employment (for those of fortunate enough to have employment)? What will life look like post the lockdown, post COVID-19?
Such feelings and the resultant uncertainties and insecurities that they bring, can cause us to feel overwhelmed, paralysed, chronically stressed and anxious – not a good recipe for maintaining one’s mental wellbeing and ensuring that we keep a semblance of calm and perspective.
But how do you go about effectively managing and dealing with the continuous challenges that COVID-19 is creating without being sucked into feeling overwhelmed, helpless, paralysed, despairing?
“Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained” — Arthur Somers Roche
Thinking through my own feelings of anxiety in the face of this crisis and how best I can support my own mindset and adopt a healthier attitude, brought to mind a model that I have successfully used in my coaching practice to help clients avoid their ‘shutters coming down’ and becoming stuck by their fears and anxieties.
The model, named the ‘SCARF model’, was devised by one of the leading thought leaders in the coaching profession, Dr. David Rock (Rock, D. (2008) SCARF. A brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others. NeuroLeadership Journal, 1, 44-52 [Rock, 2008]), and is a simple method of understanding and therefore better managing our ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response being triggered when we are presented with a perceived threat which dimishes our ability to think rationally and clearly.
‘SCARF’ which stands for ‘Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness’ is a brilliantly simple model to avoid this happening and to assist us in avoiding becoming prisoner to our anxieties during this turbulent and challenging time.
So how can this simple yet effective model help us more effectively manage and cope with the COVID-19 maelstrom?
“A perception of a potential or real reduction in status can generate a strong threat response” (Rock, 2008).
Status – our need to feel valued and recognised by others.
If you are feeling isolated, unsure of what is expected of you, feeling ‘out of the loop’ due to the current remote working requirements, seek clarity and feedback from colleagues and managers. Engage and communicate with them regularly regarding your concerns.
And importantly, do not be too hard on yourself! Stick to a healthy, manageable and appropriate remote working routine – one that keeps a balance between your ‘workday’ and personal, family time. And then congratulate yourself for doing a ‘good day’s work’, for meeting deadlines, remaining motivated and productive.
Certainty – our need to know what is going to happen next. Uncertainty and change cause ‘fight and flight’ responses, similar to when we are faced with a real threat and danger.
Obviously, there is no certainty as to how the crisis will unfold, what will happen post the lockdown, how long the pandemic will last.
However, you can create a sense of certainty regarding how you cope with this crisis – having a set daily routine, communicating regularly with colleagues and managers so work expectations and priorities are clear, having fixed ‘work’ and ‘down’ times, will go a long way to reduce your ‘fight or flight’ response and create healthier feelings of certainly and therefore of security and safety.
Autonomy has to do with our perceptions of being in control of our environment, over what we do, and our choices.
Maintaining a routine, having a healthy balance between work and personal life, making even small autonomous choices and decisions regarding what you are going to do each day, will help foster a sense of control.
Be realistic however regarding what is in your control and sphere of influence and what is not – you cannot change the course of the pandemic or having to work remotely, however you can control what you are going to do each day, what fun activities you will do in your downtime, how regularly you will engage with colleagues and friends. In this way you can lessen the unsettling feeling of being out of control in the current circumstances.
“You can’t always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.” ~Wayne Dyer
The sense of belonging is a major motivator and contributor to mental health.
During this time of lockdown and having to work remotely, our sense of relatedness to colleagues and friends is likely to be threatened due to our inability to make regular, direct contact with people.
To help create a sense of connectedness and reduce the anxieties that come with feeling isolated and alone, create regular and frequent opportunities to engage and interact virtually with your colleagues and friends.
Setting up a whatsapp group with colleagues, arranging video calls on a regular basis where you simply have fun, non-work-related interactions and discussions will help create a feeling of connectedness and reduce your ‘threat response’, creating healthier feelings of belonging, knowing that you are not alone in terms of how you are feeling.
When you have feelings that your circumstances are unfair, it causes you to feel a strong threat response and can result in feelings of withdrawal and stress.
By connecting with other people, understanding that they are experiencing the same or similar anxieties, are in the ‘same boat’ as you, will help diminish and remove the sense that this is only happening to you, that you are alone how you are responding to the crisis.
SCARF – a simple, yet effective tool that can help reduce and manage your debilitating anxieties over COVID-19 and the post COVID-19 world, keep you mentally strong and motivated.
“Life is 10 percent what you experience and 90 percent how you respond to it.” ~Dorothy M. Neddermeyer