We all cope differently while in survival mode
A view from Sue Unerman

We all cope differently while in survival mode

There are plenty of changes in this period, but they don't all have to be negative ones.

We’re in survival mode. And this affects each of us in different ways.

A recent assessment of how consumers are feeling includes this list: anxiety; isolation; loneliness; boredom; thankfulness; community spirit; slow living; personal growth. And, of course, it describes how we are all feeling too.

There has been a faster transformation in how we work than anyone in charge of transformation would have imagined possible in normal times. As the weeks go by, we can expect more change and more necessary adjustments. Some of these will be professional. Some personal. 

This week on the MediaCom Connected Podcast, we heard from Rupert McPetrie, chief executive of our China office. The agency shut the office on 23 January for Chinese New Year and then could not reopen. Now, eight weeks on, the restrictions are gradually relaxing; offices are reopening, so too are restaurants, bars and shops. Rupert told us, live from the Shanghai office, that the first two weeks of the lockdown were about managing short-term issues. During the closure, the transformation in use of tech has been huge. At the same time, as technology has become much more vital, contrastingly, so too the importance of human connections has become clearer.

Everyone who works in an office normally is adjusting now to the very new normal of running business and their lives literally at the same time. Many working mums are familiar with this – it's one of the shocks, in fact, of returning to work after maternity leave. It is now something that everyone who has children or a parent or even a partner at home is experiencing. Rupert said that there were three phases of the virus: anxiety, analysis and action. We’re constantly going through the loop of these three phases with each new bit of news. We are all coping with it differently.

Brian Cox (pictured, top) was on Desert Island Discs this week. (One of the ways that I cope with anxiety is listening to shows on BBC Radio 4 that I have been hearing all my life). The award-winning actor talked about how important it is to stay in touch with yourself when you are in survival mode. He tells young actors to keep a picture of themselves as a child with them as they work, as "really that’s who you are". I’d add to that you’re all the ages you have ever been. So sometimes you’re the frightened child who wants a parent to set everything straight, sometimes you’re the rebellious teenager who wants to break all the rules and sometimes – sometimes – you’re the grown-up professional or the leader of your community at work or at home. Be prepared to switch randomly from state to state during this current crisis.

One powerful woman has told me that she has found much more time for herself during the last few days. She normally lives for work and is ruled by her head. In recent times, she has found time to breathe, to connect with her whole self and with her children.

Others have said the same; parents have noted that they have been able to have lunch with their young children every day – something that normally only happens when they are on holiday.

And others are connecting with nature, grateful for the sunshine and sky visible out of their windows.

None of us expected this level of stress and worry. Perhaps empathy has become easier for us, the divides of Brexit forgotten for the time being, as we are all much more on the same boat. Our gratitude for those in the front line in the NHS demonstrably pulled the nation together in last week week’s #ClapForOurCarers. (And let’s hope that this continues in the long term.)

We will all have different ways to find the serenity to survive these difficult circumstances. As the famous prayer says: "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference."

Sue Unerman is chief transformation officer at MediaCom
Picture: Getty Images