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Covid-19 & Society: Helping People in a Crisis

Covid-19 & Society: Helping People in a Crisis

COVID-19 keeps the world in suspense. We are experiencing a situation previously unimaginable. Everyone is part of the crisis. Every company is affected. We too would like to illuminate this topic with different experts and provide you with valuable information and tips to help you through this crisis.

Our current focus: crisis intervention. How people deal with the corona crisis and what they need to manage it well.

Schools are being closed, shops bought empty, events cancelled. A new hygiene awareness is emerging. The coronavirus challenges society. Everyone is part of this crisis. And every human being must face the crisis. How we humans do it is multifaceted. Some react with concern, others in a structured and precautionary manner, others show their cynical side and yet others experience panic.

But what does it take for people to be able to cope well with the current restrictions and to master this challenging situation in the best possible way? We asked dr. Cornelia Martens, graduate psychological consultant, systemic business coach and management consultant, for this and more.

We are undoubtedly individual. No two people are alike. Yet in crises like this one, there are common phenomena. What do you observe in this current exceptional situation?

Right now, we are seeing how individual and different people are. And just as different are the reactions of individuals to the current exceptional situation.

On the one hand, there are those who still do not want to see what it is all about. On the other hand, there are the pessimists who look forward to the supposed "end times". What we all have in common is that in crises we need clear structures and want to understand things.

One thing is also clear: we humans are perfectly capable of adapting to even the most adverse changes. Even though we may not appreciate change.

What happens to people in a crisis?

Of course, we know typical reaction patterns to traumatic crises from literature, such as a sudden death or other serious loss. But I deliberately do not want to call the current situation a traumatic event. I think that would be counterproductive.

In my opinion, the piecemeal preparation of an entire nation for very drastic cuts in daily life has been extraordinarily successful. We can see this from the fact that a large majority of the population supports the restrictions in an amazingly constructive way. Fortunately, we are not traumatised.

Even though we are not traumatized, it is still a crisis due to sometimes drastic restrictions.

What does it take for people to support restrictions well and to cope well with challenging situations?

I think it is again a question of asking: What do people need most in a situation like this, in which they are confronted with unpleasant restrictions?

1. first, as a person, I want to understand what it is all about.

The ability to want to understand the connections in life is a deeply human quality. The more I understand, the less uncertainty I have. It is therefore important to communicate clearly, transparently and openly so that those affected can develop an understanding of the situation. This does not mean, of course, that everyone really has to understand everything down to the smallest detail. What is said must be plausible, comprehensible and credible.

2. people want to shape; they want to be masters of their actions and not victims or pawns of circumstances.

We humans love to be able to shape our own lives. This gives us the feeling that a situation can be managed. "We can do it", we could often hear. This is exactly the feeling we need.

We see this very nicely now in the many private initiatives, from shopping for the neighbours to voluntary service. Michael Opriesnig, general secretary of the WCC, put it down to a little story: a self-employed person who, due to the current situation, is breaking off all assignments, contacted the Red Cross to help as a volunteer.

We see many similar examples all over the world, and the best thing is that we too can become active and shape things.

But what if we are no longer able to shape things due to external circumstances, for example because we are ill at home? In these cases, we still have one possibility of shaping, namely that of shaping our attitude to the situation. That is often much more difficult than actively tackling it. I am thinking of my aunt who has been suffering from COPD for years and who is in a wheelchair dependent on her oxygen bottle. She hardly ever complains, despite the more than difficult living conditions - on the contrary, she takes every day with humour and an admirably positive attitude.

Viktor Frankl, founder of the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy, said: "The last of human freedoms is the choice of attitude towards things".

3. people feel effective when they see a meaning. They want to do something that has meaning.

It makes sense to help the old neighbour who is ill and, for example, to help him or her with shopping. This directs attention in a different and positive direction at the same time, because a formative perspective is adopted. I do something that is good for the other person, that helps society and this feeling falls back positively on me as a helper. And vice versa: The person who is being helped recognizes how beautiful and meaningful the support of the helper is. By accepting the offer of help and by being grateful, he or she gives the helper a good feeling again.

All this keeps us resilient even in times of restrictions.
Nevertheless, the burdens within families are quite high: no contact to grandparents, schools and kindergartens are closed and the job must be pursued. These are burdens that demand a lot from people.

How do you see this and how can help be provided? Are there hotlines where you can get emotional support?

I think this is a very important point. Even if, generally speaking, we can see that the measures are largely understood and supported by the population and that a great many of them actively serve their neighbours, there is also the other side of those people who are dependent on help and support. Those who are extremely burdened by the family situation or those who can no longer be visited.

Digitalisation is certainly a blessing in the current situation. WhatsApp, Skype and Co. can be a door to the outside world now that we are supposed to avoid social contact. The older generation can also be educated to a certain extent or is even already a user.

My parents, 80 and 82, chat diligently in various WhatsApp groups with their friends, children and grandchildren. A friend in Munich, who has already spent two weeks in quarantine at home with her husband and little daughter, put it in a nutshell: How can we all survive this time unscathed? I already have "camp fever"? I think that we must not forget the group of parents with children either. For this we should work out our own ideas for support.

What can each and every one of us do to get through this crisis mentally healthy?

It depends very much on your own life circumstances. Am I working and a single parent or am I a resident of a retirement home and cannot be visited? Am I self-employed as a small business owner who is worried about his economic survival and has to lay off employees, or am I a doctor in a hospital and have even more challenging working conditions than before? Do I have to fear for my job, or do I have a chronic illness and belong to the risk group?

Ideally, I will be accompanied by a trained person in a personal crisis situation. This can be a therapist, a psychologist or a psychological counsellor. However, this will not always be possible and sometimes not even wanted.

So, the question is: What can I do myself, if I am in a crisis situation, to remain resistant and positive - despite adverse circumstances? Here are a few thoughts and suggestions:

1. Don't be alone with your worries and fears.

Find a close person or someone you trust and express your thoughts. Or write them down. This can already be a first aid.

2. if negative thoughts appear that cause fear, perceive these thoughts and try not to over-evaluate them.

Try to acknowledge that you have these thoughts right now and do not suppress them. Try to find something that relaxes you. This could be reading a good book or listening to music. Painting, sports, breathing exercises - all these things belong here.

3. make a "what-does-me-good-list".

On this list you write 10 points which are good for you and which you can also implement well in the current situation. Write down these points quickly and consider which of the points you would like to make today. Choose at least one of the points each day and do what is good for you.

Decelerate and find your own method: There are numerous other methods - and I am talking about helping people to help themselves in difficult times - that each and every one of you must first find for yourself. From meditation (there are wonderful APPs like Headspace or Calm) and breathing exercises to light physical activity and sweaty workouts. But the spectrum also ranges from free online courses to writing a daybook. Here again, what is good for me is not necessarily good for you. We are all different.

And if possible: Don't lose your sense of humour!

How can companies alleviate/positively influence the psychological strain on their employees?

For companies, the same applies as I have said about coping with challenging situations in general: It is important to act in a "humane" (keyword: what do we humans need in general to cope well with crisis or difficult situations) and humane (this includes respect and appreciation) manner.

Many companies have now recognised how essential it is to see people as "multidimensional beings": body-mind and psyche. For a long time, the psychological dimension was completely banned from everyday working life - as if the working person came to work with just his body and left his psyche at home.

Since burnout and the associated sick leave it can no longer be denied: Even the psyche can become "sick" and sick leave for psychological reasons can last longer than a simple cold. For this reason, many of the companies that we can count among our customers - in addition to various sports activities or social events in the company - offer the possibility of an EAP (employee assistance program) as a preventive measure, in which their employees can take advantage of coaching and advice anonymously and free of charge.

"The question is wrongly asked when we ask about the meaning of life. It is life that asks questions." (Viktor E. Frankl)

In this sense: Let us find good answers to the question just asked!