The toughest part is rebuilding AFTER survival - how to prepare for the fight
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
The problem is, while it’s hard right now, the bigger danger lies not in the current coping, reliance on state support and the fight itself – the hardest task will be rebuilding after Covid-19 has gone.
“The traitor appears not a traitor” – Rebuilding is sometimes harder than survival
“An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor” (Taylor Cauldwell)
Be aware that “survival mode” is engaged at the time when energy reserves are the highest. Further, with adrenaline often at an all-time high during this period, and the single minded focus to “get through”, – without being struck down directly by the crisis itself, it is often possible to drag yourself out the other side as difficult as it is. As the case with Global Pandemics, Climate Change or Financial Bubbles bursting, the enemy, as Taylor Cauldwell describes “…is known and carries his banner openly.”
It is the aftermath that follows the relief of survival, which in some cases, “survivor guilt”, in others “Post traumatic stress”, in many it will be debt along with an entire disruption of what was happening in our lives pre-crisis as well as the almost desperate desire to “get back to where you were”, that can be the biggest cause of depression. Financial depressions are common after a crisis – physical, emotional and mental exhaustion is not far behind…after all, you have worked to survive, now you get no rest, you must rebuild.
Worse still you must do so at a time when everyone is struggling to get back on their feet. There is greater competition and often less patience for sharing or helping as there was during the crisis. Measures that might have helped you during survival mode now need to be repaid at a time where there is still a shortage of opportunity – but an even greater shortage of charity.
Resilience must not only prepare you for disaster, but for the aftermath.
Resilience is about navigating 3 dips
1. “Crisis” is often the known enemy. While it doesn’t hurt to have your energy tank topped up, the survival in the crisis period is helped by adrenaline. The bigger the crisis, the more support as the community pulls together. Where the hardest slog comes is when the crisis is conquered.
2. After the storm is the calm, but that is the hardest part of all - Rebuilding. Keyworkers are exhausted. There is devastation in the form of debt, despair, loss, trauma, and compassion is now running dry. You need to pick up again when there is less camaraderie, less charity and even more fear of “now what?”
3. Then you're ok, you're finally back...but you can't stop there, if you stop you stagnate, and if others grow you are moving backwards. Now you must thrive.
Further, different forms of mental and emotional stamina are needed to buffer each dip.
In the period of crisis, to survive one must be able to be flexible, to adapt, to collaborate, to learn new skills.
To recover from exhaustion and rebuild one must have faith. That means having the strength in yourself to keep going, even when you are weighed down. It means knowing that you can do it, because you have to, and continuing even if you no longer have support.
Finally in order to grow you face competition, envy, treachery – you must remain focused. You must be able to navigate the white noise of people who have their own agendas or may be trying to force you in directions that they think are right – but are not…if you know your own mind.
The psychological challenges are different at each point, but the message remains the same…you need build the fitness beforehand. It’s like physical fitness – resilience is not about the final test, is about preparing for it long before you need to prove your worth.
Before or during the Survival period
- What or who keeps you going when you are exhausted?
- How can you take or find respite while in a period of crisis?
- What is the minimum you need during the crisis stage in order to survive? (Thus leaving less to repay, restore or rebuild)
During the Rebuild period
- Who or what of your new collaborations can assist with your restoration?
- What renewed, revisited or transferrable skills can now be utilised?
…and do a regular “sense check” on the consumer and client climate, exploring new areas or opportunities where possible.
When able to Thrive
- Have all the exposed weaknesses been addressed satisfactorily?
- What lessons were learned and how can they inform your current decisions?
- Have your shown appreciation to all those who came together to pull through to this point…and do you continue to do so?
There is little time to stop. Life is simply a journey where the vehicle may accelerate, brake, take a wrong turn or even have an accident – but it doesn’t cease.
You need to have the fitness to carry on...and more alone than in "survival".
And once you are standing - remain so.
When you have come through a survivor, you have rebuilt, you are finally "back", it is common for confidence to build, the mindset of “Thank goodness” can soon turn to “That wasn’t so bad”, and unless you remain mindful of your actions, this can result in making choices based on a situation that no longer exists. For example, some crises lead to the act of “panic buying”. Many academics (including myself) discussed the psychology of the “panic” or “hoarding” mindset, but few looked at the perspective of the retailer. As the pace of society has quickened, consumer behaviour has changed with it, and one such change saw fewer people buying a “monthly shop” in favour of “popping round the corner to pick up…”. Retailers responded to that demand – they became more efficient, but “Highly efficient systems have no slack, no redundancy and therefore no resilience and no spare capacity. That’s a problem because perfect conditions rarely exist for long in the real world, and “rare” events happen more often than you would think.”(The Atlantic, 2020). Once you are back on your feet, don't sit - be mindful how “lean is lean”. Remain responsive, and remain alert.
Note that while this is most likely to happen after a crisis, this is best repeated regularly.
Audit your areas of weakness
i) Reflect on and correct areas of weakness in your initial response stages
While the same occurrence may not happen again in your lifetime, you may have identified certain areas in which your response was sluggish or affected company morale and trust. Be aware of what happened, through asking the “5 whys” (asking “why” 5 times to get to the root cause of the problem).
ii) Know that intellectual awareness is NOT the same as practical preparation
It’s all very well knowing the “theory” of what you might do, but it is action that is essential. In life coaching terms, I tell over-thinking clients “don’t be the most enlightened person that never lived”. You need to be able to put those ideas into practice, and if you cannot, then work to adapt them so you can.
iii) Are there wider opportunities or networks with whom you can grow collaboratively?
Use this time to network or reach out to explore opportunities especially since you have been afforded time to think, as well as holding the awareness that people’s habits and behaviours may change after a crisis. Consider also previous areas of expertise which may even be “Now defunct” – would their revival serve you well? Skills are never wasted, they are simply like an itinerary, you are using what works best for you are the time, but it doesn’t mean they’ve disappeared, even if they now require a little brushing up.
iv) Be aware of changing consumer/client behaviours
Following a crisis or changed situation, the lifestyle we had been used to may change and so our consumer behaviour may follow. Organisations need to keep abreast of and consider the possible mindset of their clients and customers.
v) Use the time to reflect on your own responsiveness and growth potential
Here are some questions to ask yourself if you have been gifted some quiet time:
- If you knew a disruption or crisis would last longer than the proposed 12 weeks, how might you respond?
- If you knew 6 months ago this would happen how would you prepare?
- What long term strategic projects may have to change or could be started as a result?
- With whom can you collaborate to help you with any changes of direction, or to help each other rebuild after financial loss or other negative effects?
vi) Be mindful of your “fear responses”?
Crisis brings fear, and fear can result in knee-jerk reactions. Be aware of what yours are so that you do not fall back into old habits. You would not drink poison if you were thirsty, why would you engage in toxic practices just because you are afraid?
Keep topping your energy tank NOW
It’s filling up the tank and checking the oil at the start of your journey, only you’re often doing it on the move, and you don’t know when you’ll need it the most. Resilience is about being ready to go faster, to swerve corners, to break but not crash. You have to be revved up but know how to drive regardless of terrain. Therefore, it is about building and constantly topping up emotional and mental fitness and not necessarily about “perfect health”.
Resilience is the knowledge that you can and will cope BEFORE the act of proving it., and the best time to work on it is when things are calm. (When they are not – you need all that emotional and mental energy you have built up to survive and rebuild!) It is the knowledge that you can and will cope in all three stages of resilience rather than the act of proving it. You will also find that if you have built up your strength, not only is survival and rebuilding easier, but you are already better placed to find ways to thrive following the unexpected.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt