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Covid-19: Adapting to Change

It is probably a fair to say that Covid-19 is now affecting all of our lives

from social distancing measures to complete isolation. The situation and advice from the government has progressed rapidly and you may have been finding it difficult to keep up and adapt. It brings to mind Prochaska and DiClemente’s (1983) Cycle of Change model.

Pre-contemplation: not seeing that there is a problem, no intention of changing behaviour
Contemplation: aware that a problem exists, but no commitment to change behaviour
Preparation: intent on making change and thinking about what you need in place to achieve this
Action: active modification of behaviour
Maintenance: sustained change, with the new behaviour replacing the old

Usually change takes place over a long period of time, we are also free to make our own choices and feel in control of the process. In the space of a just a few days we have been forced by the government to probably move from pre-contemplation or contemplation into action. We may not have felt ready or prepared for this and we may not have wanted to undertake the measures imposed on us. Forcing someone to change, especially to such an extent, is not an ideal situation.

Forced change may provoke feelings of anger, hostility and resentment.

If you have experienced being in frightening situations in the past where you have experienced being out of control, the new measures are probably extremely challenging for you. When we are challenged the safest place to retreat to is pre-contemplation or more simply put, denial. It is our inbuilt defence mechanism. You may have noticed friction within your family units, where anger is expressed towards those that are further behind in the cycle. There certainly seems to be negative press towards those that are not following the rules. However, anger is not the best method of encouraging someone to change. Pushing someone to change is likely to lead them to resist. We need to treat people with empathy and understanding, there may be a really significant reason why they are struggling with this that you may not be aware of. Listen and validate their feelings. The more supported and understood a person feels, the stronger they will feel in opening up to the enormity of the problem and thinking about what they could change.

What we know about the cycle of change is that we do not move perfectly in sequence from one stage to another. In respect of Covid-19, in all likelihood we are probably in the action phase in our behaviour whilst emotionally in contemplation just taking in the gravity of the problem. We know that contemplation is an anxiety provoking place to be and this will cause discomfort.

So what can help?

A recent Lancet paper (Brooks et al., 2020) has pointed towards some ideas:

  • Familiarise yourself with the science and theory of why we have been asked to make change, seek out good quality factual information. Generate a script for yourself about why you are doing what you are doing. Who is the vulnerable person you are doing this for? Think about why you are choosing to make change.
  • See your efforts as an act of altruism. Remind yourself that vulnerable people are truly grateful for your efforts to keep themselves safe.
  • Don’t ignore the psychological consequences for yourself in this situation, take steps to attend to difficult emotions and do what you can to help you cope.

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