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Understanding Your Emotions in Times of Transition


There is no doubt that all of us are currently experiencing seismic change in our personal and working lives, writing at the time of the global Covid-19 pandemic.  Many people will be fearful that they are going to lose their job, some will have already lost theirs.  Even those that are still employed have had to adapt to completely different ways of working and communicating with their colleagues, bosses, direct reports, suppliers, associates and clients.  And that’s not to mention having to bring the workplace into a home that still needs to be a home and, in many cases, is now also a school.

When I’ve worked with people who have lost their jobs due to redundancy, we always take a look at the *Kubler-Ross change curve because it helps you to understand that everything you’re feeling is part of a necessary emotional cycle.  I think it is a really useful model to reflect on right now.Although originally based upon the grief that we feel when someone dies, the model has been developed over the years and it has been accepted that these stages apply to any kind of change, not just grief.  However, I do think that the concept of grieving is also relevant right now as we will be experiencing a form of grief for the relatively “carefree” life that we had just a few short weeks ago.

Where are you on the change curve right now?

Shock is our initial reaction.   Is this really happening?  At this stage you feel a bit like the proverbial rabbit in the headlights and not sure what to do.  I remember meeting a friend a couple of weeks ago whose stock market based ISA had suddenly plummeted and how flummoxed she was.

Denial is close to follow.  Well this can’t be happening.  There must be some mistake.  We will carry on going to the office and the pub and the shops.

Frustration is a natural reaction and a purely emotional response.  At this stage you might behave irrationally and with high emotion.  Frightenedly stock-piling or getting very angry at the stock-pilers might ring a bell?  Why isn’t the Government doing more?

Depression is when your energy is at its lowest.  Negative thoughts can stifle motivation and you won’t feel like doing much.  You may well be experiencing / have experienced some days when your energy has completely flagged.

Acceptance is not a done deal where you dust yourself down, take a deep breath and march into the future leaving everything behind. It is often a quieter acceptance of the new reality.  How are you adapting to what has changed?

Integration is the point at which you can engage with your transition and start to feel optimistic about the future.  I do hope that this stage is not far off for you.

How does this help?

What I think is most useful to take away from this model today is the knowledge that:

  • You are somewhere on this change curve right now;
  • Each stage can last anything from a few minutes or hours to a few days or weeks;
  • You will not necessarily experience the curve in a linear fashion, rather you will flip from one to another;
  • You will, at some point, get to the Acceptance and Integration stage, even if it doesn’t feel like it now.

What to do now

  • Think about where you are on the change curve.
  • Give yourself time to experience the cycle (see the x axis).
  • Give yourself a break if you feel low in energy (see the y axis).
  • Keep your eyes on the end (top) of the curve.

*The Kubler-Ross change curve is based upon the five stages of grief identified by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.

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