Adaptability is one of the most important characteristics people and organisations need to get safely to the other side of the pandemic. Yet even people with high levels of adaptability are finding it difficult to adjust to a health and economic crisis that has taken so much away from all of us. With the third wave underway, many of them will be looking to the workplace for support.

COVID-19 is putting people’s mental health under extraordinary pressure. A poll conducted in October last year found that 56% of South African adults were experiencing higher levels of emotional and psychological stress than they were before COVID. People who were coping well at first started to struggle as the crisis dragged on.

On a global scale, nine out of 10 employers surveyed by McKinsey reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected the behavioural health of their workforce. The consulting firm reckons that lost productivity as a result of two of the most common mental disorders, anxiety and depression, costs the global economy $1 trillion each year.

As an article on M&G notes, COVID has brought about social isolation, home-schooling, job insecurity, financial stressors, sickness and the loss of loved ones.  To cope with these stressors, people need to be adaptable, in other words, be able to accommodate even unwanted changes to their lives.

With that in mind, here are four ways people can improve their adaptability, in order to better navigate the crisis:

  1. Recognise the signs that you’re not coping 

Lee Callakoppen, Principal Officer of Bonitas Medical Fund, outlines a list of behaviours and symptoms that indicate that you have not managed to adjust to the pandemic or the impacts it has had on your life:

  • Feeling sad, depressed and gloomy often or for long periods
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Changes in eating habits, with weight loss or gain
  • Struggling to concentrate and make decisions
  • Loss of energy and lack of motivation
  • Constant stress and anxiety over work, finances, life, friends and family
  • Emotionally distant
  • Frequently tearful
  • Having difficulty sleeping, or sleeping more than usual
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Being easily irritated or more aggressive
  • Having thoughts of death or suicide
  • Drug or alcohol abuse

By recognising the signs that you or a loved one are not adapting well to the never-normal era, you can take action and find constructive ways to build resilience and adaptability. When the signs and symptoms are severe enough to indicate a disorder such as depression or anxiety, a mental health professional can help.

  1. Know and understand your stressors  

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in the US writes: “It is critical that you recognise what stress looks like, take steps to build your resilience and manage job stress, and know where to go if you need help.” It recommends understanding which common work-related factors are adding to the stress you are experiencing during the pandemic—they could include:

  • Concern about the risk of being exposed to the virus at work
  • Taking care of personal and family needs while working
  • Managing a larger workload
  • Uncertainty about the future of your workplace and/or employment
  • Learning new communication tools and dealing with technical difficulties
  • Adapting to a different workspace and/or work schedule

Having identified things that cause stress that could be changed or controlled, you can work with your manager and team to identify solutions. Developing a consistent daily routine when possible can help you to feel more in control. The CDC also advocates asking your employer how to access mental health resources in your workplace.

  1. Practice mindfulness 

Over the course of the pandemic, most of us have had to throw carefully made plans or long-held ambitions out the window more than once—whether that meant postponing a wedding or holiday, accepting a setback at work or reviewing plans to move to a new city or country. Given that the ways in which the virus is clouding the medium and long-term outlook, mindfulness can help people to cope.

Mindfulness is all about being present in the moment and paying attention to your thoughts and your surroundings. It is defined as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” In living in the moment, one can set aside anxiety about the future and regret about the past.

It doesn’t mean putting plans on ice or losing ambition—it means letting go of attachments and opening up to new outcomes. “It’s easy to get attached to certain outcomes, especially when they’ve been planned long in advance or have significant emotional weight,” writes Jason Shen on TechCrunch. “Non-attachment doesn’t mean giving up on goals…[it] means focusing on what you can control.”

  1. Focus on self-care 

During these times, it’s more important than ever to practice self-care: healthy diet, enough sleep and exercise can all help strengthen mental resolve and agility. The Washington State Department of Health recommends following a routine it calls REST to prevent burnout and build resilience:

  • Reward yourself for a job well done–positive reinforcements for success.
  • Establish healthy boundaries around work and home responsibilities.
  • Share your feelings, concerns, and stories with others.
  • Trust your support network and seek help when you need it.

Adaptability—a key trait for today’s world 

COVID-19 has certainly tested human adaptability to the limits. Not only did the initial outbreak and lockdown change our lives at a single stroke, we have needed to remain flexible in the face of repeated outbreaks and constantly changing laws and health guidance. Yet one positive to take from the crisis is that we have a remarkable ability to change and grow—one that serves us well in a world where change was already accelerating before the pandemic.


[Photo by Alex Green from Pexels]