Reduce pandemic-related work stress: believe you have control over your future
September 14, 2021
By Kathy Miller Perkins
We have all experienced unprecedented blows to our usual way of living and working over the past few months. According to an article published by CNN, we are not soon returning to anything resembling normal, if we define it by January 2020 standards. The article advises us to accept the changes resulting from the multiple crises we are experiencing. While the disruptions have turned our lives upside down, most of us will adapt to the changed and shifting circumstances with effort. The article advises us to "get on with working out how to deal with whatever is ahead." Even while we may resist change, we are hardwired to adapt. All it takes is resilience!
How the pandemic has hurt our mental health
COVID-19 has challenged us socially, economically, and medically. No wonder people are anxious! The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that mental health problems have skyrocketed during the pandemic. However, people differ in their susceptibility to problems. A new report launched by digital solutions company meQuilibrium shows variations in work-related stress levels and loss of motivation. Several factors seemed to make a difference.
- Increases in stress vary
The meQuilibrium study shows that workers who believe their employers support them are not affected by pandemic-related work stress as much as their less supported colleagues. The study found differences by industry, gender, and age as well. Healthcare and tech workers showed the most significant COVID-related negative impact on mental health. Women experienced a more substantial increase in stress than men. And younger people demonstrated more significant escalations of tension than their older counterparts.
- Resilience is the key
The most important and most exciting finding is that more resilient people entering the pandemic experienced less impact on their mental health than their less hardy colleagues. What can we learn from this key finding? Resilience is the key to protecting our mental health no matter how the future unfolds. The more doom and gloom we succumb to and the less resilient we feel, the more likely our mental health will continue to deteriorate. And guess what? We can all develop resilience.
- Self-efficacy: the heart of resilience
While resilience may be the key to our mental health, you may wonder how to develop it. You must develop self-efficacy.
What is self-efficacy?
Self-efficacy starts with what we tell ourselves. First, we must believe in our ability to succeed. Our capability for triumphing over adversity comes from our confidence in exerting control over ourselves and our lives. Do you believe that you have the power to organize, regulate, and direct your actions to achieve mastery over challenges? If so, you possess self-efficacy. People who possess high levels of self-efficacy believe they can change. And they are able and willing to reframe threats to opportunities.
For example, a small service business entrepreneur recalls how the pandemic's beginning knocked her off her feet. She lost most of her clients in the chaos of March and April of 2020. She was facing either taking on debt for the first time or laying off her employees. She chose debt. She says that she was scared, but she believed in herself. She knew that she was resilient. She had faced starting over several times in her past, including when she suffered severe physical impairment due to a motorcycle accident.
This time she did what she had always done. She took stock of her capabilities and envisioned how she could pivot her business to succeed, not despite but because of the pandemic. This story demonstrates the look of self-efficacy.
We are more resilient than we think
According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a distinguished professor of psychology and happiness expert at the University of California, Riverside, we don’t give ourselves enough credit when it comes to resilience. Lyubomirsky and her colleague, Elizabeth Dunn, suggest that people continuously underestimate their capacity for resilience.
Yet the key to our mental health during these uncertain and stressful times is in our ability to believe we can change, adapt, and bounce back. Those who trust that they have some control over their lives and fates possess self-efficacy. They realize that they don't control everything. At the same time, they know that they can still manage some things even though they don't run the show in total. They have the self-confidence to give up nostalgia and move forward by reframing the threats to opportunities.
Believe in yourself. Assume that you can change and you are up to the challenge. Then turn the threats into opportunities. Your mental health is at stake.
Kathy Miller Perkins is a psychologist and a leadership and career coach. In her role as the owner and CEO of a consulting firm, she has assisted leaders of global corporations and educational institutions. Kathy directs a research program exploring the culture and leadership characteristics of successful purpose-driven organizations. She authored the book, Leadership and Purpose: How to Create a Sustainable Culture, and writes regularly for Forbes.com. Kathy obtained her B.A. and M.A. from Indiana University and her Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of Kentucky. She is currently pursuing B Corp certification—a designation for businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.
*Article reprinted and adapted with author’s permission from its original version in Forbes.