Community Trauma: Navigating a Pandemic Article #10: Regression and Recovery


Community Trauma: Navigating a Pandemic
Article #10: Regression and Recovery

J. Thomas Munley, LPC, CTP-C
Trauma Coordinator, ACE’s Master Trainer
Mid-Michigan Trauma Collaborative

Mountain Peak

There was a recent article in the Harvard Business Review by Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg regarding the patterns that emerge from a crisis after it has played out for some time. Wedellsborg noted that when the pandemic hit and the enormity of what we were facing began to settle in, many leaders actually felt energized to find new ways to work, communicate, and keep things going for the sake of the company, agency and their employees. As someone who faced crisis on a regular basis in my past work, I realize I am often at my best, and calmest, when something needs to be dealt with and decisions need to be made on the fly. Emergencies or crisis can be an adrenalin dump that has the body and mind charged up and ready to rumble. The problem is there is normally a real crash at the end of a crisis when the dust has settled and we are no longer needed to manage the issue. It is even possible to get addicted to the rush of crisis formation because of the heightened alertness and the ability to use our skills to intervene.

The first few weeks of the pandemic had me all hyped-up to learn Zoom for meetings. The hour long drive I did most days to the office was not needed, but new technologies needed to be mastered, and being on high alert for Covid germs became an ongoing necessity. It felt weird and, in some ways, a little dizzying to be juggling this new reality. Everyday became a pseudo-game of survival.

What Wedellsborg noted was that leaders of several companies remarked that after the initial excitement of managing a crisis began to wear off, there is a regression that followed with energy levels depleted. There was an initial response from many leaders and the workforce in general that, “We will kick Covid’s butt. We will not loose our way of life.” Then reality set in. As the weeks dragged on and more virus cases piled up and people began to die, a type of dread started to sink in. The new normal will not be normal and the world will be different on the other side.

The urgency of the initial shock wears off and the collaboration that felt life-giving, along with the rapid need for decision making and action, began to fade. Wedellsborg termed this the Regression Phase. People can start to lose their original motivation. They get tired and begin question their purpose. There are times I wonder if what I am doing is making any difference and does anyone really care about my little piece of the puzzle - glued to the computer and writing articles and trying to master online training. Some days are harder to slug through than others. As Wedellsborg put it, regression is one of the ways the mind protects itself from confusion and retreats to an emotional comfort zone.

The Regression Phase brings with an energy drop and fatigue. It is real and needs to be delved into in order to combat the feeling of meaninglessness. I have seen it on the faces of friends and colleagues who have gone to battle and are now battle weary. The danger is staying in this phase. One way to move from the Regression Phase is to take a personal, professional, and team inventory to see how deep and affected we are at this time.

I am also watching with some alarm as many people have given up on social distancing. This past Saturday in my neighborhood there was a wedding two houses down, a 30th birthday part next door, and boats packed with people having a good ole time. People are tired of lock downs and social distance rules and have let their guard down. I get it and at the same time it is worrisome. The regression and fatigue are real and yet so are the consequences.

Wedellsborg’s third phase is the Recovery Phase. The Recovery Phase is to move beyond business as usual and begin to reimagine how we do what we do. As an example, many companies who were not in the Personal Protection Equipment Busineentss quickly retooled to meet the needs of health care workers and front-line staff. One perfume company began making hand sanitizer. Clothes manufacturers began making masks and protective equipment. Ford Motor Company retooled to create badly needed ventilators for Covid patients.

We are not out of this by a long shot. Looking at were we are individually and as an organization may help shake the dust of the last few months and regain some needed drive to keep meeting the challenges. I know I have had my moments of regression, and even at times just want to run away, but there is nowhere to run to. So, I guess I am going to stay and fight. Being honest with ourselves and those around us about how we are doing can help us take inventory and hopefully move us from regression to recovery. If we can create new purpose and innovative thinking, we may be able to shift our thinking from, “How do we handle this crisis?” to “How do we move out of the crisis?”.

Remember. Humans are Resilient!