What Does This “New Normal” Business Really Mean?
Since my last blog post I’ve been delighted to have delivered two Mental Health First Aid training sessions here in New Brunswick, where re-opening is well under way. We’ve all heard plenty of talk about the “new normal” but my experience instructing trainings over the past week gave me a deeper appreciation of what that means. It’s amazing how quickly we humans adapt.
If I’m being honest, I was pretty nervous preparing for these sessions. I was afraid I’d forget about one of the COVID protocols and worried that participants wouldn’t feel safe in the learning environment, and I fretted about how to make sure I remembered to put on my mask or shield every time I needed to while focusing on delivering the course material. I had put a ton of thought into how to best adapt group activities to ensure a high quality experience while adhering to Public Health’s requirements, but was still stewing over whether the adaptations were appropriate. I’d made a list of the new rules I had to communicate to the group upon arrival but worried about people forgetting some of the rules over the course of the two days or not taking them seriously. Knowing how we all respond differently to the anxiety brought on by change and unfamiliar circumstances, I even wondered if I’d have participants who flat-out refused to abide by the guidelines and I envisioned how uncomfortable and stressful it would be to have to manage a situation like that and ask them to leave. All the while I combed through WorkSafeNB and the Public Health Agency’s websites again and again, making sure I’d taken every regulation and precaution into account – I think I can probably recite the WorkSafe COVID protocol documents word-for-word at this point! Have you ever been anxious about something and fixated on every detail, re-checking things you know you’ve already addressed in hopes that it’ll help you to feel less stressed but instead it has the opposite effect? Yeah, me neither.
In the early hours of the first morning of session number one, I set up the training space, meticulously disinfecting every surface and participant materials. I re-measured the distance between each participant’s chair and posted what felt like a zillion signs about social distancing, coughing and sneezing etiquette, hand sanitizing stations and the like. I was as ready as I’d ever be.
Guess what? Both sessions went off without a hitch.
Everyone adapted to the new protocols seamlessly and walked away with a valuable new skillset that’s especially relevant right now. At this moment in time, understanding mental health is maybe even more important than ever before. Stress is running high, most workplaces are going through major changes as they re-open with adapted processes, family life and relationships are going through unique challenges… the list goes on. There’s unfortunate irony in how our intense focus on staying physically safe and healthy with respect to the virus is having a detrimental impact on the mental health of many people.
In reflecting back, I can recognize how I got caught up in the “what ifs” and forgot about the positives. I’ve delivered nearly 200 sessions to date, so you wouldn’t think I’d need to remind myself how positively participants typically respond to the training experience: people often give feedback describing how thought-provoking the material is and how empowered they feel to utilize their new skills. This was certainly the case for these two groups, and the focus of the training experience was on these things rather than the minor changes and rules we had to follow to comply with the COVID guidelines. People were also especially excited to have had this learning opportunity after several months where in-person group learning opportunities like this weren’t an option.
I’m also very conscious of how getting back in the saddle has had a positive impact on my own mental health. Back in pre-pandemic times I delivered, on average, about half-dozen mental health trainings each month (between the two-day MHFA program and other shorter sessions) in addition to consulting with clients on their psychological health and safety programs in the workplace. I was immersed in work that I found tremendously meaningful and invigorating, filled with challenges that kept my mind sharp, opportunities to further develop my skills and, at the end of each day, a sense of satisfaction about how I’d spent my work day. Although I’ve been working with some clients virtually, nothing beats the in-person experience. After these couple of live trainings I’m feeling a renewed sense of dedication and passion for my work, and just generally more like myself than I have in a while.
The times, they are a-changing – no two ways about it. We’re likely going to be in this state of flux for quite some time, and coping with change is tough. It can be challenging to manage stress when things are unpredictable and we feel pressure to roll with punches and embrace each stage of change that comes our way. But remember, your ability to adapt is much greater than you realize. If you’ve ever tried yoga or a similar physical exercise regimen, in the beginning you probably found yourself thinking “I just don’t bend that way!”. With time, patience and consistent practice, you may have found yourself manoeuvring into positions you hadn’t thought possible. The same holds true with our ability to adapt to change. You’re probably more flexible than you think, and the more often you challenge yourself and practice adapting the easier it becomes.
That, my friends, is what this “new normal” stuff is all about.
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to keynote speaking and corporate training on workplace mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.