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Psychoanalytic Business Coaching

Mental stress in the corona pandemic – Support in times of uncertainty

In addition to the real health risk, the corona pandemic also leads to a lot of psychological stress. According to the Cosmo study, around 50 % of the surveyed Germans between 18 and 74 years of age currently perceive their personal situation as stressful (as of the end of October 2020). The worries and fears can vary greatly. While some are worried about financial burdens that may arise from the threat of losing their job, others are worried about close family members or friends for whom the virus could pose a greater risk. Some might feel restricted and burdened by the measures adopted by the government, perhaps feel lonely or even unstable.

Worries and fears also appear in our dreams

But there are also many people who do not seem to feel affected by the pandemic, at least not on a conscious level. For some of them, however, worries and fears may show up in their dreams, which psychoanalysis sees as the key to the unconscious. According to dream researcher Deidre Barrett, similar to other traumatic experiences such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters, people have frequent anxiety dreams during the corona pandemic. One image that repeatedly appeared in her survey was beetles. People reported how they were attacked by swarms of beetles in their dreams. According to Barrett, the decisive factor was the high number of beetles – individually we can manage them, as a swarm they become a threat, we can no longer keep an eye on every beetle. Many people associate feelings of disgust and fear with beetles and their touch. In the corona pandemic, swarms of beetles could represent the small virus particles, which each one seems to be invisible and unthreatening on its own, and only when the virus load is high does the (significant) danger of infection exist. We are afraid of the touch, which expresses itself in disgust. We protect ourselves by wearing masks and washing our hands, thus undoing the unavoidable touch. And what worries us most is the uncertainty of what impact the infestation and the touch will have on us. A perceived loss of control that can be a burden.

What supports us in times of uncertainty?

Social cohesion and social support

Particularly at the beginning of the corona pandemic, concern and uncertainty have led to greater social cohesion in many places (Bertelsmann Stiftung study). Younger people offered older neighbors to do the shopping for them. People have adhered to social rules such as keeping their distance or wearing masks to protect others. A feeling of solidarity and belonging has developed. On an individual level, too, many have sought social support during the crisis. Some have found support in their family or friends, others in their partnership. Social contact points have shifted from the real setting to the virtual one, zoom meetings instead of after-work beers in the favorite pub around the corner. Those who experience a great deal of support through secure ties to reference persons feel less burdened by the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Another place of social gathering is the professional context. Here too, virtual coffee breaks and team meetings have been set up so that colleagues can continue to be in contact with each other. The regular exchange with like-minded people – be it about content issues or about how to deal with work in the home office – can be experienced as very relieving.

Support in the workplace

What can you do as a manager? As a manager you also have an important function, especially in times of uncertainty. Employees who are concerned about losing their jobs or who have difficulty working from home want reassurance and support. Especially in these times, managers have to take the fears and worries of employees and keep them within themselves. In psychoanalysis we call this phenomenon containment. By doing so, you give your employees support and promote their emotional processing. In digested form, the fears and worries are then returned to the employees, because transparency and open communication is also essential in times of crisis. An example would be transparent communication that project funds are cancelled or cut, but jobs are retained. Early and open communication is also important in the event of necessary layoffs, because although this is a cause for concern in the first step, it also gives the employees a feeling of control in the second step. Now they can deal with their reorientation. In this case, outplacement coaching can be helpful to support the employees in their professional development.

M.Sc. Leonie Derwahl, Coach at dynaMIND