Taking in the current news feels surreal. Is this a sci-fi movie, or is it really happening? Media reports offer continuous information on the number of new cases, new deaths, shortages and panic buying, government orders locking down cities, and businesses ceasing operations.
As with previous crises such as the 9/11 attacks, we are in a time of transition. Many aspects of life as we’ve known it will never be the same again.
This pattern is true of all transitions. The time for anticipation—to get ready for what was coming—was short, and by many estimates was mishandled. We are now in a time of ending, as things that were so familiar to us are gone. There will eventually come a time of passage, where we slowly adjust to the new normal. What we know is that after this pandemic is behind us, many aspects of life that we took for granted before will not look the same.
For right now, we must deal with the ending of what was so familiar to us.
The pandemic affects each of us in similar and different ways. Some of us may be stricken by the virus or become caretakers. Some of us may lose our jobs, our houses, and our savings. Some of us may lose loved ones.
Economically, I see similarities to 9/11 and 2008: sharp market volatility and steep market declines that are leading inevitable economic contraction. While the market losses are well underway, the economic pain has just begun and will intensify over the coming months and possibly even years.
As in 2008, our emotions are dealing with the fears of the financial and economic downturn. This can be frightening for anyone, even financial advisors.
The difference is that in past financial crises, we had each other. We could gather with friends, eat out, see shows, and travel. What is happening right now is an emotional tsunami. In addition to the financial losses people will suffer, there is also fear for one’s physical survival from the pandemic. There is the loneliness of being isolated from normal means of human contact, support, and nurturing. And all this is in addition to a politically polarized nation in the midst of a presidential race which is dividing the nation further.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, numb, or confused, with all the tasks and adjustments you need to make, the good news is that you are normal. Here is something you can do to help yourself cope.
Susan Bradley, founder of the Financial Transitionist Institute, suggests when we are in the ending phase of a transition, we are often overwhelmed and paralyzed with the volume of changes coming at us. She suggests doing the following:
Make a list of every possible decision or task that’s swimming in your head. Once your list is complete, divide everything on it into three categories.
1. Things that must be done now. This might include installing software to enable working from home. "This list is usually short and focused on the biggest, controllable threats," notes Susan.
2. Things to be done soon. This longer list will be a mix of personal and financial items. As the items on the Now list are taken care of, the items on the Soon list move up to the Now list.
3. Things that can be done later. Susan calls this list "a placeholder for other things that are important but don’t need to take up time now."
Organizing decisions and tasks in this way can make them feel more manageable and help relieve fear and paralysis. It gives you a timeline and a place to start, one item at a time.
Related: Debunking Myths About COVID-19