Why Am I Regressing?

Literally everyone I talk to or am coaching now is really done with our current situation! It has been 6 months since the pandemic started and no end is in sight. Schools are trying to start but most have decided on e-learning from home.  Summer helped with sun and nature and seeing friends and family outside.  But the cooler and rainy weather in Chicago has reminded us how quickly the seasons change and soon we will be back inside. I have been reading a lot about resiliency and why some thrive in a crisis and others don’t.  I came across a theory by psychologist Dr. Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg that describes 3 stages of responding to a crisis that I found rang true and hope you will find it helpful as well. (Photo credit:  Dan Meyers, unsplash.com)

when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. Viktor Frankl

Stage one:  Emergency phase:  Urgency of a new situation tends to be accompanied by a surge of energy and focus. This is when we spring into action to meet the crisis. We are creative, problem solving, adapting, and surprisingly upbeat.  We can do this!  The nervous system’s flight or fight mechanism prepares us well to meet challenges, pumping energy to the muscles and our brain.


Stage two:  Regression or Burn-out:  Months of adapting to doing everything differently have us drained and low on energy reserves.  In military terms, our surge capacity is depleted. The nervous system, having been in high alert, is taxed so we start feeling fatigued, depressed, anxious, on edge. We hit a wall yet the floodwaters can’t be held back so start feeling overwhelmed.  CDC reports that as of late June, 40% of U.S. adults reported struggles with mental health or substance use.  We look for ways to soothe, escape, and cope that are frequently from a less mature time but are things that give temporary comfort. We regress to drinking or eating too much, spending hours watching TV, not wanting to take responsibility for work or family.  What this stage is trying to tell us is that the nervous system and body urgently need time to restore and fill the reserves.


Stage three:  Recovery phase:  Since there is no clear end to the current situation this phase now is more about learning to adapt to a less than desirable situation. We need to find ways to move out of survival mode and to find new opportunities.  One effective and important way is to find unique ways to find meaning and contribute something of value to the greater good for one’s family, work community and beyond. Like a symphony, we each play an instrument that has an important role to the sound of the whole.  It doesn’t have to be grand; what if your contribution was to be a calm, loving presence for someone in your life?  That could make a profound difference!

We need to build our reserves to meet the ongoing challenges this time is bringing.  Fill your resiliency bank with the following ideas that don’t take much time. (Photo credit:  Damir Spanic, www.unsplash.com)

  • Expect less of yourself. Give yourself time to rest.
  • Take five: Five minutes to move your body: walk around the block between zoom calls or child care responsibilities.  Stretch your body helps to relieve stress and quiet the mind.
  • 5-4-3-2-1: Mindfulness moments: Tune into your senses by becoming aware of 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. This helps you connect with your body and balance your brain.
  • Gratitude: Stop right now and focus on your heart and call to mind someone or something you are grateful for. What are you grateful for about yourself? End your day with coming up with 3 things from the day that brought you joy.  What’s the silver lining in this situation?  This brings your whole system into coherence, allowing the body and mind to function optimally again.
  • Stop multi-tasking or thinking about the next thing you need to do. I know work/school/family boundaries are blurred now, but bringing your full attention to the thing you are doing now will help expend less mental energy and leave you with more at the end of the day.
  • Fully connect with someone “ a smile, a quick phone call, a hug. Savor face-face interaction as that signals our nervous system to relax.
  • Create boundaries in your home with family members. Find time to unplug and just be quiet, be it a closet, a car, a night-time or early morning walk.  Now’s the time to be creative and resourceful;  but fighting reality won’t help. It is in the quiet we hear our own inner guidance.
  • Prioritize sleep and limit screen time.
  • Plan healthy meals most of the time but enjoy a few splurges too!


Saying Yes to situations you don’t like but can’t change builds resiliency so your next challenge will seem easier and you will handle it with grace and ease.  As Viktor Frankl said, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. What growth opportunity is waiting to take flight in you?

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