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Understanding the Psychological Impact of COVID-19

Understanding the Psychological Impact of COVID-19

The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) will have an impact on everyone. Understanding how to cope with the stress will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger. Here's an explanation of the emotional rollercoaster everyone will psychologically go through.


Understanding the emotional cycle of change

Almost overnight, remote work has become mainstream. Anxiety about the financial impact, the implications of isolation and surviving this crisis, together with the huge lifestyle change is overwhelming. Any change causes strong emotions in both adults and children, however the cycle is predictable. Some people are 'wired' to be better equipped to deal with change and embrace it, whilst others thrive on routine and avoid change where at all possible. This crisis has forced change upon us all and how we manage 'our thinking' will have an impact on our well being - so I'm sharing this based upon how I see the people coping with the change, so you might have a practrical reference to make sense on what's going on inside people's heads.


The Emotional Cycle of Change recognise and understand it

Psychologists will tell you that in times like this the vast majority of us will go through the following emotional cycle of change.  This is the first time we have, however, seen the worlds population going through this simultaneously.

There are various models of emotional change but the most famous model of this was developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Her “Emotional Change Cycle” (shock, elation, anger, denial, blame, confusion, and finally acceptance) charts the typical human reaction to change and has been validated repeatedly. Many of you will see this playing out in the media, in political spheres and across social media.

To understand it with some reference think back to learning to drive

The four stages of competence is a model based on Emotional Change Cycle. It works on the premise that before a learning experience begins, people are unaware of what or how much they know (unconscious incompetence), and as they learn, they move through four psychological states until they reach a stage of unconscious competence.


Understanding the Psychological Impact of COVID-19

1. Unconscious Incompetence

In the 'unconscious incompetence' phase, you are ignorant of the issue or how it will impact upon your life.

If you drive you probably remember your first driving experience, sat as a passenger you witnessed someone driving you and it looked easy - you were ‘unconscious of how incompetent’ you are at driving that point. This is like the course you have just taken, before you started taking it.

COVID-19 Relevance: We all saw the news reports in China, without really contemplating the actual risk to us and potential impact on our life.


2. Conscious Incompetence

During the 'conscious incompetence' phase, you become aware of the knowledge gap, the impact on your life and begin to understand the implications of what's happening. It’s in this stage that learning can begin as we all become aware of the reality of how poorly we are prepared and what needs to happen.

Now, following on from the 'learning to drive' example, you get behind the wheel of a car for the first time and suddenly you are very aware of your lack of ability to drive. You are now ‘conscious of how incompetent’ you are at driving. Steering, indicating, feathering the clutch, checking your mirrors and not crashing seems over whelming!

COVID-19 Relevance: As the Government took the step for daily briefings, the COVID-19 virus spread to Europe, it was no longer the other side of the World. It became real and with Prime Minister Boris Johnsons' national TV address on Monday 23rd March, instructing all UK citizens to 'stay at home, to protect the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic' - it had an immediate impact on our lives. Then everyone had an abundance of questions surrounding everything they didn't know. What if I can't work? How will I get paid? Have I got enough food to last?  As businesses put their employees into 'furlough leave' and the reality of the situation takes hold, people slide through denial, fear, anger and resistance to acceptance.


3. Conscious Competence

During the 'conscious competence' phase, you become aware of what needs to happen, understand things have changed and begin to adjust to the changes - it starts to become normal. In this phase, you will still require 'conscious thought' in doing what you need to do. However you're no longer feeling so overwhelmed by the whole situation.

Back to the 'learning to drive' example. You can now drive. Steering, indicating, feathering the clutch, checking your mirrors and not crashing no longer seems over whelming, but it does take all of your concentration. You have become ‘consciously competent’ at driving. Just as through the repetition of practicing driving, the repetition of learning the core components of Health & Safety and the law will sink in - but it will need your full concentration.

COVID-19 Relevance: As working from home or being on 'furlough leave' becomes the norm, we become more adapted to the changes. Whether it's working remotely or using video conferencing tools to keep social interaction with our families, friendship groups, and collegues. What seemed unthinkable in the 'Unconscious Incompetence' stage of this crisis, has now become the routine.


4. Unconscious Competence

Once in the 'unconscious competence' phase, the individual has enough experience of the change, have repeatedly performed the tasks so many times - that he or she can perform it so easily they do it unconsciously.

Just as with driving, you will gain the experience and knowledge to perform the roles required without thinking - you can do them on autopilot! But just as with driving - if tested on the more obscure road signs or elements of the highway code, you may struggle.

COVID-19 Relevance: We will come out of this crisis, but things will have changed dramatically as businesses and the economy adapts to this seismic global shift in people's thinking and behaviour.


A large part of the issue is the unknown, as a business leader people will be looking to you for answers - and you need to demonstrate leadership. Because it's not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.

Stephen Megson Founder of Love Business and Business Owner


Author of this COVID-19 Business Support Hub Article

Stephen Megson Founder of Love Business and Business Owner

Steve Megson

I'm a keen sailor and experienced in encountering the unknown at sea. With my son, Josh, I sailed my boat to Spain from my home port of Poole, my greatest adventure to date (if you read the blog you'll understand why!). Encountering the unknown is about having a clear goal and making sure you keep focused - no matter what happens.

More About Quiet Storm


Stephen Megson

A business owner since I was 21 –I was one of the 'enterprise allowance'  generation and started my business back in 1987. I've ridden the waves of a few recessions and overcome plenty of unknowns. I understand the pressure of employing people and the emotional rollercoaster times like this put you through. I've been very fortunate in my career to work with many brilliant visionaries. I've learnt much from them, but for those who know me well, know my quest for learning is never satisfied.

I now specialise in behaviour and business process optimisation, so look at how businesses interact with their people, customers and other stakeholders. I then work collaboratively with businesses to drive out waste and optimise their processes. This is largely through some form of digitisation, resulting in web applications and operational software to manage their systems, processes and KPI's.

I'm passionate about business and have a strong sense of community, which is why I started Love Business back in 2012, as I saw the innovative business owners start to thrive whilst other remain in a cycle of self-fulfilling doom as a result of the media channels negative news coverage. This is why Love Business only covers good news, focusses on the positive and looks to share all that's helpful.


How to get in touch with Steve Megson



COVID-19 Business Support Hub

These are challenging times for business and although our ethos is to only shout about good news, we've created COVID-19 Business Support Hub on the Love Business the website to support you with expert tips, advice and ideas from your fellow businesses to help you get through this COVID-19 crisis. 

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