The pandemic and its effect have now been with us for six months, and chances are, we’re feeling the mental effects. In a tweet that has caught worldwide attention, a University of Toronto professor describes how those in conflict zones and long-haul crises also suffer a loss of energy and drive six months in – and it’s nothing unusual.

Dr Aisha Ahmad is a Professor of International Security at The University of Toronto Scarborough and the Chair of Women In International Security Canada. She has personal experience of working in various crisis situations herself.

“The six-month mark in any sustained crisis is always difficult. We have all adjusted to this "new normal," but might now feel like we're running out of steam. … How can we keep going? First, in my experience, this is a very normal time to struggle or slump. I always hit a wall six months into a tough assignment in a disaster zone. The desire to "get away" or "make it stop" is intense. I've done this many times, and at 6 months, it's like clockwork”.

Hitting the wall in sport

Marathon runners often talk about ‘hitting the wall’ during a race. As Runner’s World magazine says:

“When you hit the wall, it feels like you have run face-first into a stack of bricks… every step is a triumph of will and you seriously doubt that the race actually has a finish line.”

The approaches to overcoming this wall are remarkably similar, being to use tactics to overcome it rather than run headlong into it. As Dr Ahmed says:

“First, the wall is real and normal. And frankly, it's not productive to try to ram your head through it. It will break naturally in about four to six weeks if you ride it out. Just don't expect to be sparklingly happy or wildly creative in the middle of your wall. Right now, if you can meet your obligations and be kind to your loved ones, you get an A+.”

In a longer article for the UK newspaper The Telegraph, she expands on why hitting the wall can feel “terribly demoralising”:

“Do not despair: the six month wall is harsh but also temporary… This is a normal phase in adapting to sustained disaster conditions…Your mind and body are simply asking for respite, exactly on schedule, The six-month wall is not a sign of you failing. It just means you are tired.”

Loss of happiness and creativity

Just as an athlete get tired and loses power in their muscles at their marathon wall, so as individuals and business people, we may feel our creativity and happiness levels are drained. Rather than try and overcome this with a massive sprint for the finish, we should “roll with it” and recognise the need for a break. Dr Ahmad suggests:

“Try to give yourself a mental or figurative "shore leave". Short mental escapes can offer respite and distance from the everyday struggle. Take more mental "leave" until you clear the wall. In my experience, this six-month wall both arrives and dissipates like clockwork. So I don't fight it anymore. I don't beat myself up over it. I just know that it will happen and trust that the dip will pass.”

It’s a great message for business owners tired of constant changes and having to innovate and adapt on a regular basis. The solution to the wall is not to throw yourself into yet another big project, but rather to take stock and realise that we have already overcome so much just to be where we are today. As Dr Ahmad says:

“Take heart. We have navigated a harrowing global disaster for 6 months, with resourcefulness & courage. We have already found new ways to live, love, and be happy under these rough conditions. … This is hard proof that we have what it takes to keep going.”

Gain strength from your colleagues

In a response to this tweet for Forbes, organizational psychologist Nancy Doyle explains how she looked to her own disabled clients and colleagues, as:

“The most common long-term psychological response to trauma is not breakdown, but ambition and resolve … You and your staff are highly likely to have lived through personal and professional crises, have hit this wall and learned to move on.”

One of her clients with chronic fatigue syndrome suggested: “Never let the battery run to zero. Recharge at around three or four and set it back to ten before you get started again.” She also cites a director with dyslexia who delegates tasks she finds challenging but other members of her team find helps them cope. As the novelty and enjoyment of Zoom calls starts to fade, she’s finding new ways to connect with her colleagues through online creative projects involving art, music, writing and more.

Wall tactics for all

Runner’s World magazine recommends three ways to overcome the wall:

  1. Distract yourself with something not running-related such as the looking scenery, the crowd, or focusing on music played.
  2. Use visualisation to picture yourself dealing effectively with the wall
  3. Face reality and do what you need – drink, eat something, run with a partner

Recognise that if the creative juices are not flowing, or a task is just not working for you, there is no need to put it. “If it’s not your day, it’s not your day. There will be others.”

Or as Dr Ahmad says:

“Do not despair of the six-month wall. It's not permanent, nor will it define you in this period of adversity. Trust that the magic that helped you through the first phase is still there. Take a breath & a pause. You'll be on the other side in no time.”

Your local Chamber: here to help

If you need help with scaling your business wall, call us. We have a wealth of resources, contacts and information to help businesses in Woodstock not just survive but thrive.