Adaptability is Key: Real Talk about the Post-Pandemic Transition

It is likely one of life’s great ironies: While people tend to resist change, change is life’s only constant. Thus, after dealing with the COVID-19 virus since March of 2020, is the current post-pandemic transition a blessing, or a curse?

This was the question on which Dr. Homer Yabut’s presentation was premised as he spoke about “Facing the Challenges of the Post-Pandemic Transition” on March 29 via Zoom. The topic was evidently one of popular interest, with nearly 300 viewers attending the webinar – not surprisingly, as many seek guidelines on how to walk the tightrope between eased pandemic restrictions and the continuing threat posed by the virus.

Citing the WHO definition of Post-Pandemic Transition as a “decrease of pandemic surveillance due to a decrease in pandemic outbreak,” with organizations in charge remaining vigilant in ensuring preparedness, Dr. Yabut – a licensed psychologist teaching with the DLSU Department of Psychology, and an advocate for providing Mental Health and Psychosocial Services (MHPSS) during disasters, calamities, and the pandemic – illustrated how changes and challenges in this transition can lead to post-pandemic anxiety. After two years of learning to deal with fears of virus transmission, work-life balance, health protocols and social distancing, people now face the inevitability of having to re-enter society, physically returning to the workplace and interacting with others whose vaccination status is unknown. Transitional stress thus becomes a reality, stemming from changes in the routines people have gotten used to, and manifested in feelings of uncertainty as well as confusion in navigating the “new normal.”

Anticipating that participants would seek answers on how to overcome such situational stress, Dr. Yabut identified adaptability – the capacity to be flexible, to adjust, and to cope – as essential in managing the post-pandemic transition. Specifically, the ability to “reframe” or adjust one’s mindset, to manage one’s emotional responses, and to alter one’s behavior to change are the components he cited as being vital to adaptability. In addition, he enumerated the “Characteristics of an Adaptable Person” listed in 2018’s Transform and Thrive, varying in levels of difficulty from “being unafraid of failure” to the effortless “being curious.”

In addressing participants’ specific concerns, Dr. Yabut relayed advice on how to deal with “toxic positivity” (reasoning that people who see nothing positive in their situation cannot be forced to see things positively) and trauma (which, he pointed out, can last for weeks or years, and can best be addressed with the help of a mental health professional); how to ensure that organizational leaders are also adaptive and resilient (he suggested that active participation during consultations can help leaders “move on” from pre-pandemic mindsets); whether knowledge or background on human behavior can ensure one is resilient (a notion he countered by pointing out that mental health professionals can also have mental health issues); how people residing in rural areas can access mental health services (he observed that teleconsultation has “mushroomed” during the pandemic, making online services more readily available); and how the anxiety of the working class could be alleviated (he was encouraged to see that employee safety was becoming more common in offices and organizations, and recommended that all industries should offer psychological first aid to their employees).

In closing, Dr. Yabut shared a reflection learned from his mentor, the late Dr. Bobby Mendoza, that “The narrow stream complains about the rocks, the ocean shapes them.” Adaptability takes place when people change their attitudes and take charge in shaping what happens in their lives. He likened the pandemic to a gift to be unpacked – it is up to the recipient to determine how they “see” what its contents are.

The “Facing the Challenges of the Post-Pandemic Transition” webinar was part of the Social Development Research Center’s week-long celebration of its 43rd anniversary, with the theme “Introspection and Application: Making a Post-Pandemic World Possible.”