My Perspective - The small things count

By Jayson Forrest - Managing Editor  - IMAP Perspectives

Guy Vicars
Guy Vicars

My Perspective - The small things count

What we are all going through with COVID-19 is no small thing. However, as Guy Vicars writes, it’s the small things you do, for yourself and for others, that will make a big difference, as we emerge out the other side of this pandemic.

The world has flipped. Yours and mine. We are still in partial lockdown and don’t know when that will end and, even when it does, we don’t know what the world will look like. Who knows, it may end up flat again!

The combined elements of isolation and an unknown future become serious risk factors for mental health and wellbeing for even the most robust of us.

Temporally anxiety is about the future. In other words, it’s an imagination into what may come. When we don’t have enough information to work with, and we don’t, then the human mind tends to orient itself towards fear-based potentials to ensure safety. If we can’t predict the future with some kind of reliability, anxiety levels spike. We know this is happening generally. Maybe it’s happening to you. In fact, how could it not?

Depression loves isolation. Again, human beings need contact and interaction to stay well. This is also about safety. So here we are, in this extraordinary situation, where to keep safe, we are required to socially isolate, yet the very opposite is required for good mental health! Hence, depression rates are also spiking.

I have been working with a client who is nearing retirement. I began working with him in January. Now he is no longer facing retirement. He has watched his share portfolio dive and his superannuation plummet in a way that’s leaving him terrified. Now both he and his wife and having to keep working much longer than they’d anticipated.

One of the reasons he came to see me was that he was already depressed about his work. He was over it and wanted out. He was exhausted and wanting rest. Now that’s been snatched away. Their future is unknown.

All of us have had some control taken away during this strange time and it has an impact.

With these elements combined, some people can feel powerless and helpless about all that’s happening. It all feels very out of control. Volatile daily markets are the new norm. It’s easy to see the ‘perfect storm’ scenario gathering in terms of mental health issues.

So here we are, in this extraordinary situation, where to keep safe, we are required to socially isolate, yet the very opposite is required for good mental health! Hence, depression rates are also spiking.

Guy Vicars

Sharpen your communication skills

Fortunately, there is a powerful way to combat these things. As financial planners, you will have very good communication skills. Now is the time to sharpen them and make contact with your clients.

I would suggest not talking about financial matters. Rather, connect warmly with the person. Listen fully to how they are managing. If they bring up financial matters, let them lead that. If they don’t, let it go. The contact is what is important.

One simple thing I ask people is: “What is the impact of COVID-19 on you so far?” When they answer, just reflect what you hear them saying (this means to simply reiterate their words and just affirm what they are telling you; it’s not right nor wrong, nor can it be fixed). Don’t chime in with how it’s the same for you. Just stay with their experience.

By doing this, you inoculate the person (and yourself) against the social impacts of being physically isolated. When we listen fully to a person’s story, by definition, we reduce the distance between us. It has the added bonus of lowering anxiety.

Remember your old aunt saying: “A problem shared is a problem halved.” This has a psychological truth inasmuch as we tend to feel less burdened; we can consider other ways of managing; the problem feels somewhat reduced; and we can feel relieved, just from the telling. But this only works well if the listener does their job fully, so, don’t offer advice or solutions; don’t minimise the problem and definitely, don’t offer a cliché! 

Things like “don’t worry – things will be fine” are almost impossible not to say but it’s essential you don’t. Saying things like this makes people feel misunderstood, they withdraw and will tend to isolate further.

Connecting with and just listening to your clients offers a social service in times of great need. For you there should be some “feel good factor” but hopefully, you will build stronger client relationships and garner referrals from building trust and showing genuine care. Exactly the reassuring ingredients needed in uncertain times.

As financial planners, you will have very good communication skills. Now is the time to sharpen them and make contact with your clients

Guy Vicars

Connect with your clients

Of course, I am mindful of you, too. Financial planning can often be an isolating career and in these times, the effect is even more pronounced.

In addition, the nature of the coronavirus, media messaging and government restrictions mean that, like my client, your clients will tend to retreat, be very risk-averse and nervous about matters financial. They will hold on tightly and this has a direct impact on your practice, your livelihood and your overall wellbeing.

If you notice a falling mood or increased anxiety, inoculate yourself by connecting with your clients. Listening well to them will make a difference to you, too.

Reach out to colleagues. ‘Catch up’ where you can, via Zoom or Skype. Keep your fitness up or get it to where it should be. The research message is clear on this: we must move our bodies to enhance mood, arrest cognitive decline and increase energy.

It is psychologically significant that these are actions we can take, things we can do in order to regain some control and put some predictability back into our lives.

Times of upheaval have historically caused social problems, yet they also almost always herald an era of opportunity. Remaining socially connected, increasing networks, reactivating old friendships, watching the trends, remaining nimble in business and taking creative opportunities is what provide a pathway out of these difficulties.

Guy Vicars

Opportunity through uncertainty

Times of upheaval have historically caused social problems, yet they also almost always herald an era of opportunity.

Remaining socially connected, increasing networks, reactivating old friendships, watching the trends, remaining nimble in business and taking creative opportunities is what provide a pathway out of these difficulties.

What we are going through is no small thing. However, it’s the small things you do, for yourself and for others, that will make the big difference.

About Guy Vicars

Guy Vicars is an individual counsellor, psychotherapist and relationship therapist in private practice. He is an academic teacher in undergraduate and postgraduate courses in counselling. He has written chapters in two books including ‘The Ripple Effect of Depression’ and ‘Life is a Choice and the Choice is Yours’. Guy also featured on Channel Seven’s show ‘The Super Switch’. For more information, go to www.goodtherapy.com.au/guy_vicars

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