Adaptation: What Is It and Why Is It So Important?

So first we had to adapt to social isolation in the service of social distancing and working from home and now we have to adapt to socializing in the service of returning to the workplace, classroom and family/friendly gatherings. Many of my patients, the same ones who had such a hard time with the isolation, are struggling with reentry into social settings.  Actually, so am I. It’s normal.  We tend to resist change, until we are forced into changing.  Fortunately, then we adapt. 

Adapting, or adaptation, is an important part of our survival as a species.  Technically it is “the physical or behavioral characteristic of an organism that helps it to survive better in the surrounding environment.” We have built in features that help us adapt to our habitat, regardless of what it is. This enables us to survive even when the habitat changes.  Usually the changes are slow and take place over a long period of time which makes adaptation much easier.  

When the change is rapid, as was the case with COVID-19, especially when so many things changed, adaptation is more difficult. COVID-19 changed our way of living, working and socializing and now it is changing again.  Under these circumstances adaptation tends to lag behind. That’s what is happening right now. People are feeling anxious about re-entry, about whether or not to wear their mask and whether or not it is safe to go out to dinner.

The announcement last week to stop wearing your mask if you have been vaccinated for 2 weeks was abrupt to say the least. Many people question the wisdom.  It was not safe yesterday, why is it safe today? Good question and really no good answers.  Trying to focus on the new COVID numbers helps, as they are really going down. Faith and trust work as well, at least to a point.

Theory of Adaptation

The theory of adaptation was proposed by Charles Darwin in the mid 1800’s. It states that an organism that is able to adapt to the changing environment will survive, the rest will be eliminated. This is known as survival of the fittest.

Adaptations in the animal world are such things as camouflage and colouration changes designed to protect the animal from predators. Charles Darwin studied the turtles of two islands to demonstrate adaptation to changes in the environment. The turtles present on one island had short legs, straight shells and derived food present low to the ground. A few turtles migrated to another island, where the food was much higher up. Only the turtles with longer legs survived. But in addition, their necks elongated and their shells became rounded over the course of time. These adapted turtles survived. 

In the time of COVID-19 a good example of adaptation is the manner in which health care personnel have had to adapt. From new configurations for buildings to cordoning off patients with COVID-19 so the hospital could continue treating patients with other diseases, to significant adjustments to the staff’s schedules, roles and workloads, and of course new hygiene protocols to prevent spread of the disease. 

These were all adaptations that worked to protect people’s lives.  In my profession, telemedicine has become a thing.  In education Zoom learning saved the day as it did in corporate America, and so on.  But these things all came with a cost and none of them were easy at first.  However, we adapted. 

Now we have to change back and adapt again. Many people are experiencing adaptation fatigue.  Understandably, adapting is hard.  A number of my patients are worried about going back to work or school.  I worry about being in public places without a mask. How do I know if the other folks without a mask are safe? When is it safe for my patients to be seen again in person? Do I mandate vaccines? Is that even legal? 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major effect on our lives. Many of us are facing challenges that can be stressful, overwhelming, and cause strong emotions in us and our loved ones, especially our children. 

Impact

First and foremost we have to recognize that what we are experiencing can cause stress for anyone. Here are some of the signs that you are feeling stressed:

  • Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration
  • Changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
  • Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Worsening of mental health conditions
  • Increased use of cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, barbiturates etc. 

Normalization

Feeling anxious and stressed is normal, especially under the current circumstances. So first let’s begin by being understanding that how you are feeling is normal.  It isn’t just you, and you are not overreacting. It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during the COVID-19 pandemic even as we see it getting better, or especially since we see it getting better, because we have to make major changes again. So even though the next phase is a positive one, as it means that we are recovering from the pandemic, it will still be an adjustment that we will have to adapt to once again. 

Strategies That Can Help:

Below are ways that you can help yourself, others, and your community de-stress.

  1. Connect with others who you trust.  Talk about your concerns and how you are feeling. If you can, go back to a group or faith-based organization that you had to let go for the past year.  They will be happy to see you. 
  1. Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. It’s good to be informed, but hearing about the pandemic constantly can be upsetting. Consider limiting news to just a couple times a day and disconnecting from phone, tv, and computer screens for a while.
  1. Take care of your body. Nothing is more important. Walk, breath, eat healthy, get plenty of sleep and try to avoid excessive alcohol or substance use. It is a crutch that becomes the problem.
  1. Make time to unwind. Try to do some of the activities that you did pre-COVID assuming that you can do them now safely.
  1. Helping Others – I sincerely believe that helping others is the best medicine there is. I live it every day.  Every time someone tells me how grateful they are for my help I feel as if I am surely the luckiest person in the world. It renews and rejuvenates me.
  1. Affirmations – Take a moment to recognize how remarkable you are. Don’t dwell on the times you were frustrated or upset.  We all get upset and these have been upsetting times. Think instead about how well you adapted and recognize that you are good at it now and you can do it again.  You got this!

Dr. Renae Norton specializes in the treatment of eating disorders. Located in Cincinnati, Ohio. Call 513-205-6543 to schedule an appointment or fill out our online contact form for someone to call you to discuss your concerns. Tele-therapy sessions available. Individual and family sessions also available.

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Materials contained on this site are made available solely for educational purposes and as part of an effort to raise general awareness of the psychological treatments available to individuals with health issues. These materials are not intended to be, and are not a substitute for, direct professional medical or psychological care based on your individual condition and circumstances.  Dr. J. Renae Norton does not diagnose or treat medical conditions. While this site may contain descriptions of pharmacological, psychiatric and psychological treatments, such descriptions and any related materials should not be used to diagnose or treat a mental health problem without consulting a qualified mental health care provider.  You are advised to consult your medical health provider about your personal questions or concerns.