Mental Health in a VUCA World
Aspire Learning Space
May 4, 2020

During the Cold War, the U.S. Army War College described the state of the world as;

  • Volatile
    • Uncertain
    • Complex
    • Ambiguous

Years later following 9/11, the acronym VUCA was formed and later adopted by business leaders in describing the financial of 2008.

It needs little explanation to understand what it stands for.

 The world keeps changing.
The ever-growing pace of the 21st Century continues to blindside businesses and individuals every single day.
People are suffering in every sense of the word from this non-stop onslaught.

It’s no surprise the similarities found between what VUCA describes now and what it used to describe. Fear, threat, anxiety and a lack of clarity are all hallmarks of both wars, and economic instability.

COVID-19 is a perfect match for this ill-bearing term.
In the United States alone, arguably the world’s most powerful economy, 30 million have filed for unemployment.
All around the world, the crisis is wreaking havoc and it’s not done yet.

To make matters worse, there is unfinished business between several nations and China.
There have been reports that once the crisis has passed, many governments will lay blame on China for its misrepresentation of the magnitude of the virus and mishandling it.
This will not blow over smoothly to say the least.

Sadly, there remains much to be said about the ominous signs this virus holds for our future. And while that is true, I will try to direct your attention to something different for a change.

When faced with a threat as severe as this coronavirus, we are contemplating and searching for means of one main concept; survival.

This is obviously regular human behavior, to escape what threatens us.
We’re wired for it anyway.
However one thing we are not ordinarily wired for, is the survival of our mental health.

Survival is often correlated with escaping harm or death in a physical bodily manner. While that remains very much the focus of the world at the moment, it is vital to acknowledge that our mental health must also be placed on an almost equal place of importance.
After all, what would be the point to survive the crisis, only to come out of it traumatized.

With all the time afforded to us during lockdown measures and social distancing, there has been a wide range of ways to best use this time.

Home workouts, new cooking recipes and creative media content are the most popular forms of time utilization since the crisis began.

On the other side of the spectrum, streaming services are soaring in activity and sleeping schedules are disrupted now that the 9-5 confines of everyday corporate life are lifted.

With such a variety, one must wonder, what is the best way to use the time?
What we do in this period is heavily linked with our wellbeing and maintaining a healthy mental status.
This is why many encourage us to exercise, take online classes and engage in other productive activities.

Obviously, these are wonderful and highly recommended, however the constant exposure of these activities to each other on social media has created a gap between the two ends of the spectrum.

For some, it’s turning into a simply different version of VUCA. When stay-at-home orders were issued, many were relieved to be taking a break from their condensed draining lifestyles.
Only now, they feel obligated to be in some sort of race once again of productivity.
Yours truly would categorize himself in this bracket.
I do not care much for home workouts, nor do I wish to pursue a degree at this moment in time.
According to recent measures, I would be categorized as perhaps a loser.

This attitude and environment is detrimental to proper mental health.
The notion that we are constantly in a rush to achieve, to feed off our own winnings and successes can put us under a lot of strain.
It is well known that certain personalities thrive when faced with this must achieve atmosphere.

However, that is not the case for many more, and because corporate life thrives on the aforementioned model, we can be mistakenly corralled in such an environment.

This is toxic.
Not only is it harmful to force a person to adopt such a mentality, it ruins their chances of actually being able to achieve something worthwhile. Not for the sake of achievement even, but for their own wellbeing.

It is imperative to find a healthy balance. It is vital that you do not conform to what others would deem “useful” but also to learn and be inspired by others without infringing on your own valid and meaningful way of living.

If a person finds more meaning to bond with their family in a lockdown, they should not be blamed for not working out instead.
If a person finds more peace of mind reading a novel, they should not be ridiculed for not pursuing an online degree in literature instead.

Move at your pace, there is no objective standard of success because the guidelines vary from one person to another owing to our uniqueness.

Success to person A is maintaining a fitness regime throughout the pandemic.
Success to person B is learning to fix a relationship in the family.
Both are equally valid.

There are many valuable ways to better oneself and remain healthy in this torrid time.

What matters, is finding the manner specific to you that helps you. However don’t exclude other activities all at once.
That is to say, try to go out for a jog, learn a new instrument, or sit with your partners and children and enjoy time with them.

At the end of the day, all these activities can co-exist.

Choose the ones that help you, be a healthier you.


– Development, UNC Executive. “The Origins of VUCA.” The Origins of VUCA. Accessed May 4, 2020.

– NZ Herald. “Coronavirus Covid 19: IMF Warns of Worst Economic Crisis since the Great Depression.” NZ Herald. NZ Herald, April 9, 2020.

– Tappe, Anneken. “30 Million Americans Have Filed Initial Unemployment Claims since Mid-March.” CNN. Cable News Network, April 30, 2020.

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