What holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl can teach us about lockdown uncertainty

Viktor E. Frankl

Uncertainty can cause more stress than actual pain. Science tells us that we humans are not hard wired to be very good at uncertainty. University College of London research tells us that we will be less anxious knowing that we will DEFINITELY be getting an electric shock, than if we COULD be.

During the Nazi blitzkrieg bombing in WWII, London citizens were LESS STRESSED knowing they would be bombed every night, than those that COULD be bombed in the outer suburbs.

Uncertainty has been the #1 challenge nominated by the 15000+ people who have attended my webinars since the pandemic began.

Which brings me to Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist imprisoned in Auschwitz and Dachau for 3 years.

Each day the prisoners didn’t know who would be sent to the gas chambers – and who wouldn’t. They didn’t know if they would get any food. They didn’t know where or how long they would be working each day.

Frankl was 1 in 28 prisoners who survived.

He observed in his book MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING (a great lockdown read), that those that survived were able to find meaning in continuing. The things that helped Frankl and others survive were:

  • Imagining conversing with his wife (who he didn’t know if she was alive) whilst doing backbreaking work and being bullied by guards
  • To see things in a humorous light even if only for a few seconds
  • Knowing that no matter what terrible things were done to him – that he could choose how to respond
  • Being kind and generous to others
  • Observing small moments of beauty like a sunrise in the most horrendous of conditions
  • Having a future goal to look forward to

All of us can cope with lockdown uncertainty by taking inspiration from Frankl, and focusing on important things we can control. As you can see it is small things done consistently that help our resilience in the face of uncertainty

#mentalhealth #resilience #uncertainty

Presentations to build psychological safety and prevent burnout

Over the last 18 months I have delivered over 147 presentations to help grow team psychological safety and prevent burnout. It comes down to showing people practical ways to build:

1: SELF-CARE ISN’T SELFISH: Resilience for uncertain times from Graeme Cowan on Vimeo.

1: CREW CARE: Growing psychologically safe and resilient teams from Graeme Cowan on Vimeo.


If you would like to know more about my presentations and availability, please:


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