The coronavirus is giving the global community a run for its money. Not only is it tapping out our economy, political system, medical system, educational system, and the like, it’s also putting a lot of personal pressure on each of us and our families.
Yet amid the crisis, it seems like many of us are also talking about the rumblings of change. I’ve read articles that tout how we might take new habits with us into the future, habits that affect our ecological footprint on this planet, help us optimize our productivity, and may even lead to social change and personal transformation. Neighbors are performing new kindnesses for one another. Volunteers are reaching out to the elderly. Ordinary people are taking on projects that have been pushed off for far too long due to a lack of time to pursue them: exercising, learning a new language, cleaning, organizing, setting goals, you name it.
There is stress. There is change. There is more time at home. There is worry. There is fear. There is pressure. There is anxiety. There is uncertainty. And there is our own darn inner voice pushing us along. Life can be downright overwhelming.
How do we cope?
Here are some ideas from positive psychology that are research-backed and pack a punch to help you through the coronavirus and beyond.
1. Accept the Suck
Yep. Accept the suck.
Some people think that positive psychology is about positive thinking. While having an optimistic versus a pessimistic outlook is associated with better mental and physical health, the science of well-being also acknowledges negative emotions. We experience sadness, stress, and anger for a reason — and these feelings shouldn’t be ignored. Instead, we can look at these emotions, process them, and hopefully grow as a result. The only danger in negative emotions is getting stuck. If we wallow in negativity, it can be counterproductive.
What does this mean during the coronavirus crisis? When you feel sad, angry, lethargic, and the like, you can look inward and try to figure out why you’re out of sorts. You can acknowledge your feelings and give them their fair due. Sometimes you need to let yourself have a bad day before you can make tomorrow better.
When you’re ready, you can move on to problem-solving. After all, our negative emotions are meant to be signals; when something feels off, we should pay attention and focus. Do that. Feel the emotion, whatever it may be, then use your focus to define the problem and consider solutions. Accept the suck, just don’t get stuck in it.
2. Look for the Positive
I’m not going to tell you that this situation is a blessing. No one wants this crisis to be happening. I might suggest, however, a few positive outcomes that come along with the challenges.
Often, the times we’re faced with adversity are the times we grow. Think about it. What’s something you’ve learned from being in a tough situation? Are you more resilient now than before? Knowing we can grow in times of challenge can help us frame the situation and be on the lookout for those opportunities. By being proactive, we might be able to accelerate our learning. Focusing our attention is so important that I am going to make it my next tip.
3. Pay Attention to Where you Pay Attention
Let’s give attention its own little spotlight.
"The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another." ~William James
At any point in time, there are at least a dozen different places where we can be putting our attention. Our choices affect our experiences. Recognizing our ability to control our awareness can help us decide where we might put our attention over the course of our day or week. This might mean scheduling fun activities with the people we’re holed up with. It also might mean practicing mindfulness or meditation. By paying attention to our shifting emotions and noticing when we’re going to a non-useful place, we can consciously make choices that are good for our well-being.
4. Practice Gratitude
We’ve all heard how important gratitude is. Gratitude is great because it shifts our attention and increases our positive emotions. Grab a pen and write a gratitude letter. Better yet, keep a gratitude journal or place gratitude notes in a jar. Remembering the good in our lives and taking a moment to appreciate them can make us feel better and provide us with a sense of hope.
5. Connect with Others
We may be social distancing, but we don’t have to be socially distant. We can still choose to connect with others. There is a reason models of well-being include relationships; they’re essential to our well-being. Meanwhile, being disconnected from a social community is toxic. In fact, research shows that loneliness is more dangerous than obesity and equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Try scheduling a family Zoom session or calling a friend on the phone — you’ll be happy you reached out.
6. Find the Sacred
Having a sense of purpose and connection to something beyond the self is associated with greater life satisfaction and positive emotions. This means that spirituality can enhance well-being. If you’re religiously involved, embracing that can help you connect to a larger purpose during tough times. That said, if you’re not religious, you’re not out of the game. Just connecting to things that we find sacred can reduce stress and increase meaning. Look for ways in which you can add rituals to your life. Perhaps yoga is your calling; maybe there’s a sacredness to be found in family dinners. Be conscious of what feels right and turn it into a source of inspiration and sanctity.
7. Practice Self Compassion
Are you overwhelmed with the message to be something more right now? Be productive. Be active. Be there for your kids so they don’t fall behind in school. Maybe it’s time to let go of perfection and insert time for self-compassion and care instead. Stop judging yourself and remember that you don’t have to accept judgment from anybody else either. Take a hot bath, read a book, or go for a walk without your cell phone. Whatever it is that helps you relax, make sure to do something good for yourself every day, even if it’s just for 10 minutes.
8. Take Baby Steps
Habits are important because what we do daily changes the direction of our lives. If you feel less than motivated, don’t fear. While some of us might like a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), many of us might not be feeling it right now. Instead, why not choose one small habit that does not feel overwhelming? For example, if you feel you need more exercise, start by choosing to take a walk every morning for five minutes, rather than committing yourself to running several miles a day. Creating small subgoals that are achievable will make you feel more accomplished and will help you stick with your habits, even when the going gets tough. If you feel like doing more on any particular day, great! And if you don’t, just keep the habit going. Research shows that simply establishing a habit can lead to long-term success.
The coronavirus has had devastating effects on our global community, but it’s also provided us with an opportunity for growth. Take the time to reflect. What habits can we form? What acts of kindness can we do? How can we be better tomorrow than we were yesterday? Methods for coping don’t have to end when the pandemic does; let’s extend the hope for humanity and the changes within to improve the world now and into the future.