Welcome to another week of mental health and mindfulness!
These past three months have been a ride, haven’t they? How have you made it through? How have you kept your head above water despite the constantly changing information, the disconnect from your social network, the overwhelming amount of loss that you and/or your loved ones have experienced? Think about the strengths and gifts that have shone through for you during these past three months. Did you notice your strength of perseverance? Your tendency to modify your schedule and create new goals for success? Your optimism? Your ability to keep getting up every time you fall? How you reached out to family, friends, or strangers with that tender compassion you have for others? What a beautiful gift!
By using your strengths and gifts to adapt to the adversity of COVID-19, you are taking control of what you can. But have you also found yourself trying to control things that are out of your control? Like other people’s behaviour? Like how long these social-distancing restrictions will last? Like whether or not your partner will get their job back when the self-isolation ends?
So much of the COVID-19 crisis is out of our control. Everybody in the world is struggling to understand and control the virus. And although we are learning more and more everyday, thanks to the persistent efforts of researchers and scientists, the danger of COVID-19 continues to be vague, persistent, unpredictable, and unknown. There’s so little doctors and scientists and politicians can do to control the virus and it’s transmission, let alone us. But we can control what we do about us. Let’s talk about that.
1. Identifying what you CAN control and what you CANNOT control.
Write a list of your worries when it comes to the current state of things.
Then, circle those things that you can control and strikethrough those things that you can’t.
For e.g., “I am worried about not being able to pay my mortgage payment”. I can control my worry. I can’t control the loss of wages that prevents me from paying my mortgage payment. But I can control calling the bank and asking for a deferral on my mortgage payment.
Focus on those things you can control. Trying to control something you have no control over is bound to set you up for defeat and negative feelings about yourselves, others, or the situation.
2. Control your thoughts.
Many of us fall into the “what if” trap. This is the trap that moves us to worrying about the worst possible scenario, that is based not so much on truth, but on fear. It’s called catastrophizing and it’s been identified as an “unhelpful thinking habit” or cognitive distortion in CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). For e.g., “What if this financial crisis of the coronavirus makes me lose my house and become homeless?”. Just as we quickly and instinctively focus our “what ifs” on the most negative, we could also focus our “what ifs” on the positive – for e.g., “what if this financial crisis is slowly but surely resolved by government assistance, patience, and budgeting?”. Sometimes refocusing our “what ifs” on the positive possibilities can be strengthening and calming.
Another helpful way to reduce stress is to do something everyday that makes you feel productive and successful. This is called MASTERY and it’s another way to feel in control when other things are out of your control. Use your talents and strengths to build, solve, create, or help someone out (research shows that when we help others, our brains actually emit hormones that make us feel good!). So, rearrange that closet you’ve been meaning to get to, read a book that’s been sitting on your shelf, put together a puzzle, mow your neighbour’s lawn, pick up litter in your neighbourhood, or take an online yoga class. And feel proud of yourself for your success!
4. Past Successes
Remember all the ways you’ve been successful in the past. Think about the barriers you’ve confronted before, and how you got through them to achieve your goals. That gruelling math class that you managed to pass, the parallel parking that you practised for hours and finally got right, the break-up that you got through by focusing on one day at a time. You are a survivor and you are strong! Just as you got through those things, you can get through this, too!
Best wishes as you move through this week. Share your strengths with others! and join me next week to talk about what I think is the antidote to anxiety. If I could put it in a pill form, we’d all feel great and I’d be rich.
You can find a video that I produced on this subject here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1tg_bjVIcI&t=8s
1. find out what your unique character strengths are with this unique, FREE, popular online assessment. https://www.viacharacter.org/
2. Read about “the Great unknown: 10 tips for dealing with the stress of uncertainty” at https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-uncertainty.
3. Also take a look at the “Guide to living with worry and anxiety amidst global uncertainty” available at https://www.psychologytools.com/articles/free-guide-to-living-with-worry-and-anxiety-amidst-global-uncertainty/ . It’s a workbook specifically written about coping with anxiety of the coronavirus and it is chock full of of coping strategies.