During challenging times, we may not be able to control our circumstances but we can control our response. So how can we best respond and make the most of the situation we find ourselves in during Lockdown and beyond?
- Define your new normal. With uncertainty comes change, for better and for worse. To help claw back some control, try writing down the positive changes you'd like to make once this period has passed. Perhaps you've cherished eating meals or playing board games with your family or going for regular walks around your neighbourhood. Resolving to make those activities part of your ‘new normal’ from now on is a positive way to embrace and accept change.
- Accept all your feelings. We needn't deny difficulty. It's healthy to feel all the feelings we're experiencing. Sadness, frustration, anger and fear are just as valid as happiness and joy and expressing our feelings is an important coping mechanism, as long as we don’t get stuck in our sadness. Having a good cry is cathartic and reduces levels of cortisol (the stress chemical) in our body.
- Make deposits into your positivity ‘account’. There is good reason why psychologists suggest we do what we can to maximise our positivity. When we experience positive emotions, our cognitive abilities are improved and we think clearer, making us more open to solutions to our problems. Positive emotions include love, awe and gratitude, so watching the sunset, reminiscing about fun times or snuggling up at home to watch a movie deposit good feelings into our positivity bank accounts. What’s more, positive emotions act as a buffer, so the more we experience them over time, the more we can draw on them during tougher times, such as now. So topping up our reserve banks with positive emotions helps us process adversities and figure out ways to move past them.
- Learn to breathe. This may sound silly given we all breathe to live. But there are ways of breathing which take us from our default fight or flight response to a calmer rest and digest response. For example, if you’re feeling anxious, try exhaling for twice as long as you inhale: so inhale for four, exhale for eight, inhale for three, exhale for six.
- Be of service. Of all the positive psychology interventions recommended by psychologists to have the most impact on boosting wellbeing, kindness and gratitude top the list, providing kind people with what’s called ‘giver’s glow’. So consider how you can be kind to others during these times – from volunteering, donating and raising funds to delivering shopping and sewing face masks.
- Write thank you letters. Jotting notes or typing messages to people you are thankful for to tell them why you are grateful for them will not only make you feel better, it'll make the recipient feel better too and is a great way to deepen important connections whilst we're apart. Let people know how much you appreciate them.
- Practice gratitude. Rather than focusing on all we've lost and can no longer do, we can focus on all we still have and can still do - such as quality time with loved ones, the chance to slow down, noticing parts of our neighbourhood we’ve never noticed before, the simple routine of our morning cup of tea, that book we’ve finally got round to reading or that task we’ve finally got round to doing. It can feel hard to feel grateful when people are dying, when we’re worried about income, relatives and our future, so another way to practice gratitude is via what gratitude expert, Robert Emmons calls 'Gratitude Forecasting'. This involves thinking about how grateful you'll feel when you regain some of simple pleasures you're currently deprived of and using your imagination to feel gratitude for experiencing them again.
Research into Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) reveals that after enduring adversity, we often appreciate life more and take things for granted less. We notice and feel gratitude for things and experiences and people that we had previously been complacent about. Consequently, we cherish moments and milestones more.
That’s something to look forward to and feel grateful about. In the future we’ll take a lot less for granted than we did before.