These are tough times but we can emerge stronger than before.

| Dr Ilse Ruane

The current situation in which we find ourselves, with Covid-19, can be taxing on us as people. These are tough times but we can emerge stronger than before should we actively work towards achieving that. I have been asked by several clients over the lockdown weeks what are some of the things I have observed from this challenging time.  

1. Mindset: stay positive

As cliqued as it sounds a positive mindset is a small but important part in getting through these difficult times. When life takes a turn for the worst, we can do one of two things. We can remain positive and remind ourselves that this will pass and that we will make it through, or we can curl up and become a victim of circumstance and context. When we stay positive, we are putting ourselves in the best possible position to make it through the challenging times as well as become a better person in the process as we grow. 

It is okay to have down days.  Life is not perfect, but it definitely is good.  Our goal should not be to create a perfect life, but to live the best imperfect life we can.  To get up every morning and take a good look around in a way that takes nothing for granted.  Practice positivity and gratitude. 

2. Gratitude 

Gratitude means showing appreciation for all the good in life, instead of focusing on the negative. Get clear about what it is that you are grateful for. What are all the things you are grateful for? We tend to be focusing on all that we have lost at the moment. Let us turn that idea on it’s head and start focusing on what have we gained in this experience. When we focus on being grateful for what is going well and what is good, the problematic context does not go away, but it becomes less significant and recedes into the background. 

3. Change and action

Currently there is not much we can change practically about the situation with lockdowns and levels of confusion. Choices are limited but we do have the choice of how we want to respond. There are days when we can actively work to make the situation better. Often the solution is not in plain sight, because if it were we would have already found it. But if we can take a step back and see the bigger picture, we may discover something that can help. By stepping back we gain perspective and can look at our experiences and memorable moments despite these difficult times. By staying grounded in our beliefs and value systems which provide the backbone to our life stories, we enable ourselves to seek out evidence that promotes the preferred stories we want to live. 

It remains pointless to learn from the difficult times if what we learned does not directly affect our actions. We need to take action. Do not stay stuck. Immobility is a breeding ground for all sorts of additional issues and problems. So make a list, make some phone calls, research something you were also interested in.  Taking action is empowering. Take action, any form of action whether big or small. 

4. Focus on what you can control, not what you cannot

Some situations are beyond our control like the infection rate and the political confusion and no matter what we do, we cannot change that. We are setting ourselves up for frustration when we focus our time and energy on things we cannot control. We are also making the situation seem worse perhaps than it actually is because we are focusing on the negatives. We should instead focus on the things that are within our control because that is where the power is. Make a list of everything you can control about the situation and divert all of your focus towards those things. Anything that is not on the list, does not get any focused attention.

5. Growth through experience

People develop slowly over the course of time. Sometimes we get so focused on the road ahead, that we never look back to see what we have already travelled. Let us pause for a moment and think back to the 27 March 2020, day 1 of lockdown…. What has happened in your life between then and now. Again focus on the positive things that have occurred. Perhaps it is more family meals together, perhaps you have learned that your child is really good at technology or perhaps you have done some research into the behaviour of the new Fish Eagle in phase 3. 

Experience builds strength and character. Life is not lived in some distant land of someday where everything is perfect.  It is lived here and now.  Yes, by all means we can work toward a better tomorrow.  Yet to do so, we must successfully navigate the world as it is today. Our happiness depends on our self-reliance, our willingness to take responsibility for our lives, regardless of who or what had a hand in making it the way it is now.  It is about taking control of our present circumstances and making a firm choice to choose differently.  It is about having a proactive mindset to life, not a victim mentality.

The challenge is to stop all the focus going towards feeding a Covid narrative at the expense of alternative narratives and stories of resilience. Currently life is challenging in terms of the practicalities that we are experiencing. But life is also very interesting at the moment. Depending on how we choose to look at life, we might be pleasantly surprised. We need to try stop expecting things to be a certain way, we need to try appreciate them for what they are.  

6. Build your community

When times are tough, having the right people around is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves. We want to surround ourselves with people who are loving, caring, honest, and available. We need them to be loving because love makes the bad days seem better. Caring because it helps to know someone cares.  Honest and available because we need someone who can look us in the eye tell us truth. Their honesty may be that one piece of information you need to get through the tough time because their perspective differs from ours. They provide a fresh set of eyes to the challenge. So build your community from people who share the mindset of changing and adapting to the current situation. Grow together and challenge the old ways of doing things.

7. Be kind to yourself

Prioritizing self-care is a necessity to survive any tough situation. The famous adage “you can’t pour from an empty cup” rings true. While you might not have time for your usual healthy habits or might not have the motivation at the moment, you can still take good care of yourself. For instance, if you cannot prepare a nutritious meal, try order a healthier takeaway option. If you cannot go to the gym because they are still prohibited, go for a walk.

Avoiding negative emotions may feel like an effective measure, but in fact it simply postpones, and perhaps increases, negative emotions going forward. You might worry that your emotions will be too overwhelming. Try gain a bit of perspective before jumping into the worst case scenario. If you need help, ask for it. Do not wait until you feel completely at a loss.  If you find yourself in a cycle where the emotions are too much, contact a professional psychologist for assistance. 

8. Adapt and change

Our ability to cope relies in part on our ability to make adaptive changes in response to what has happened to us. There may be new ways to approach life, decisions to be made and changes to embrace. If we can respond actively rather than passively, we may be able to prevent secondary problems. Sometimes adapting to a major upheaval requires being willing to engage in problem-solving and try new things. Adapting can be difficult. People tend to resist change, especially when they feel vulnerable or threatened. But adapting is a liberating process. Remain open to recreating life going forward. The more we adapt to our situation, the more effectively we will be able to cope with it and move forward.

In closing

It is easier getting through a difficult time when we know the chances of it happening again are small. Currently, we are rather confused as to what is happening, and whether life with Covid-19 will continue into 2021. However, we can still practice acceptance in terms of letting go of what we cannot control. By focusing less on the things we cannot control, we start worrying less about these, then clarity comes with regards to things within our control. I am advocating that we call an end to the crisis reaction to everything. When we allow crisis reactions to define our lives and mindsets, we burn out, we become anxious and depressed, we have less energy and less focus to find solutions. Calling an end to the crisis reaction helps us shift into a calmer and more solution oriented mindset.