As the coronavirus threat and the lockdown conditions continue, many of us are feeling much more anxious than usual. It’s easy for this to become a downward cycle of worry, lethargy and depression. The threat is real, and we can’t make it go away. What we can do is boost our resilience, finding ways to keep our spirits up.
Here are some tips for managing anxiety and keeping morale up from Sarah Lewis, Principal Psychologist at Appreciating Change.
Count your blessings
The new science of positive psychology has proved the benefits of counting your blessings. There is an exercise known as the ‘three good things’. At the end of each day, identify three good things that have happened during the day. It’s good practice to write them down. Doing this regularly helps train your brain to look for the positives amongst the gloom and find the silver linings.
You can find lots of similar proven exercises in Vanessa Keys excellent book: 10 keys to happier living.
Pro-actively managing your news feed etc.
Following the news minute-by-minute is not likely to do you any good. You can’t influence things other than by taking the sensible precautions we’ve all been told about. So, take positive control and limit your daily diet. You might choose to read rather than watch the news. One benefit of this is that there is less ‘emotional contagion’ from the written word than from a person’s voice, so less transmission of anxiety.
What we want to do is replace anxiety with optimism. Two great science-based resources with ideas about how to do this are ‘Happy Brain Science’s Happiness at Work’ game and ‘Positran’s Positive Action Cards’ to help you improve your wellbeing.
If you need it, have a worry half-hour
Some of us are born worriers; suggestions of optimism only increase anxiety. If you are someone who finds worrying reassuring, try to limit it so it doesn’t become overwhelming. A time-honoured technique is ‘allowing’ yourself a specific allotted time to worry as much as you like. Make a diary entry and spend say, 20 minutes allowing yourself to name all business and personal worries. Record them in a journal if you like. Allocating this time, should reduce the likelihood of doing your waking to worry at 2am.
Get into flow
Just ‘not thinking about it’ is hard, we need to find things that take us out of ourselves. When we are completely absorbed in things we are in a state of ‘flow’ and when we are in this state, we are not focused on our feelings. It’s like getting a holiday from your worried self.
For me writing, gardening, and complicated cooking (or these days ‘creating from what we have got to hand’) all offer me productive escape time. Sometimes it’s hard to get going, but once you’ve started to apply yourself, time falls away as you get into a ‘flow state’.
The book, ‘Positive Psychology at Work’ explains flow and other positive psychology concepts that might be useful right now. You could also get Csikszentmihalyi’s classic book, ‘Flow’.
Keep exercising and eating well
Make sure you eat healthily. Lots of fruit and vegetables are good for immune system. Exercise is very important to both mental and physical health. You know the rules about keeping your distance. Put your face mask on and yomp for an hour somewhere green. Alternatively you could try the Joe Wicks ‘Seven days of sweat’ workout online. As the name suggests it is hard work but a lot of fun too.
Call a friend
Social contact also is very important to our wellbeing. I am fortunate to be marooned with dear beloved. Even so, I am resolved to talk on the phone to at least one person who isn’t him every day. You might want to talk about the situation, that’s fine. However, I suggest you also ask them about their plans for the day, what they are hoping to achieve during this period of lockdown. In other words, try to help them see a silver lining.
Starting projects suggests an optimism about the future that becomes self-reinforcing. Uncertainty can act to paralyse us. By pro-actively starting a project we can break out of that paralysis. The hardest part is getting started, but once you do it will draw you forward. I’ve started a new tapestry kit. Every evening I can admire the couple of square inches I’ve completed and feel I’m making progress.
If you are feeling really stuck you may need a more structured approach to pull yourself out of the mire. Usually we can rely on informal chats with colleagues to stimulate our thinking or for new ideas. Sometimes we just need to be asked a question that gives us a different take on the subject or causes us to make a new connection. You may already have a coach to help, but if not, people often self-coach. Self-coaching helps move you into a more productive self-talk, that allows you find unexpected ways forward.
‘At My Best’ offer an excellent selection of forty-eight coaching questions in their ‘Good Question Card’ pack. Alternatively, there is a set of six Coaching Cubes with thirty-six questions, based on the PRISM coaching model, that you roll like dice, introducing an element of randomness and chance into the questions you’re asked.
Appreciate what makes life worth living
We have almost come full circle. Appreciative Living, based on Appreciative Inquiry, is all about seeing and seeking out the best of life. Despite everything, we can still appreciate the things that make life worth living, today. Developing an appreciative eye takes practice and isn’t always easy, but the benefit to our health, well-being, state of mind and ability to remain pro-active in the face of threat, in fact to our resilience, is beyond question. Stay safe, and start living appreciatively at the same time.
Jackie Kelm is the guru of Appreciative Living, you can find her videos on YouTube and her latest book, Appreciative Living, on Amazon. Or try the Appreciative Inquiry card pack, with pictures, quotes and questions. Or you might find Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management by Lewis, Passmore and Cantore of interest for a more work orientated explanation.
Maintain your sense of humour
There is lots of evidence that laughing is good for us and for our immune system. Whatever rocks your funny bone. Remember, coronavirus may be no laughing matter, but we don’t have to be solemn to be serious. Laughing is a good coping mechanism. My favourite YouTube video, which seems particularly apt at this time, is Tripp and Tyler: A Conference Call in Real Life. It makes me laugh every time.
The key during these challenging times is to take care of yourself – look after your mental and physical health, and ensure your morale gets a boost every day.
About the author
Sarah Lewis C.Psychol., is the principal psychologist at Appreciating Change, a strengths-based psychological consultancy that is committed to applying well-researched positive psychology ideas and interventions to workplace challenges and opportunities at an individual, team or whole organization level.
Sarah is an associated fellow of the British Psychological Society, a principal member of the Association of Business Psychologists, and a member of the International Positive Psychology Association.
Sarah is an acknowledged Appreciative Inquiry and Positive Psychology expert, a regular conference presenter and author of ‘Positive Psychology at Work’ (Wiley), Positive Psychology and Change (Wiley), ‘Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management’ (KoganPage) and Positive Psychology in Business (Pavilion).
She also collects great positive psychology resources to support consultants, trainers and coaches in their work which are sold through the Positive Psychology online shop. www.thepositivepsychologyshop.com/