By Sarah Lewis, C.Psychol., Appreciating Change
As the lockdown eases and more businesses including shops reopen some people feel that the dark cloud is lifting. However, the virus is still with us and this fact combined with keeping up with the ongoing uncertainty and changing rules means that many will still be feeling anxious.
To help ourselves what we can do is boost our resilience, finding ways to keep our spirits up.
Two principles are particularly useful. First, managing anxiety takes mental strength and energy, if we don’t actively recharge, we will become depleted. Secondly the state of our morale affects the state of our immune system (At this point I have to say this doesn’t mean that anyone who becomes ill wasn’t positive enough!). So, if we pro-actively attend to our morale, we are also pro-actively attending to our health.
Here are ten tips for managing anxiety and keeping your spirits up.
- Count your blessings
The new science of positive psychology has proved the benefits of the old adage 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, to find the silver linings, if you like.
For instance, perhaps you saw a report in the paper on the positive effect of the lockdown for wildlife. You can find lots of similar proven exercises in Vanessa Keys excellent book: 10 keys to happier living. Based on science, written for everyone, it is full of ideas for boosting your mood.
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.
A quick note on a form of humour that tends to arise during the most challenging of times, specifically ‘gallows’ humour. I worked as a social worker in child protection for many years. Gallows humour was crucial for getting us through the sadder and tougher times. It works to restore functionality quickly when a collapse into despair isn’t helpful, and it can be very effective. Laughter reduces threats to size. Be aware though, it doesn’t travel; it is very specific to the moment. Use with caution and only with those with a similar mordant sense of humour.
- Pro-actively managing your news feed and other anxiety amplifiers
We continue to be offered 24-hour, worldwide covid-19 updates. If you are finding this too much 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 resources with ideas about how to do this are ‘Happy Brain Science’s Happiness at Work’ game and ‘Positran’s Positive Action Cards’. Happiness at work contains over 100 science-based ideas for how to change mood or deal with some common work challenges such as ‘I work remotely, rarely seeing colleagues face to face’. While the positive action cards, also science-based, give easy to follow instructions for over sixty ways to increase your well-being.
- If you have to worry, 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. So, if you need to, spend a specified 15 or 30 minutes allowing yourself to name all your worries. Write them in a ‘dear diary’ if you like. Or arrange a strictly focused and time limited phone call with another ‘worrywart’. And when your time is up, it’s up. Stop, close that box and move on with your day knowing you have another half-hour of worry time allocated tomorrow. Allocating this time and allowing yourself a good worry, should reduce the likelihood of doing your worrying in the small wee hours, which is the worst possible time to do it.
- Get into flow and out of yourself
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. This is usually more effective than mindless TV watching (where half your brain is still ticking along thinking about it all). Sometimes it’s hard to get yourself over the initial hump into the activity, but once you’ve started to apply yourself, time falls away.
The book, ‘Positive Psychology at Work’ explains flow and other positive psychology concepts that might be useful right now. ‘Positive Organizational Development cards’ take twenty of the key positive psychology concepts, including flow, and give you questions to help you explore them and brief ideas for action. Or you can go straight to the master’s voice and get Csikszentmihalyi’s classic book, ‘Flow’.
- Eat well and exercise
Take time to eat healthily. Lots of fruit and vegetables are good for immune system. Exercise is very important to both mental and physical health. Put your face mask on and get out there and yomp somewhere green.
I started doing a morning workout with my almost daughter, through the wonders of the internet. She has Jo Wicks ‘Seven days of sweat’ (and I can tell you, she didn’t tell me it was called that before we started!) on the computer her end, then we link up over face time and she instructs me. It’s exhausting, I puff and sweat. It’s social time and I get a great feel-good buzz afterwards. The point is, I would never do it without her company.
- Phone a friend
Social contact is another thing that is very important to our wellbeing. We can now see more people than at the start of the lockdown but we still are limited in our face-to-face social contact. I am fortunate that I am marooned with dear beloved. I am resolved to talk on the phone to at least one person who isn’t my dear beloved every day. You might want to talk about the ongoing situation, that’s fine. However, I would suggest you also ask them about their plans for the day, what they are hoping to achieve during the week (especially if they are not working). Ideally you will both come away from the phone call feeling slightly better!
- Have longer-term projects on the go
‘Wise people’, someone once said ‘prepare for the worse while hoping for the best’. Once you’ve done what you can to prepare for the worse, then turn your energy to hoping for the best.
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. Apart from total house rearrangement, I’ve started a new tapestry kit. These take me years to complete. But every evening I can admire the couple of square inches I’ve completed and feel I’m making progress.
Positran do another great set of cards called ‘Positive Transformation Cards’. They are resilience building cards, full of uplifting quotes and insightful questions to help you boost your optimism, hopefulness, and self-confidence in a mindful way.
If you are feeling really stuck, and your thinking is just going round-and-round in circles then you may need to take 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 ideas that haven’t occurred to us, and for some this has been an option again but of course not for everyone. 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 who can help you, 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.
10) Practice Appreciative Living
This tip takes us almost full circle. Appreciative Living, which is based on Appreciative Inquiry, is all about seeing and seeking out the best of life. We can’t deny the reality of a worldwide threat to our whole way of life, but we can still appreciate the things that make life worth living, today. Developing an appreciative eye, especially in difficult times, 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.
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.
In conclusion, continue to take care of yourself – look after your mental and physical health as we go through the necessary stages of easing lockdown. 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. https://www.thepositivepsychologyshop.com/