It is about the attitude you select to cope with hardship or critical life events
It is worthwhile quoting Albert Einstein “in the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity”. In other words, this underlines the idea that obstacles can offer challenges. Now returning to the everyday fears and anxieties expressed by many individuals across the globe, what contributions can psychology offer to cope more successfully with these toils?
One example, is Neenan’s work (2009) on resilience as a collection of flexible, cognitive, behavioural and emotional responses to acute or chronic adversities which can be unexpected or commonplace. Typically, it is about the attitude you select to cope with hardship or critical life events. He asserts that resilience is not a unique gift but a talent that can be learnt by everyone. It should be regarded as ‘coming back’, rather than bouncing back from adversity. Moreover, it is not just about dealing with misfortune; it is about pursuing fresh experiences and opportunities to learn and develop. It is about how to ‘interpret’ everyday situations. To a large degree it is about dealing with ‘negative emotions’ and being prepared to distinguish what is and what is not in one’s ‘control’. It is about learning from past experiences. Perhaps mental health professionals can teach these skills as a preventative measure for dealing with current or future global health problems of a similar nature to the corona-virus. Tam and El-Azar (2020) voiced a similar notion, “rapid spread of COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of building resilience to face various threats, from pandemic disease to extremist violence to climate insecurity, and even, yes, rapid technological change. The pandemic is also an opportunity to remind ourselves of the skills students need in this unpredictable world such as informed decision making, creative problem solving, and perhaps above all, adaptability.”
It has been argued that this highly ‘inconvenient viral guest’ has initiated a heightened awareness or attentiveness in all our lives. We have reached crossroads, a ‘wake-up call’. The trial provides an opportunity for self-reflection.Adopting a daily structure and patterns of activities is beneficial, perhaps writing down our goals and objectives for the day and thus making an inward commitment to doing them. There is more scope for reconnecting with old friends, colleagues and extended family members especially through the media of skype, video conferencing, telephone or even letter writing. Psychotherapists try and encourage their clients to learn to embrace and display an acceptance towards their emotions, whether negative or positive, not denying or supressing them; we can be encouraged to begin a journal expressing an uncensored list of our thoughts and emotions (Kirkcaldy, 2019).
Further examination of our inner monologues may reveal a propensity of catastrophic thoughts and ruminations or the ‘jumping to conclusions’ or a variety of cognitive distortions. Clearly, in this epoch on a pandemic, it cannot be the objective to adopt an attitude of ‘indifference’, rather a balanced mindset characterised by an ‘appropriate level of concern’ facilitating proactive strategies of cautious action. One way of doing this would involve searching for reliable and trustworthy sources of information e.g. Johns’ Hopkins Institute, World Health Organisation, or Robert Koch Institute, and perhaps limiting our exposure to the media to once daily 15 minutes, rather than a myriad of information channels frequently with contradictory findings and messages. Moreover optimistic note, getting into a habit of writing down three items daily for things we can be grateful for e.g. a well-developed health care system; access to an internet system of communication; supermarkets which remain open for us to purchase the necessary nutrients and drinks, and being able to communicate with close friends and neighbours, using alternative sources of conversation whilst maintaining the ‘physical distancing’ requested of us.
Finally let us end of a note recently so succinctly expressed by Victor Yalom (2020) “One thing this pandemic makes clear is that therapists do not live in a privileged world. We are in the exact same situation as our clients;fearful for ourselves, our loved ones, and the world at large. We are worried about our health, and our financial security, and are rocked by the unchartered waters we are collectively sailing through. We don’t know what tomorrow or the next day will bring, and this uncertainty is extremely unsettling.” And this shared experience may provide an opportunity to share and disclose our own vulnerabilities with our clients and foster a better understanding in accompanying them through this turbulent journey.
(Author is a Research Scholar, Jiwaji University Gwalior)