It is hard to believe that life has changed in such a dramatic way in just a few weeks. For many of us, we find ourselves faced with new challenges ranging from heightened anxiety due to worry and uncertainty, stress related to financial changes, and mood changes that may be related to isolation and changes to our social interaction patterns.
A psychologist and researcher, Dr. Martin Seligman, studied the effects of uncontrollable stress and wrote about a phenomenon he called “learned helplessness”. Essentially he discovered that when people endure uncontrollable events where we feel a loss of control, we can continue to behave in ways where we give up control after the stressful event is over. That is the pattern of thinking referred to as “learned helplessness”. We think that because we didn’t have control then, we won’t have control over future events. Yet this is incorrect.
Coping with a pandemic requires us to recognize that while there are some things we cannot control, there are still many things that we can control, such as following guidance from public health to use social distancing, washing our hands regularly with soap and finding ways to build a structure for each day as we remain at home.
In my sessions with clients, I have encouraged them to focus on what they can control and have challenged them to find interesting things to do while staying at home. It has been amazing for me to hear of all of the creative things that people are doing such as: finishing old projects around the home, learning a new skill, cooking from scratch, working on self-improvement and limiting the time listening to news about the pandemic. Getting updates once a day seems to be sufficient.
Of the opportunities for self-improvement and creating structure, I have recommended Dr. Seligman’s website about Positive Psychology that is entitled Authentic Happiness www.authentichappiness.com
For some time, following his early research with depression, Dr. Seligman became curious about what makes people feel happy and experience satisfaction and he has been part of a group of psychologists involved in the study of Positive Psychology. His website includes a number of resources and also inventories that you might find interesting to complete. The inventories are free. One that I have recommended to a number of my clients is VIA or Values in Action. Values reflect what matters most to us and in work, help us to understand the emotional currency in how we spend our time.
Reading about Positive Psychology is just the first step because it will take a plan to make some changes in your life. Fortunately a Yale University Professor, Laurie Santos is offering a free course entitled the Science of Well-being. This course allows you to set some personal goals for yourself with guidance to achieve them. I would recommend this course to anyone seeking to create some structure and achieve some meaningful goals during the time we are all self-isolating. https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being?
I am also aware that in addition to Coursera, there are many other sites that offer free or low cost learning opportunities on-line.
Taking a short course can provide not only structure to your life but also a sense of accomplishment. Taken together, this can help you to stay focused on your own control in the context of events that are not within our control.
The therapists at GPC are here to help you during this time of struggle by offering both phone and video therapy options. The team at GPC will be adding further blog entries in the near future as part of an ongoing series on coping with COVID-19.