In Search of the Silver Lining of COVID-19
Is it too soon to look for the silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic?
Posted March 27, 2020 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
We are in the midst of a global paradigm shift, as the impact and status of the COVID-19 virus evolves daily. As the world faces uncertainty, fear and anxiety are heightened and may impact mental health.
As providers of mental health services, people look to us to support the development of cognitive and emotional skills, to cope with life’s challenges, to learn communication tools, and to discover deeper purpose and connection. This unforeseen and currently uncontrollable pandemic is an opportunity to shine a spotlight on our collective resilience. The Chinese word for crisis, 危机, is composed of two characters signifying "danger" and "opportunity." Let’s search for the opportunity, the silver lining, and open ourselves up to the potential for global post-traumatic growth.
While the reality of the deadly and widespread coronavirus is hitting home for most of us, this particular post will be a brief refuge from that tragic news. The intention of this post is to offer a shift of perspective on the collective experience. Some people will thrive in the midst of this pandemic. Let's walk through three simple concepts to energize your home-stay attitude and to boost your mental and emotional immunity.
What is being called forward from us as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
1. Community: Even though we cannot hug our friends and hold hands in solidarity at this time, we are all in this together. Social distancing and self-quarantine have become common language since COVID-19 does not discriminate. Unity, collaboration, and harmony are being called forward in the hopes of birthing a successful global response. On a macro global level, we must act as one.
On a micro level, children are out of school, families bound to their homes, and some people suddenly out of work, which creates an increasing need to structure and balance our time. We are being called to connect to our communities with phone and video calls, live stream events, virtual playdates, and virtual learning platforms. Many 12-step meetings and treatment centers have gone virtual, yoga and fitness instructors are offering live classes, spiritual leaders are streaming services, friends are meeting for virtual happy hour, virtual dance parties are sprouting up, and many therapists, coaches, and dietitians have moved their services to a telehealth platform.
Our paradigm of social interaction is transforming rapidly before our eyes. How well we create and stay connected to a community will be a major factor in our personal resilience equation. Could we come out of the other end of this with deepened relationships and enhanced communication?
2. Grounding: When collective energy becomes chaotic, we need to work harder to set boundaries, both internal filters and external boundaries to support grounding and inner peace. Helpful boundaries may include limiting news and social media consumption or asking family and friends to limit anxiety-producing conversations about the virus or economic recession. Without a strong foundation and self-care practice, we can become off-balance and vulnerable to underlying anxiety and depression.
Staying grounded in difficult times doesn’t mean that you’re not afraid or don’t have feelings. It is very important, especially now, to have a safe place and a safe person/people, with whom to process fear and other difficult emotions. Remaining grounded requires experiencing your feelings but not getting swept away with the current. Breathing exercises, DBT mindfulness skills, yoga, guided meditations, hot baths, and co-regulating with loved ones are all great for activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which decreases anxiety and enhances our body’s ability to rest, digest, and heal. Balance and self-care will, in turn, promote strong immune function. A second silver could possibly be a more grounded global community and individuals who have emerged with a deeper connection to their core values.
3. Resilience: Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty or challenge. While we cannot avoid adversity, we can practice bouncing back from it and letting it positively shape our character. COVID-19 has personally invited each of us to strengthen our resilience muscles.
While most of us have experienced a slowing down of our schedules, we are being called to assess our individual situations and to creatively pivot. Employment, financial status, health, housing, and education have shifted for many, and life as we knew it a month ago, won't be the same. My prediction is that those who hold on to what was will suffer the most and those who listen to the call of what is to come will thrive.
Since many people will be forced to find new jobs, the job market will be uncertain and the other side of that coin is space for new companies to be birthed. The last U.S. recession in 2008-2010 brought about companies like Uber, Airbnb, Square, and Vemno. Our ability to engage a community and to creatively pivot will build resilience as our life structures change.
Take note that while we seek refuge in our homes to contain the spread of COVID-19, our planet's parasympathetic nervous system is experiencing a much needed period of rest, digest, and heal. In a matter of months, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have fallen across continents. We have been talking about and praying for a solution to global climate change for a long time, with action feeling futile. What can we learn from this pandemic in relation to a deepened relationship with our home?
There is no doubt in my mind, we will come out of this pandemic a stronger, more resilient country and global community. In addition to being connected, grounded, and resilient, the research on post-traumatic growth, PTG would suggest that we have the potential to grow beyond our pre-pandemic level of functioning. As we individually and collectively rise and rebuild, we may just uncover these gifts of post-traumatic growth:
- Centering of priorities
- Clarified core values
- Stronger connections with friends and loved ones
- Deeper connectedness to purpose
- A more grounded global community
- Appreciation of life
I'm curious. How are you staying connected to your community? What uplifting conversations are you having? What is your greatest opportunity for a creative pivot? What is your silver lining?
Feel free to write and let me know how it is going for you.
5 tips to protect your psychological well-being during COVID-19:
- Conscious consumption of news and social media.
- Self-care: Eat and sleep well to boost the immune system, integrate exercise and take vitamins, hot baths, as well as what you need for mental and emotional self-care.
- Sleep hygiene practices: Seven to eight solid hours, if possible, guided relaxations, calming teas, no electronics in bed rule.
- Uplifting conversations: I challenge us to show up for one another and to stimulate conversations that create hope and calm fears.
- Create community. Reach out to someone, throw a virtual dance party, watch a movie virtually with a friend, start a virtual interest group, check in on a neighbor, sing from your porch or balcony, take a virtual yoga or special interest class.
Calhoun, L., & Tedeschi, R. (2014). Handbook of Post Traumatic Growth: Research and Practice. New York, NY: Psychology Press.