6 Strategies for Becoming a Better You in a Crisis

This crisis can help you grow as a person.

Posted Apr 13, 2020

Tom Baker, used with permission
Source: Tom Baker, used with permission

In my last post, I challenged the notion that the COVID-19 crisis (or any crisis, for that matter) is all bad. In fact, I argue that this crisis can actually be an opportunity to better yourself as a person and learn how to respond more positively and constructively to crises you will inevitably encounter in the future.

#1: Strengthen Your Resilience

Resilience has become a buzzword in our cultural vocabulary, yet its deep meaning and value to personal growth remains important and powerful. Resilience can be characterized as the capacity to cope effectively with setbacks, obstacles, failures, and disappointment. These days, most of us in the developed world don’t get the chance to be tested in ways that we’re being tested in the COVID-19 crisis. Like a muscle that isn’t strengthened, without these opportunities to experience life’s challenges, resilience can’t be exercised and made stronger.

Here are a few ways you can strengthen your resilience. Really understand what resilience means, its value, and what it is comprised of. View the crisis as a challenge to embrace rather than a threat to avoid. Recall past experiences in which you showed resilience. Emphasize your strengths. Focus on what you can control. Use tools to help you better manage the crisis (e.g., deep breathing, positive thinking, goal setting).

#2: Focus on What You Can Control

The COVID-19 crisis has shown us how something that is almost entirely out of our control can cause such disruption and distress in our lives. This loss of control is a major source of stress because we feel helpless to do anything about it. At the same time, one of the most potent antidotes to feeling out of control is to regain control as much as possible with the virus itself and in our lives in general.

There is actually quite a bit we can do to take control of exposure to COVID-19. We can follow the guidelines offered by the government and medical community including self-quarantining, social distancing, washing our hands regularly, and not touching our face with our hands. In doing so, we directly reduce the chances of contracting the virus and, as a result, feel less discomfort.

Separate from COVID-19, we can claim control of our lives by doing our schoolwork and job well, exercising, taking care of ourselves, helping others through the crisis, and many other things within our control.

#3: Master Your Stress

The COVID-19 crisis is stressful for everyone because of the huge disruption that it has produced in our lives. The stress is caused by the change in our daily routines, concern about the risks to our health, worry about the financial impact on our lives, and much more. What makes the stress worse is that there are fewer outlets for relieving stress such as going out to dinner with friends, seeing a movie, attending a concert, or even getting outside as much as we would like.

Stress takes an immediate and insidious toll on us physically and psychologically. It compromises your immune system, creates physical tension, triggers negative thinking, generates unpleasant emotions, causes doubt, worry, and fear, and encourages social isolation.

Yet, especially during these difficult times, it is essential for your physical and mental health and well-being to actively master your daily stress. Here are a few suggestions for how you can relieve your stress: exercise, meditate, do yoga, play games, watch TV or movies (but not too much), read a book, reach out to family and friends through Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom, eat well, get enough sleep, and do anything fun.

#4: Ignite Your Motivation

A natural reaction to threat mode and its mobilization of our defenses is to want to withdraw from the world, curl up in bed, watch movies, and eat ice cream all day (or some variation thereof). This response also adds insult to injury because not only are you suffering the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, but you also feel like a lazy schlub for doing nothing.

One of the best “medicines” for dealing with a crisis is to take action—any action. It can be related to school, work, hobbies, home, or helping others. Instead of hanging around feeling sorry for yourself, take action on a plan to make yourself a better person, colleague, spouse, parent, friend, what have you. Identify areas of your life that you want to change, set some change goals, make a plan to facilitate the change, and commit yourself to take action in pursuit of achieving your goals.

#5: Be Grateful

Because there is so much bad news these days related to COVID-19, it’s easy to forget that, in the big picture, there is much to appreciate in our lives. First, hopefully, you and your family and friends have been spared the coronavirus or, if you have contracted it, the symptoms are relatively minor. Second, all this time at home has provided the opportunity to get closer as a family. Third, the “Shelter in Place” that has been formally mandated by your city, county, or state or voluntarily embraced for the social good has allowed you to step away from the “rat race,” slow down a bit, create more time for yourself, and just simplify your life and that of your family.

A practice that we have instituted in our family is that, at dinner time, we each share one person, thing, or experience that we are grateful for and one good thing that has happened each day. Surprisingly, both myself, my wife, and my two daughters find plenty to feel gratitude for amid this major disruption in our lives.

#6: Seek Support

The natural tendency during a crisis to go into protective mode and isolate ourselves from the threats the crisis presents. Unfortunately, this strategy is the worst thing that we can do. When a crisis strikes, it’s important to seek out support from others (while, in the case of COVID-19, being sure to maintain appropriate ‘social distancing’ to help minimize the spread of the virus). The fact is that everyone is suffering in some way, everyone is stuck, and everyone is frustrated. As the saying goes, misery loves company.

Here are a few ways in which you can gain support to help you through the COVID-19 crisis. Seek out others (e.g., family, friends, classmates, work colleagues) with whom you can commiserate. Find people who are optimistic and forward-thinking rather than pessimistic and backward-thinking. Express your emotions to others and encourage them to be open about their feelings with you (letting emotions out reduces their power over you). Share ideas and strategies on how to respond constructively to this crisis. Help each other be distracted from the crisis. Do activities with others that generate emotions that are counter to the unpleasant emotions most commonly experienced in a crisis (e.g., watching videos, playing games, listening to music, dancing). Ordinarily, I would suggest that hugs and shoulders to cry on are great “medicine” in a crisis but be careful with whom you are in contact so you don’t inadvertently spread COVID-19 (maybe an encouraging smile or a wave).

By seeing the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to become a better you and, in doing so, better manage all of the challenges that it presents to you, you retake control of your life from the pandemic and you mitigate its impact on your life. In other words, though we are all victims of this crisis, you don’t allow it to victimize you. Rather, you accept that it is a part of your life (for the time being), but it doesn’t become life itself. By wresting control of your thinking, emotions, and behavior from the COVID-19 crisis, you are able to maintain some semblance of your life as you know it. You can continue to embrace your life and all that it has to offer outside of and within the confines imposed on you by the pandemic. In doing so, you not only become a better you, but you also will be better able to transition back to the “old normal” when this crisis passes.

Read Dr. Jim Taylor’s new book, How to Survive and Thrive When Bad Things Happen: 9 Steps to Cultivating an Opportunity Mindset in a Crisis or listen to his podcast, Crisis to Opportunity (or find it on Stitcher, Spotify, iTunes, or Google).