The pandemic triggered by the current corona virus poses a variety of challenges for people in Germany and worldwide. In addition to the immediate risk of severe physical illness (that, fortunately, currently affects only a tiny fraction of all people), it is becoming increasingly clear the economic consequences will be harsh. In Germany, some industries (e.g., airlines and the event and travel industry) have already called for financial support from the government. However, the most immediate impact is felt in our many SMEs and with self-employed people from the arts, the culture and education scene.
These threats are real and, understandably, cause a lot of anxiety and tension with many people. Those emotional states will most likely be reinforced over the coming weeks by the different measures to slow down the spread of the virus (physical distancing; #StayAtHome). Germany has been on a (soft) lock-down now for almost two weeks. Our regular social and professional life has by and large come to a standstill. Many people spend most of their time at home alone, or with the few same people.
At worst, this voluntary isolation (which is felt by many to be involuntary) can aggravate existing psychological distress. On a yearly basis, eight percent of the German population experience a full-blown depressive episode anyway. About a quarter shows depressive symptoms over the course of a year (singular signs of impairment that belong to the corresponding diagnostic scheme; without being diagnosed with a “full depression”). The corona crisis could further exacerbate these numbers.
Optimism is not an end in itself
Unfortunately, anxiety and tension, as well as the feeling of loneliness, have negative consequences that come in addition to the immediate psychological suffering. At least in the long run and in “high doses”, they have shown to be associated with a weakening of the immune system and higher susceptibility to inflammation.
Conversely, we would all be wise not to lose our nerves (and our humor) right now. To put it in a more positive way: These days, an upbeat spirit, hope, self-efficacy and optimism are not ends in themselves, but may be vital for our wellbeing, and even: survival.
Therefore, I have listed ten specific behaviors below that can help you to strengthen your psychological constitution and to “get your act together” when needed. Please note: You don’t have to implement all of those suggestions. I´ve incorporated approaches for different mindsets and physical capacities. If you like, pick two or three that best suit you and your current situation.
By the way, it is by no means selfish to take good care of yourself in particularly trying times (practicing self-care), even when others need it at least as much. We cannot fill other peoples´ cups when our own vessel is empty. There is a reason why you´re being asked to put on your own oxygen mask first in case of a loss of cabin pressure when boarding an airplane.
Ten Ways to Strengthen your Mental Health
- Practice WWW (What Went Well): Despite the current restrictions and the constant flow of worrying news, every now and then, try to focus on those aspects of your current situation that are pleasant and desirable. Our brains are geared towards paying more attention to negative information anyway – and even more so under stress. But we can actively counteract this negativity bias. Allow yourself to focus your attention on things that calm you down, still give you pleasure, etc.
- Have a look at photo albums (whether in print or digital) of happy times in your life (vacations, celebrations, etc.). It turns out that when we revisit these memories, the positive feelings we experienced in the original situation are (partly) “uploaded” again. This can help alleviate sadness and tension.
- Create a positive playlist with songs that make you feel good. For example, there already are many mood-based compilations on Spotify. However, it is even better if you create them yourself. The more tailored to your taste, the better.
- Speaking of music: Dance! At home, nobody is watching you anyway. It has been shown that cutting the rug can have a mood-enhancing effect.
- Still go outside as much as possible: Go for a walk, preferably in green surroundings (parks, forest edges, etc.) – preferably around lunchtime. Physical exercise, sunlight and contact with nature can lighten up our mood. But be sure to keep the necessary distance from other People.
- If you normally go to the gym: We can very well stay fit without equipment, it doesn’t need more than our bodyweight. In case you don’t know what to do yet: YouTube and Instagram are your friend.
- Whenever possible, help neighbors in need (in an appropriate and safe manner). In doing so, not only do you provide immediate support and strengthen social bonding – you also do something good for yourself. Research results indicate that we will be rewarded with feelings of happiness if we help other people in a meaningful way (so-called Helper’s High).
- If you can’t help directly but have surplus money: Donate some of that. Charitable organizations are grateful for every cent, now more than ever. If you would like to help in a more direct and tangible way: Think about becoming a micro-patron by supporting musicians and artists on platforms such as Patreon.
- Write a letter/mail of appreciation to someone who deserves it. The world is full of small and big heroes at the moment (actually: always). This activity can also help to strengthen your own disposition.
- If you find yourself sad or irritable: Pick up a pen and some paper and write a few lines about how you are feeling. Please mind: This not about perfect wording and phrasing – just do it. Research suggests that regular writing can help us deal with negative emotions.
Bonus – but I´m sure you have figured this out yourself: Keep in touch with relatives and friends via phone or video-chat. Currently, older people in particular have to self-isolate because they are especially vulnerable in case they catch the virus. My mom, at over almost 75, has recently learned to use a messenger app. We have family chats, send each other updates, pictures and video messages.
When things get worse, please seek help from a professional
Please note: I don’t want to convey the impression that the above-mentioned tips and tricks are a panacea. They are not – and cannot replace professional treatment by a doctor or a psychotherapist. In case you have symptoms (checklist) that hint at the presence of a depressive episode for longer than a couple of days, please contact your family doctor or a psychotherapist, no matter what. Further helpful information such as several helplines can be found here.
Nonetheless, those ten behaviors can help you stay upbeat and optimistic in the face of the current crisis. The ability to proactively regulate our own feelings can give help us to summon the stamina and resilience we all desperately need at the moment.
Prof. Dr. Nico Rose is a German organizational psychologist. He currently teaches at International School of Management (ISM), Dortmund, Germany. From 2010 – 2018, he worked for Bertelsmann, Europe´s premier media company, most recently as VP Employer Branding & Talent Acquisition.
Credit: angry picture