10 well-founded Tips and Tricks to Cope with Bad Moods in Times of the Corona Crisis

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 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 consequence 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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).
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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

Mappalicious | Corona | PTG

What doesn´t Kill us Makes us Wiser: Psychological Growth in Times of the Corona Crisis

I haven´t posted anything new on Mappalicious for quite a while – but I think now is a good time to do so. Yesterday, I was interviewed live on German TV, talking about the short-term and long-term implications of the corona crisis for psychological well-being. While getting home from Cologne to my hometown on an almost empty fast train, I had some time to reflect on the last weeks – and what I´ve towitnessed either personally or via the media.

Covid–19 constitutes a world-wide health emergency and an ensuing threat to the global economy. While addressing the nation on national TV some days ago, Chancellor Merkel said the situation presents a challenge to my fellow Germans that can only be likened to the herculean efforts that were invested after the re-unification 1989/90 – or possibly even when trying to rebuild the nation after World War II.

Nico Rose | Psychologist | TVSome people will definitely feel it might be too early to even think about the possible positive consequences of this dreadful situation. Yet, I consider myself an eternal optimist, I just can´t help it. We have already seen multiple accounts of environmental upshots and “nature” reclaiming some of its proper territory as an outcome of billions of people shutting down travel and other human activities that cause pollution. But, being a psychologist, my thoughts center on the possible long-term upshots for the human condition.

Beyond Resilience and Bouncing Back

After finally getting home, I revisited some of my earlier writing on a phenomenon that, in my branch of psychology, goes by the name of Posttraumatic Growth (PTG). While much of the research on the consequences of traumatic life events focuses on negative outcomes and their mitigation (coping with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder; PTSD), by now there is a lot of research that hints at a path that, in the long run, is markedly different from just coping and eventually bouncing back. It is true that traumatic experiences can leave people shattered. But that is by far not the only possible trajectory.

A sizable body of extant research, initiated via seminal work by researchers Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence G. Calhoun, is able to demonstrate that, over time and under the right conditions (especially lots of social support), people may manage to reach a markedly higher level of psychological functioning compared to the time before the critical incident. In case it occurs, PTG tends to manifest itself via five pathways that can occur separately, in conjunction, or somewhat consecutively (not necessarily in the order given below):

Now, while the corona virus is still rampaging and will likely continue to do so for quite a while, I cannot help but notice the incipient signs of PTG – basically everywhere I look. It is utterly terrible that so many people are dying or losing their jobs right now. But that is only a part of what´s going on. Globally, people suddenly manage to cherish the “simple things” again: The fact that they themselves and their loved ones are still healthy. The safe space of their homes, and at best, gardens. The music. That sizable stockpile of toilet paper (but that´s another story…).

Traditional zero-sum games suddenly are turned into non-zero-sum games. On a global scale, individuals (and even lots of for-profit organizations, for that matter) start supporting, caring, and rooting for each other in unprecedented quantity and quality. They freely share their resources, their knowledge, and their time. We swiftly learn how to lead, learn, and love in new ways, a lot of them involving the smart use of digital technologies.

While oftentimes, many people feel helpless in times of crisis and wait for some kind of savior (in Germany, mostly in the form of “the government”), I see folks getting creative about their personal lives and their businesses, ramping up their sense of self-efficacy and ownership, developing a distinct can-do attitude. I could go on endlessly with these observations – but you get the picture.

Outlook: Has Hollywood told us the Truth all along?

Now and then, I feel we´re all turning to that part of the plot from cheesy disaster movies where people, towards the beginning of the third act, recognize a sense of urgency and unity. Suddenly, they bury the hatchet and finally start to cooperate in order to beat up alien arses. Just, in real life it´s not cheesy at all. It´s strikingly beautiful (e.g., watch the Spanish police force root for hospital staff in Madrid). In more places than not, the corona virus brings out the best in people.

While I´m an optimist and tend to (force myself to) look on the bright side, I don´t classify as a naïve ignoramus. I am fully aware that, in all likelihood, most people will revert to more self-serving behaviors when we´ve found a way to adequately deal with this pandemic (first and foremost, when a reliable vaccine has been created). A quick look at history suggests this is a sure bet. My hope is that more folks than not will not go back all the way.

Time and time again, psychological research has exposed the fact that creating significant and lasting changes in human behaviors (without an external crisis) is strikingly hard. It becomes all the more difficult when people imagine that change to be a black-or-white, all-or-nothing game. In this spirit, I remember learning from management professor and leadership luminary Kim Cameron at University of Michigan, shortly before Christmas 2017. He imbued us with the idea that changing a behavior to the extent of just one percent, but then sustaining that effort for 365 days, will make a difference that makes a difference – be in our personal lives or within organizations. Now, this is what I hope for, for myself and all of mankind:

Let´s make sure we all sustain at least one percent of what we´re all doing better right now – when all of this is through. Let´s sustain one percent for a year. And then another one. And another…


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: Hope picture

Positive Psychology News Digest | No. 18/2017

My favorite news and blog articles covering Positive Psychology and adjacent Topics from (roughly) the last seven days.

Positive Psychology News Digest

Inc: How to Gain Strength From Your Darkest Moments (Interview with Adam Grant) by Leigh Buchanan


Inc: Pay Attention to These Surprising 6 Red Flags to Burnout. You May Be Closer Than You Think by Laura Garnett


Psychology Today: Are We Evolved for Happiness? by Glenn Geher

Psychology Today: The Problem with Measuring Happiness by Todd Kashdan


Atlantic: Why Do Americans Smile So Much by Olga Khazan


The Age: Debate on future of work needs a Focus by Alex Lavelle


Atlantic: Play Power: How to Turn Around Our Creativity Crisis by Laura Sergeant Richardson


New York Magazine: Thinking of Your Job As a Calling Isn’t Always a Good Thing by Cari Romm


New York Magazine: To Get Better at Reading People’s Feelings, Pay Attention to Your Own Body by Cari Romm


Heleo: See More, Judge Less: A Mindful Approach to Success, no author

Positive Psychology News Digest | No. 16/2017

My favorite news and blog articles covering Positive Psychology and adjacent Topics from (roughly) the last seven days.

Positive Psychology News Digest

Quartz: The world’s largest assessment of teenage students suggests happiness is crucial to learning by Jenny Anderson


Greater Good Science Center: Confessions of a Bad Meditator by Christine Carter


Quartz: Silicon Valley executives are hiring philosophers to teach them to question everything by Michael Coren


Psychology Today: Are You the Pursuer or the Distancer in Your Relationship? by Lisa Firestone


Washington Post: Introverts tend to be better CEOs — and other surprising traits of top-performing executives by Jena McGregor


Huffington Post: You Don’t Need Good Grades To Get An A+ In Resilience by Bowman Nixon


Psychology Today: Why Speaking Less is the Secret to Powerful Communication by Emma Seppälä


Psychology Today: 7 Must-Read Books to Change Your Life This Summer by Emma Seppälä


Quartz: Our need to feel special is making us lonely by Emma Seppälä & Peter Sims


Quartz: What is the evolutionary purpose of happiness? by Oliver Staley


BBC: Prince William says keeping a stiff upper lip can damage health, no author

10 Keys to Happier Living [Infographic]

These are the the ten keys to happier living according to Action for Happiness, a UK-Based NGO backed by luminaries such as the Daila Lama and Sir Richard Layard –  focusing on disseminating knowledge on Positive Psychology to the general public and helping people to set up local meetings groups (among many other things). Please help to share the wisdom!

Action for Happiness 

On the Meaning of Meaning at Work: A Collection of Infographics

Over the last weeks, I invested a lot of hours in trying to better understand the antecedents of meaning and purpose at/in work. While doing so, I created a couple of info graphics that serve to explain different theories and outlines. I thought it would make sense to collect them all in one place to show point of convergence and divergence. Here you go…

CARMA_Work

Anatomy_Meaning_Work

IMG_9786

Three_Level_Meaning_StegerThe final graphic is not my creation – the picture is taken directly from the article listed in the respective headline.

Meaning at Work Grid

Share and enjoy!

3 Questions for Emma Seppälä, Author of “The Happiness Track”

Emma_SeppäläEmma Seppälä, Ph.D is Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and author of the recently published book The Happiness Track. She is a frequent contributor to Harvard Business ReviewPsychology TodayHuffington Post, and Scientific American Mind.

Emma, if you had to describe your book in a short analogy (“We’re the Uber for x…” or something like that): What would it be?

The hack for success without stress.

I’m a manager and reaaaaally busy. If I had time to read only one chapter: Which one would you recommend – and why?

Read the second chapter on how to build your resilience. We believe we need high levels of adrenaline to get things done – so we over-caffeinate, over-schedule ourselves, and wait until the last minute to get things done. The result is not productivity, it’s burnout which is why we’re seeing 50% burnout across industries, 80% of doctor’s visits due to stress, and 75% of the American workforce disengaged. You can’t talk yourself out of stress but there is something you can do at the physiological way that will help you manage your energy, be more productive and emotionally intelligent, and be resilient in the face of the pressure and demands coming your way – cultivating physiological resilience. 

In all these years of studying Positive Psychology: What is the one scientific finding that intrigued you the most?

The finding that has intrigued – and inspired – me the most is that the best kept secret to happiness is to give it away. By uplifting others, supporting them, helping them and living a more compassionate life, not only will you be making everyone else happier, you will be happier, healthier and live a longer life too. It’s win-win!

Thank you very much and best of luck with The Happiness Track!

33 ½ Science-backed Methods to Boost Your Mood and Be Happier | Part II

Want to lead a happier life in 2016 (and beyond)?

This list includes valuable tips, exercises and “hacks” to be happier and lead a more meaningful life. All of these recommendations are backed by psychological science. In case you are interested to learn more, I´ve included links to some research articles that have examined the corresponding topic. No. 12 – 22 are listed here, No. 23 – 33 ½ will be published soon. The pieces of advice are ordered (roughly) by difficulty/level of effort etc. Share and enjoy!

12) Sing when you´re winning

Just like dancing, singing seems to be a natural anti-depressant. Singing is enjoyable and a very healthy kind of physical activity. It doesn´t matter if you sing in the shower, the car, or for an audience. And it surely doesn’t matter if your singing is good or bad. An especially beneficial way seems to be joining a choir. In doing so, people additional profit from the social support such an environment entails.

13) Remember the good Times

Good things that have happened in the past can be a powerful mood (and meaning) booster for the present. It could be our fondest childhood memories, our wedding day, or that beautiful sunset from our last vacation: Actively remembering these events can turn today into a brighter day. Accordingly, it´s helpful to create what positive psychologists like to call a positive portfolio. This is a box or a folder (these days, probably a digital one) where you keep especially uplifting memories, such as the wedding video, the first photo of your kid, your favorite piece of music etc.

14) Buy that Concert Ticket, not the Dress

Conventional wisdom holds that money cannot buy happiness. And while the best things in life are really (more or less free), most things do cost some money. Now, a sizeable body of research shows that investing our money in experiences such as concerts and vacations will be more beneficial for our long-term happiness than buying “stuff”. First, those events are typically shared experiences, second they can be re-lived in memory (see No.13), and third, especially memorable experiences seem to become parts of our selves, an integral part of “our story” – whereas the “stuff” will mostly be gone at some point in the future.

15) Spend Money on thy Neighbor

If you´re neither into concerts nor vacations (see No. 14), and you don´t like to buy stuff, it could be a great idea to spend your dough on other people. There´s abundant empirical evidence for the notion that giving money to others (e.g., via charity) can be a veritable happiness booster. Some studies find that spending your bucks on others is much more beneficial for our emotional wellbeing than keeping it for ourselves. If you don´t know where to start: Mashable provides a great overview of online funding sites.

16) Practice realistic Optimism

Truth is: the world is a much better place than we think it is. Our senses and our brains are gauged to pay attention to and process negative information much more thoroughly than positive stimuli (see this post for more info). News editors are well aware of this fact and select their stories accordingly. When these two mechanisms join forces, our perspective on the state of the world can become pretty gloomy and depressive. At this point, it could be helpful to practice what Positive Psychologists like to call realistic optimism. It´s not based on seeing everything through rose-colored glasses, but rather on thorough investigation of facts and probabilities. A good way to start this is to learn how to fight off unwarranted negative thoughts. For information on how to do this, please visit this post on Positive Psychology News Daily.

17) Go with the Flow

Flow (as described by eminent Positive Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi) is a state in which a person is fully immersed in a feeling of focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of pursuing a specific activity. It´s a surefire way to satisfaction and personal growth. The experience of Flow is dependent on a set of internal and external conditions, among them, focusing on a single goal and shutting of any distractions (see Wikipedia for an overview). There´s a great article on Fast Company about companies that try to enable better conditions for Flow at work.

Nico - Fun18) Strong. Stronger. Signature Strengths

One of the hallmarks of Positive Psychology is a taxonomy of 24 character strengths. You can find out what your top attributes are (so-called signature strengths) for free when visiting the website of the VIA Institute on Character (mine are: curiosity, zest, and love of leaning). There, you´ll also find tons of information on how to use that knowledge in order to lead a more satisfying life. Generally speaking, the more we use our most pronounced strengths (e.g., in our occupation), the happier we are.

19) Be a Do-Gooder

Recommendation No. 15 already touched the beneficial effects of pro-social spending for our own happiness. The same can be said pertaining to pro-social behavior, e.g., volunteering and committing random acts of kindness. There seem to be positive short-term consequences for our mood (so-called helpers high) but also long-term effects. When we help others, our life becomes more meaningful – and that´s a source of happiness in its own right.

20) The Pen is mightier than your bad Moods

Writing is one of the most potent methods for “getting a grip” on life. It can help us to focus our attention on the goods things (see No. 11) or, alternatively, to come to terms with bad events, especially as a way of creating mental and emotional distance. If you´re not sure how to start, you’ll find advice in this article on Psychology Today.

Mika Samu21) Get a furry Companion

It has been shown that humans have lived together with domesticated animals for at least 500.000 years. Pets can be a valuable source of comfort, amusement, and distraction. As such, research shows that living with pets has several beneficial long-term effects for our psychological and physiological health, especially for children. Just a word of advice: Before you bring Lassie home, please make sure that you and your family are prepared and willing to take on the responsibility of owning a pet (hint: cats are much more low-maintenance than dogs).

22) Friends with Happiness Benefits

Typically, our social network (the non-virtual one, a.k.a. family and friends) is one of the most important sources of comfort and satisfaction in our lives. Now, the interesting thing is: almost everything can spread through these networks by means of social contagion. E.g., if of most of your friends are fitness freaks, your risk for obesity is considerably lower than when most of them are a little on the chubby side. The same goes for things like smoking, and even activities such as getting married. And this mechanism also holds true for emotions such as happiness (as well as depression). Bottom line: if your posse is a really cheerful bunch of people, this will positively influence your own emotional wellbeing in the long run (at least statistically). Conversely, this also means it could be beneficial to rid yourself of some “forms of energy” in your life.

Epictetus_Good_Company

Please note

Science shows that you do not have to practice all of these things (at once) to be happier. Rather, you should find out which of these activities best fit your personality and current way of life – so you´ll find it easy to sustain them. Please refer to: To each his own well-being boosting intervention: using preference to guide selection.