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

With this Calendar, you´ll start 2018 just right | Action for Happiness

I´m a big fan of the non-profit Action for Happiness and have written on their work multiple times in the past. Today, I´d like to share with you another of their awesome tools, helping to bring Positive Psychology to the general public. Enjoy!

Happiness_Calendar

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.

The 7 Habits of Highly Obnoxious Self-Help Articles

Double Face-PalmIn the light of recent events, here´s my list of the seven habits of highly obnoxious self-help articles:

1) Know-what: They tell you what to do instead of how to achieve it.

That’s basically useless. People typically know what´s “good and right”.

2) Scienciness: They tell you that “science says ” (or “research says”) XYZ without further explanation or linking to the original sources.

I mean, seriously? Go and do your homework!

3) Sloppiness: They use vacuous stock photos.

That´s not a crime, but as a matter of fact, inconsiderate. If I see one more article on Positive Psychology adorned with a smiley, I´ll go bonkers (…yet I plead guilty to having done that in the past).

4) One-track mind: They claim to make you “successful” – equating success with money.

Life is complex and colorful – and success comes in all shapes and sizes. Cash is only a small part of the equation.

5) Lectio interruptus: They tell you part of the story but then require you to download/buy XYZ to get the whole picture.

Hey, if you mojo is really worth it, I´m more than happy to buy your book. But don´t force me to.

6) Megalomania: They tell you that “after reading this all your problems (in the area of XYZ…) are solved forever”.

Duh…

7) Simpleness: They tell you that whatever they propose is “easy”.

Adding two and two is easy. But life mostly is not, at least not those things in life that are worth striving for. Get used to it…

This is the Good Life now: Writing about Positive Psychology on the first Day of Spring

I just wanted to share this beautiful photo with you. While I write these words, I´m sitting in front of my favorite café in my German hometown, I have a day off – and was asked to write an article on Positive Psychology for the premier HR and Coaching practitioner magazine. It´s the first day of 2014 that really feels like spring – no need to wear a jacket in the early afternoon sun. And, very appropriately, iPod shuffle mode chose to play me the song you´ll find below the picture…

Coffee in the Sun

The Good Life – Farmer Boys

All you do
All you’ve been through
Has put you where you are today

All you do
Is a photograph of you
Now do you like what’s in the picture?

The time is now
There’s no time for waiting around
You get one shot, don’t run for cover
Until it’s over

This is the good life now
This is the high life now
I can see with my own eyes
That it’s a good, good life

The things you say
Day after day
Make all the difference in the world

The things you hate
Might never go away
But they can’t win if you don’t let them

The time is now
There’s no time for hanging around
This your chance, take it with no doubt
And don’t let go, now

This is the good life now
This is the high life now
I can see with my own eyes
That it’s a good, good life