In a previous blog, I talked about how easy it is to get caught up in negative thinking in response to the current pandemic. After all, the number of infected people is rising exponentially, as is unemployment, and the economy is just barely chugging along. That doesn't mean, however, that things won't get better. If we allow ourselves to get carried away with negativity, it will be a harder battle to get back up on our feet again. I am all for caution…but caution is not synonymous with pessimism or fear.
Here are some more tips to help you reign in negative thoughts, and break patterns of rumination:
Learn to distinguish between healthy reflection and rumination. Healthy reflection is the process of trying to make sense of a problem - what went wrong, why, and how to deal with it. If, however, you find yourself continually and repeatedly thinking about a matter to the point where you are distracted from everyday life and/or losing sleep, you are engaging in rumination.
Rumination is commonly exacerbated by loneliness and solitude. Even if we are limited by the boundaries of social distancing, you can still make it a point to seek the company of others on the phone or online. Share your worries with someone you trust - talking things out can reduce your fear. That being said, don't make the current circumstances your only topic of conversation. Focusing disproportionately on negative issues can exacerbate rumination tendencies.
Engage in a temporary distraction to take you out of your head. This is not the same as denial; the goal of distraction is to provide temporary relief from chronic worrying. Start an activity that requires your full attention - a crossword puzzle, a jigsaw puzzle, an engaging movie, a comedy, etc.
Play the role of a therapist. This deceptively effective technique might seem a little quirky, but it does wonders if your anxiety is on a hair-trigger, or you find yourself stuck in a pattern of negativity and/or worry. Pretend you're in a therapy session. Sit on one end of the couch and talk about what's bothering you. When you're done, switch to the other end of the couch, and engage the role of a therapist. Challenge "the patient's" thinking, offer advice, counsel, console, etc. For example:
- "You mentioned that having to stay indoors during this pandemic is making you feel claustrophobic, and even a little agoraphobic. Have you considered spending time on the balcony, your front porch, or opening all of your windows to change the air and let the sun shine on your face?"
- "I understand that you feel like this pandemic will never end, but is that truly a realistic way of looking at the circumstances? Medical professionals believe that this will pass. What makes you so convinced that things won't get better?"
- "Here's my homework for you today: I want you to research two techniques that you can start using right now, to help you stay calm, and to curb the flow of negative thoughts."
Take on your fear like a boxer in the square table. Write down all your worries. Lay them out one after another, in a table like the one below, in the left column. Then put on your figurative boxing gloves, and go to battle against your negative thoughts. Jab each assumption with logic and facts. Give them an uppercut of proof. Come up with one solid argument after another, until your fear and worry are up against the ropes. (I will stop with the boxing analogies now). Essentially, the goal of this exercise, much like the one above, is to not allow your negative thoughts to float around in your head like a butterfly, and sting you like a bee (sorry, one more boxing analogy). Challenge negative thoughts, milk them for information, and then argue against their validity.
|The economy is going to collapse.
|The economy will struggle because businesses are closed, but it will recover. The world rebounded after the Great Depression, one of our worst financial struggles in history. It may take time, but we will bounce back.
|I will catch the virus. It's inevitable.
|That’s not true at all. I can take precautions to keep myself safe. It's what doctors have been reiterating over and over again on the news. Washing my hands and keeping a distance from people will work.
And check out the free Pandemic Resilience Test. It's got some great tips to boost your psychological hardiness in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Stay strong my friends. We will get through this.