Death from Covid 19, isn’t my worry. Being a policeman for 29 years, I have seen it closely, many times. But what troubles me is the anxiety and panic that you, my friends, are facing. Being a practitioner of positive psychology, I want to lessen your stress, share your fear, and suggest some positive interventions which may help you to turn your crisis of seclusion and perhaps death into a rare opportunity to live a full life.
In my professional career, I cribbed that I didn’t have enough time to follow what I loved. Maybe, you also wanted to spend more quality time with your parents, wife and children, but in chasing the illusions of career success, you couldn’t. Similarly, perhaps like me, you also wished to reread your favorite books, listen to your teenage songs and watch movies that ignited your high school fantasies, but you couldn’t. I guess, at some point, you also shunned junk food, became super regular with your physical fitness regimen, meditated daily, decluttered your room and life, and practiced gratitude but couldn’t turn them into super firm habits. Perhaps, you blamed it on the scarcity of time and accepted whatever shit seemed urgent. You yearned for solitude, but you only got obstructions and obtrusions.
Now, Covid-19 has compelled me to sit home and follow social distancing. I am living a relatively lonely life. But it has given me the luxury of hindsight, and therefore, I am making a choice that I won’t allow my loneliness to make me sad and depressed, and I would use it as an opportunity to live a full life.
Research by psychologists Bowling, Edelmann, Leaver & Hoekel, demonstrates that loneliness increases the risk of psychological problems, physical impairment, and low life satisfaction. Therefore, I have decided not to fall prey to the dangers of isolation but create new plans and turn my loneliness into an opportunity for social strengthening, family bonding, physical fitness and fulfill my spiritual needs.
Self-regulation and changing your habits
The Research by psychologists Bumeister, Gailliot, DeWall, and Oaten says that self-regulation, like a muscle, can be built and strengthened by doing something again and again. However, the type and nature of the exercise would differ from domain to domain, depending on which kind of self-regulation you want to build and strengthen. But whatever you repeatedly do in any area would improve your self-regulation and help in habit formation.
So you can apply self-regulation to what you need to learn and enjoy — cut down the trans fats of the big cheeseburger which you can’t resist, reduce your alcohol intake, pray regularly, or strengthen your daily fitness routine. Now, you can create nudges and build your self-regulation. So you should not hoard food that you want to get rid of, instead, stockpile tasty and healthy stuff.
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Just Move — any form of exercise
Whether you are fitness enthusiasts or not, you need to move while you are in Social Distancing or Self-Quarantine. Move means any kind of exercise — from merely moving around in your room or house to yoga, stretching, treadmill, cycling, cross trainer, or doing free weights. Whatever you like and whatever you can do in the cozy comfort of your room or house, you must do to enhance your personal and family’s well being.
Harvard professor John Ratey and Hagerman say that exercise generates endorphins that calm the mind. In other words, physical activities evoke positive emotions in your mood, lessens your anxiety, anger, depression, and neuroticism.
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Movies, Videos, and Books
This is an excellent time to see your favorite movies, videos, television, or streaming programs. However, the choice is the key here. You should not waste your time watching or reading any random film or book. You should see your old favorite movies and read your chosen books which you have forgotten over the years. It would not just bring back beautiful memories but also strengthen the lessons you had drawn but overlooked in the daily hustle-bustle of life.
But watch a new movie or read a new book, if your friend recommends it. Before you start watching a new movie or book, spend 10 minutes going through its reviews. Pick it if you are sure of its worth.
And if you aren’t a movie or book buff, you should try reading your high school stories or poems. It would take you to the beautiful memories associated with your school, classmates, and teachers.
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Emotional intelligence is your capacity to reason about your emotions and use them to assist in reasoning. Thus, emotional intelligence helps to identify your feelings, others’ emotions, and understand them. Accordingly, you can adapt your behavior, create empathic connections with your acquaintances, friends, family, and make better decisions.
But what’s the easy way to do it?
Journaling your thoughts and emotions on a simple piece of paper is a powerful way to understand your and others’ feelings. In different words, journaling helps you to introspect and thus make you emotionally intelligent.
So in this free time at home, you should take a pen and paper and write your blessings of the last year. Surprisingly, your count of blessings would be much higher than you had anticipated. Similarly, think and write about what good happened during the day? What went wrong, and why? What lessons could you draw from the good and bad happenings of the day? Just write it.
Writing a journal is a great way to examine your behavior — why you behave in a particular manner? Last week, when you got irritated with a junior and scolded him unfairly, could you have done better? Similarly, last month, when your friend called, you didn’t take his call, why did you do that? Or when you sent a congratulatory message to a friend, and he gave an unenthusiastic reply — ‘thx.’ How did you feel about it? Just think and write. Get your emotions out, understand your feelings, and watch your behavior and actions by writing on a small piece of paper.
Psychologists Baumeister & Leary emphasize that human beings need to belong and have close and long term social relationships. So you need social bonds in committed relationships to experience wellbeing. Keep your phones, tabs, laptops, and desktops ready to fight seclusion. Make sure; they will function without any hindrance for the next three months. They would help you connect with your friends, relatives, and acquaintances and enhance your bonds and relationships. You should use this precious time to play some simple games like cards and carom etc. in the cozy comfort of your home. You would not just relive your childhood memories but would find a new love for your loved ones.
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Share Enthusiastically and Compliment Generously
Maybe in the hustle-bustle of daily life, you forgot to send a congratulatory message to a close friend on his promotion, birthday, or wedding anniversary? Perhaps, you forgot to send condolences to an office colleague who lost her father last month. This is the time to think about what you missed? Draft a beautiful message and just send it.
Similarly, now, it’s time to share your positive events with your friends and family. The research by Shelly & Gosnell demonstrates that disclosing positive events and having good responders benefit both the individual and the relationship. If you did not share your recent success or happiness with your friends, this is the right opportunity to do it. From here, you may move forward to create high-quality connections with your acquaintances and intense love bonds with your close friends and family.
Similarly, if anyone shares her positive news, you should respond enthusiastically and say — ‘Wow, it is great news/achievement; tell me more about this. How did you do this? It’s wonderful.’ Your enthusiastic response will enhance your relationship with the sharer.
Maybe you are not a great fan of making video calls, because you love your privacy. But with video chat, you can show gestures, and see your friends’ emotions. Therefore, now, you should chat face to face and enhance your wellbeing.
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Reflect through Meditation & Mindfulness
You wanted but somehow could never find time to observe mindfulness or meditation. This is the right time to do it. With mindfulness, you stay in the present and watch your thoughts, feelings, and actions. The practice of mindfulness also initiates self-dialogue. You talk to yourselves and pay attention to what you consider the most important. According to Dr. Smalley, Professor at UCLA, mindfulness enhances your cognitive ability, and thus, you develop the capacity to think and respond to a situation in a better way. Said differently, mindfulness enables you to discipline your thoughts and saves you from being prejudiced or biased. And when you do get prejudiced, you realize it. Thus, you become more open, kind, compassionate, and empathic for yourself and others.
Start with the drawer of your bedside table; declutter it! You should throw what you don’t need and arrange and what is chaotic. Take this exercise to your tables, cupboards, rooms, and the entire house. You can extend decluttering to your smartphone, tab, laptop, and desktop to remove useless apps, files, downloads, and software. Decluttering not just makes your place look neat, tidy, and orderly; it also soothes your mind and gives a feeling of accomplishment.
Make a checklist
A checklist or a to-do-list is an ideal tool to remember what you need to do. You can make this list the way you want it. You may arrange priority items on the top of the list and lower ones near the bottom. In a nutshell, you can design your checklist as you want it.
It is not necessary to make a time based — a daily or weekly checklist. It could be a functional checklist — about all the essential items of a domain that you need to finish in the next couple of weeks or months. You may also write your monthly or yearly goals in it. Your goals may relate to different domains of your life -- personal, physical fitness, food habits, professional achievements, etc.
Atul Gawande, in his book The Checklist Manifesto, says that it’s not the errors of ignorance — mistakes you make because you don’t know enough, but the errors of ineptitude — mistakes you make because you don’t make proper use of what you know. A checklist saves you from making mistakes of what you know.
Making a checklist declutters your mind, and you get over the worry of forgetting an important task. Your brain gets at rest and calms down. If you have never made a checklist in your life, make a humble beginning — make a packing list for your next travel plan. You would realize that making a checklist is easy, and it gives enormous benefits also. So make today’s checklist and make it every day.
Learn to Work Remotely
You can work remotely; it is an excellent opportunity to learn to work from your home. You may be under confident in working remotely merely because you have never done it before. But it is damn easy. Just learn how to operate various apps that help in video conferencing and writing or editing a document collectively. You can also do — video conferencing and drafting or editing a report at the same time in a group.
According to William James, an American philosopher, and psychologist, your emotions only manifest your temperament and physical conditions, which are temporary. Your actions are more important than your feelings and thoughts. With the help of your self-discipline, you can avoid the impulse of your feelings, control your actions, and finally change your beliefs.
Death is just a thought; working for your safety and wellbeing is an action. Your actions are more important than your thoughts and emotions as your actions have the power to turn your anxiety and panic into hope and strength. So act now to achieve excellence, exhilaration, and exuberance.
(The author is a senior IPS officer and a practitioner of positive psychology)