Let me begin with a question: In what way, shape, or form could the COVID-19 crisis be seen as a personal growth opportunity? At first blush, you would probably say, “Absolutely no way!” The current pandemic has created crises of health and financial markets that are disrupting the lives of almost everyone on our planet. People the world over are getting sick and dying, global economies are facing a recession, and the financial futures of many people are at risk.
COVID-19 has taken a world that, for most of us, was safe, secure, and known and has caused us to have to confront a world that is ever-changing, unfamiliar, unpredictable, uncertain, ambiguous, uncomfortable, and uncontrollable. It elicits in us a wide range of unpleasant emotions including fear, worry, doubt, frustration, and anger. COVID-19 unsettles our confidence in ourselves, our communities, our governments, and the many institutions that we have taken for granted and relied on in the past. COVID-19 tests our resolve, resilience, and ability to deal with a deluge of daily bad news we read about and listen to every day, both locally and globally. You add up all of these above hardships and challenges and you get a unique “perfect storm” of a crisis.
So, how can I say that the COVID-19 crisis can be used as a way to grow as a person? Let me explain.
At the heart of the COVID-19 crisis is adversity, admittedly many multiples more severe and challenging that most adversity that we face in our normal daily lives. And therein lies an incredible opportunity for us to use the current crisis to grow as people.
Before I dive deeper into this rather contrarian notion, I want to acknowledge that using the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity for personal growth is, in many ways, a luxury that many people don’t have available to them. For example, the elderly, the infirm, and the immunocompromised are faced with a crisis that is truly life threatening. And for those who lose their jobs and are unable to support their families, the crisis will be catastrophic. This article isn’t intended to minimize the seriousness of the consequences many people will face.
Given my view that the COVID-19 crisis is an extreme form of adversity that all of us are confronted with to varying degrees, it’s not the objective reality of the adversity that matters. Instead, what matters is how we interpret and respond to the difficulties and challenges that we face. And it is our attitude toward and response to the COVID-19 crisis that can either make or break our experience of it. Gosh, if we can respond positively to this current emergency, the “crises” that we face as part of our normal daily lives should be a walk in the park.
So, what lessons can you learn from the COVID-19 crisis that will help you grow as a person and serve you well when you are confronted with future crises in your life?
#1: Allow Yourself to Feel Bad
The emotions we are all experiencing in response to the COVID-19 crisis are the most powerful and immediate discomfort we feel in reaction to this destabilizing situation. Sadness, disappointment, grief, devastation, despair, stress, anxiety, helplessness, hopelessness, frustration, and anger are just a few of the emotions we feel in response to this unprecedented disruption of our lives. I have heard from many people of the many tears that have been shed in reaction to this near-apocalyptic crisis that has been imposed on us.
A few thoughts on how to react if you are feeling any or all of the above emotions. First, allow yourself to feel bad. Don’t try to assuage, placate, or distract yourself from your feelings. A part of having a healthy emotional life involves being able to fully experience all emotions (you can’t cherry pick the feel-good ones). Also, don’t try to minimize (“Oh, it’s not a big deal”), rationalize, or place blame for the COVID-19 crisis; it is a very big deal and it can’t be made smaller than it is, explained away, or blamed on anyone. Rather than resisting negative emotions, be kind and empathetic to yourself and others; listen to and reflect back the feelings that are there. Also, allow yourself to go through the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance).
#2: Put the Crisis in Perspective
When a crisis strikes, your entire focus is instinctively drawn to the immediacy of its impact on you. That reaction has been hard wired into we humans through millions of years of evolution. Unfortunately, as is often the case, what worked well for humans on the Serengeti 250,000 years ago, doesn’t work as well with modern-day crises.
This sharp narrowing of focus also distorts the perspective we have about the COVID-19 crisis. It causes us to see our world narrowly and only in the present and the immediate future. This short-term perspective can cause us to see the crisis as much larger than it really is (naturally, when you look at something close up, it appears much bigger than if viewed from a distance). And this enormity can turn the volume up on how we think and feel about and react to the impact of COVID-19 on our lives.
One of the most powerful things we can do in our current situation is to place the current crisis in a broader perspective that, while not intending to trivialize it in any way, can at least blunt the sledgehammer force it might otherwise exert on our lives. This perspective is wider and longer than the perspective that many of us typically hold, and it puts the crisis in a context that is easier for us to wrap our arms around and that will soften the emotional impact.
Here are a few suggestions to help you put the COVID-19 crisis in a more manageable perspective (that can also help you gain perspective in your general life and with future crises). 1. Acknowledge, rather than devalue, the short-term and narrow perspective that might be your first reaction (it is natural and should be recognized and respected).
2. Think long-term; it is a big deal now, but life will very likely return to normal in the near future and the crisis won’t seem so big or overwhelming then.
3. Think big picture; COVID-19 is a big part of our lives, but it is not life itself. There are likely many things in our lives that are good.
4. Actively identify both long-term and big-picture examples that force you to lift your gaze off of the immediate crisis and causes you to look around and into the distance of your life.
#3: Embrace the Adversity
Whether we like it or not, the COVID-19 crisis is here for a while. However much as we may “rage against the machine,” we have little control over it or its resolution. And though we may mitigate the health risks of the virus in the near future, its financial implications may last for years. So, what matters is how we choose to respond to it.
We have three options. We can love it. But, let’s be realistic, there’s nothing to love about our current situation. We can hate it. But that will simply add salt to the wound, making our experience of what is already disruptive and unsettling even more unpleasant.
The final, and most realistic, option is to actually embrace the COVID-19 crisis as something that we can turn into a positive experience (at least to some degree). By embracing the COVID-19 crisis, you choose to not become a victim of it. In doing so, you take the “fork in the road” that will feel much better and also create some benefits out of this decidedly unnerving situation; in other words, turn lemons into lemonade.
#4: See the Crisis as a Challenge to Overcome
One of the most difficult aspects of the current crisis is that, because it is truly a danger to many of us, in terms of both our health and our wealth, it triggers our primitive survival instinct and its related fight-or-flight reaction. In other words, we go into threat mode in which the aforementioned primordial instincts cause us to protect ourselves. The problem, as I noted above, is that primitive reactions won’t help us much today. We can’t fight the “beast” because it is ethereal. And we can’t flee from it either because there is nowhere to hide (except perhaps in our own homes, and we can’t stay there indefinitely). This real threat to our survival hopefully motivates us to take steps to mitigate the risks to our lives — for example, self-quarantining, washing our hands, and maintaining social distancing. At the same time, our survival instinct can also prevent us from gaining the benefits that COVID-19 is offering.
So, in addition to responding appropriately to the threat of COVID-19, I encourage you to also see it as a challenge to be faced head-on and in the most positive way possible. Along with embracing adversity, viewing COVID-19 as a challenge reorients your thinking, emotions, and actions in a more constructive direction, which will make your journey through the crisis a bit more palatable and perhaps even leave you better off after the crisis recedes than you were before.
#5: See the Crisis as an Opportunity
As President John F. Kennedy noted, “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger–but recognize the opportunity.” Whether a crisis is viewed as, well, a crisis, or an opportunity depends on whether the focus is on what is lost or what can be gained. Our capacity to respond positively to this crisis will be dictated by whether we can let go of the costs and focus on the potential benefits of the crisis.
Here are a few ways you can reorient your thinking about the COVID-19 crisis toward being an opportunity. As long as the crisis lasts, you can adjust your life goals to work within its state of “new normal.” You can see the loss of “regular life” as a chance to focus on other aspects of your life that have been neglected because you’ve been too busy to address them. You can identify areas you want to work on or improve in your life and focus on developing those areas. You can use this break from “normal life” to seek balance in your life and pursue aspects of your life that you didn’t have time for before the crisis (e.g., enjoy a hobby that has been neglected, try something new and different, exercise more). You can see your response to the crisis as an opportunity to become more positive, adaptable, and resilient which will serve you well when the current crisis passes. You can create new structure and routines in your life around school, work, daily activities, and social life. Finally, and most importantly, you can take action. When you don’t succumb to a victim mentality, you decrease your feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and increase your sense of competence, feelings of control, and optimism.
#6: Have a Positive Attitude
When bad things such as the COVID-19 crisis happen, it’s easy to have a pity party (“Woe is me!”) and dwell on everything that is now missing in our lives or that we have lost (in some cases, for good). But getting pulled to the “dark side” simply adds insult (you feel terrible) to the injury that has already been caused (e.g., disruption of life, health problems, financial strain).
By embracing the recommendations I offer about the COVID-19 crisis, it lays the foundation for hope, optimism, and a positive attitude and approach to it that will help you weather the storm from which there is little protection or escape.
#7: Generate Positive Emotions
One of the best protections against being overwhelmed by the negativity caused by the COVID-19 crisis is to actively generate positive emotions in your life. Let’s be honest. It’s difficult to find positive emotions in the miasma of pessimism that the COVID-19 crisis can produce in us. Yet, there are many to be had if you just look closely enough. In your family, with your friends, in your commitment to your schoolwork and career, and continuing your efforts to be the best person you can, despite this substantial interruption, all are ripe for harvesting good feelings that you can use to counteract the bad feelings that you are vulnerable to every day of this crisis.
I encourage you to seek out love, caring, and empathy from your family and friends. Find fun, joy, excitement, and contentment in your daily activities. And, finally, experience inspiration as in your efforts and pride in your progress and accomplishments as you continue to strive toward your life goals.
In my next article, I’ll share with you six more strategies you can leverage to use the COVID-19 crisis as a growth opportunity.
Want to learn more about how to respond to the COVID-19 crisis in healthy and constructive ways? Read Dr. Jim Taylor’s new book, How to Survive and Thrive When Bad Things Happen: 9 Steps to Cultivating an Opportunity Mindset in a Crisis, or listen to his podcast, Crisis to Opportunity (or find it on Stitcher, Spotify, iTunes, or Google).
Featured image: Shutterstock
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