Taking steps from the anagram THRIVE can help us cope more effectively with difficult situations such as the lockdown, explains Dr Jolanta Burke, Department of Education
Living in this pandemic lockdown is difficult. Some of our lives have become more hectic, others lonely, not to mention the financial strain, helplessness, and worry that the pandemic triggered in many of us. We have no control over the number of cases and deaths reported in the news; we have no control over the vaccination programme implemented in Ireland, nor the decisions made by NPHET, and the government. However, there is one thing we can control during these testing times, and it is how we respond to the news.
Regardless of the external factors affecting us, our responses come with consequences ranging from feeling more upset, through to neutral, or better. Reminding ourselves of how uncomfortable, upsetting and undesirable the lockdown is, will often make us feel worse.
Trying to think of one day at the time may be useful when we experience severe anxiety and it can leave us feeling better. However, research shows us that introducing small intentional activities has a potential of further enhancing our wellbeing during the lockdown.
The evidence-informed anagram THRIVE can serve as a reminder of how to do it. Each letter stands for an action we can take, which according to psychological research helps us cope more effectively with difficult situations, such as the lockdown.
T – Tame anxious thoughts
H – Head outside
R – Relax
I – Initiate quality interaction
V – Veer towards others
E – Express gratitude
Tame anxious thoughts
There are several evidence-based activities that can be applied in order to help us tame our anxious thoughts about the pandemic, and its consequences. One such technique is Expressive Writing (Pennebaker, 2018). When feeling anxious, take a piece of paper and write down your deepest thoughts and feelings for 20 minutes. Do not worry about spelling, grammar or your handwriting, just pour out all your thoughts, regardless of how negative, incoherent, confusing they are, onto paper. If your anxiety continues, repeat this activity every day. Hopefully, it will make you feel better soon.
A positive twist on this activity, is the Best Possible Future Self writing (King, 2001), whereby instead of the deepest thoughts and feeling you are experiencing today, you focus on the future. Imagine we are post-pandemic and everything has worked out exactly as you hoped for, now write the details about your ideal future. If you are like the majority of people who completed these activities, your anxiety levels will reduce.
The difference between physical activity and exercise is that the latter is more structured. Engaging in a physical activity involves any form of moving our body, such as climbing the stairs, stretching, or taking a walk around the block. The benefits of physical activity are countless, for both our body and mind (Hefferon, 2013). To improve your mood during the pandemic, all you need to do is 20 minutes of vigorous activity. The boost you will get from it, can last many hours.
Finding time to relax is one of the most significant challenges for many during the pandemic. Yet, without winding down, high levels of our stress hormone may keep us awake at night. We can do it by turning off our phones for at least an hour before going to bed (Hughes and Burke, 2018), or turning off the wi-fi for a few hours. Having some screen-free time can help you relax.
Initiate quality interaction
Often, the best predictor of a good relationship is not necessarily how we cope with conflict situations, rather how we react to our partners’ good news (Gable and Reis, 2010). When they share positive news with us, dismissing it, searching for downsides, or reacting half-heartedly is bound to kill the conversation. In order to initiate quality interaction and keep it going, react enthusiastically to their good news, ask questions and celebrate their small daily accomplishments, regardless of how insignificant they may seem in the whole scheme of things.
Veer towards others
During the pandemic, most of us have received and offered more kindness than before. Veering towards others and extending our good will towards them will not only enhance their lives, but it can also boost our own wellbeing. This is why, deciding on what five acts of kindness you wish to bestow on the people around you, is yet another way, in which you can thrive during the lockdown.
Expressing gratitude, thanksgiving, searching for what went well in our lives is yet another evidence-based activity for enhancing our wellbeing. When we are having a bad day, reflecting on the good things that have happened, regardless how small they were, can help us perceive our lives from a more balanced perspective (Burke, 2021). To amplify its effect, we can carry it out in the company of our loved ones with whom we share our living space, or do it online with our family and friends who are just a click away. Sharing the good news from the day is bound to lift our spirits for a while.
In the times when our liberties have been drastically limited due to the invisible war we fight with the coronavirus, we continue to have choices. Choosing to THRIVE by engaging in one, or many of the intentional activities gives us a chance to enhance our wellbeing. Doing nothing, will change nothing. Which option you will take is up to you. The choice is always yours.
Jolanta Burke, PhD, is a chartered psychologist, assistant professor and researcher in the Department of Education at Maynooth University. She is an author of several books, her latest one is “The ultimate guide to implementing wellbeing programmes for school” published in 2021 by Routledge. For more information, please go to www.jolantaburke.com.