Secrets of those who have thrived through the pandemic

The ‘silver linings’ of life during a global pandemic have been anecdotally reported since the early stages of Covid-19.  When it comes to publishing facts and figures, the headlines have focused on the mental health fallout and stress-related challenges of life during these times.

Adversity put simply, is a ‘difficult or unpleasant situation’, and we have all been faced with adverse circumstances during the pandemic to varying degrees. The virus has challenged our capacity to respond to a crisis on a global scale, testing the resilience of individuals, economies, medical systems and society as a whole. Surviving adversity is about coping well, meeting basic needs and maintaining health – whereas thriving incorporates self-development, reflection and growth.

“In contrast to resilience which can be conceptualised as ‘bouncing back’ from a stressful event, post-traumatic growth has been described as bouncing-forward.”

– Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Otago, Wellington, New Zealand –

By learning from what science and research have revealed about those who have coped or, better still, thrived through the pandemic, we by no means discount the widespread loss of loved ones, businesses, and personal freedoms.  Assessing the positive consequences of the pandemic provides a valuable lens into positive psychology practices and effective strategies for overcoming adversity and growing from the experience.

What does the data say?

 Research by Waters et al., February 2021, highlights that many have experienced the pandemic as a source of growth.

The research looked at social connection during times of physical distancing, closed borders and lockdowns. Interestingly it was reported that young adults suffered the most in this area yet also recovered relatively quickly. These notable pockets of resilience were said to surprise even experts on life evaluations. The findings reported in the Lancet Commission Covid-19 Mental Health Taskforce show that despite early speculation in fears around an epidemic of loneliness, the results did not see the rise as expected. Despite an increase in anxiety and depression and a decline in positive emotions overall, life satisfaction remained relatively stable, as did feelings of social connection.

The research taken from 22 studies uncovered nine key areas that helped bolster, buffer and boost mental wellbeing through the pandemic.

The key strategies included finding meaning, coping, self-compassion, courage, gratitude, strengths, positive emotions, positive interpersonal processes and high-quality connections. The good news? All of these can be cultivated through practice and intention.

“Faced with uncertainty, it is common for people to seek positive solutions.”

– Soklaridis et al. (2020) –

Positive Psychology gives us interventions that help us enhance positive experiences and learn tools to help cope with adverse events and build flexibility to move fluidly through challenging emotions.

Our top ten Strategies to thrive in uncertain times

  1. Limit your news intake – Choose a reliable media source and set boundaries surrounding the amount of time you will spend on this each day or week
  2. Laugh often – Better still share the laughter. Research shows that sharing laughter with others increases feelings of connection and does wonders for your wellbeing. Explore new ways to have fun with loved ones via facetime, zoom or skype
  3. Practice random acts of kindness – Send gifts in the mail or surprise old friends with a hand-written letter. Kindness is an elevating emotion
  4. Introduce a gratitude practice – Finish each day by listing three things you are grateful for. Gratitude shines a light on the positive and shifts our perception. Gratitude is an essential element of human flourishing, critical to harmonious functioning (Henning et al., 2017)
  5. Reflect on Meaning – People who report higher levels of meaning in life are reported to be happier, express more frequent and strong positive emotions, endorse and use their character strengths more and have more satisfying relationships
  6. Play to your strengths – Research suggests that taking a strength-based approach may also build up a person’s capacity for learning how to generate positive experiences during adversity
  7. Be Courageous – Courage plays a unique role during a time of crisis. Consider where you can stretch yourself? Courage doesn’t mean you are not feeling anxious, worried or fearful; it means you consider the risks and push ahead towards your goals despite such emotions
  8. Practice Self Care – Self-compassion is a powerful way to cope with the curveballs life throws. Give yourself a break and treat yourself with the same kindness, care and compassion you would a good friend
  9. Practice Tolerance – Life is not always going to be easy. It is important to ‘get comfortable with uncomfortable emotions’ (Langley, 2018). Sit with your feelings and acknowledge them
  10. Brain and Body Basics – Don’t forget the power of eating well, regular exercise and quality sleep.

As cliché as it may be, the pandemic has provided an opportunity for many of us to slow down and take some time for self-reflection. This reappraisal has led to the conscious application of positive strategies into daily routines, and in turn, many have experienced growth. Finding a new perspective and placing value on what is truly important gives way for an enhanced sense of meaning. Through adversity, we discover what we are capable of.

“Adversity introduces man to himself”

 Albert Einstein

In unexpected ways the pandemic has provided opportunities for individuals to thrive and for our global society to make positive revelations. We have seen the movement of experts to the forefront of public debate, the environmental benefits of consuming and discarding less, Governments and organisations getting serious about wellbeing initiatives, and Nations developing new ways of working together. As the saying goes – we may not all be in the same boat, yet we are in the same storm, and as leaders, we have the choice to face this challenge together.

It has undoubtedly been a tough time for the world, yet this new wave of research shines a spotlight on the ingenious ways people have sought positive solutions in a pandemic. Their actions can be applied to how we tackle adversity in all parts of our life. As a collective, we can learn from the pandemic and convert the ‘silver linings’ into life-long lessons.

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