While there’s little we can do to change the harsh realities of the pandemic, we can change the mindset we use to face them. By doing two things, we can improve our ability to cope with this situation, as well as with negativity and feelings of powerlessness in the future.
1. Channel your inner lawyer.
Pessimism generally distorts reality. Seligman and others recommend that pessimists combat their tendency to expect the worst by employing what they call a disputing technique—verbalizing the negative assumptions we are making about the future, and disputing them with realistic facts.
The other day I found myself darkly musing that I would likely never go back in person; that this would be my new normal, forever. This pessimism, fueled by news stories I’ve read with titles like “Will the Coronavirus Forever Alter the College Experience?,” is completely unwarranted in my school’s case. So I disputed it with the facts. We are, in fact, creating hybrid classes, and planning for an in-person future. There’s a good chance I’ll be back in the classroom within the next year. My odd work situation is tedious, but temporary...Most likely, your future is also brighter than what you may think at your darkest moments, so dispute your pessimism not with mindless optimism, but with facts. Build a solid case for something other than the worst-case scenario, and argue it to yourself like a lawyer.
2. Turn constraints into decisions.
...start an examination of every problem by listing the apparent limitations on your freedom, and instead of taking them as given, consider how you can change them...For example, in the case of the coronavirus lockdowns, the complaint about work I most often hear is that with the inability to work in a normal way, productivity is ruined...The answer is to change the definition of productivity...you might use this period to reset your definition of productivity. True, many aspects of many jobs have been made more difficult by the pandemic. But other parts of a truly productive life are begging for your attention. You can set goals for exercise, work on acquiring new skills, spend quality time with loved ones, or learn to tame your monkey mind in meditation. This is the sort of productivity that will reward you in the long run and can help you establish a healthier, happier equilibrium when the pandemic is over...the healthiest way to look at the pandemic—or any difficult period in our lives—is as an opportunity for improvement and personal growth, without pushing away the negative emotions that are a natural by-product of hard times. As we confront pessimism in the context of COVID-19, we will start to see and manage it more generally in our lives.