Surviving & Thriving in These Challenging Times
The world is facing an unprecedented challenge as it deals with the new Coronavirus and governments take extreme lengths to attempt to limit its spread within their populations. Everyone in society is feeling the impact of both the virus and these measures. The feeling of uncertainty, lack of control and relentless media coverage is creating a sense of overwhelm, anxiety and fear.
I know from my work within the international school community that this is being further compounded not just by school closures, exam cancellations and the transition to online learning, but by the fact that many people are isolated a long way from home and their family networks. Commonly shared concerns about child-care, family health, jobs and financial security simply add layers of complexity that conspire to undermine further the wellbeing of parents, children, teachers, support staff and school leaders.
It is, of course, essential to keep perspective. I have seen some truly inspiring examples of creativity, innovation, resilience, mental toughness, caring and commitment demonstrated by schools and parents over recent weeks as they try and embrace virtual learning and keep their students and children engaged and happy.
But let’s not sugar-coat this situation because I also know from many conversations that home-learning and isolation is extremely hard work for everyone involved. Sustaining it as the Coronavirus reaches its peak and the impact we experience beyond is going to be tough and will require a lot of energy, goodwill and perseverance.
However, being realistic and pragmatic about the challenge we all face doesn’t mean that we should not focus on what is within our control and generate more positivity. ‘Negative’ emotions such as fear, anger and anxiety are completely normal and do have an important role to play in helping us to survive difficult times and focus on the actions needed to keep us safe. But ‘positive’ emotions such as Gratitude; Hope; Pride; Curiosity; Inspiration; Flow; Joy; Awe; Serenity; Amusement; Love can help us to thrive even at times when we are at our most stretched, challenged and outside of our normal comfort zones.
Research tells us that these positive emotions do two important things. Firstly they BROADEN our perspective and capacity to learn, innovate, find solutions and see the bigger picture. Secondly, they BUILD our psychological, emotional, social and physical resources (including our immune systems) so we have more resilience and mental toughness to get us through the tough times. Fundamentally they make us stronger.
A great way to generate more positivity at home at this time is through the ‘5 Ways to Wellbeing’. These were identified through the UK Government’s Foresight Project on Mental Capital & Well-being in partnership with the New Economics Foundation (NEF), by looking at research and hard evidence from 400 scientists from all over the world. The idea was to find five evidence-based activities you can do daily to support your wellbeing and resilience. A bit like eating five portions of fruit or veg each day!
Over the last ten years or so I have introduced the 5 Ways to Wellbeing to many international schools and executive coaching clients with whom I have worked, and I know the value and positive impact they can bring regardless of the context.
Check out below which of the ‘5 Ways’ you are already practising and which you might do more of individually, as a family or as an online community.
Engage with people around you in positive ways! Think about the way you interact with family, friends, colleagues and your online community and make efforts to increase the amount of positivity in those relationships to make them stronger. Be present with each other. Step in to forgive, mediate, heal conflict. Find ways to laugh and actively look for the good and the strengths in the people around you.
If you are a ‘Positive Energiser’ who uplifts and energises others don’t forget to seek out those who uplift and energise you too! Sometimes as we support others in distress, it can be draining particularly if we are over-empathic and ‘feel their pain’. Try to be compassionate instead – be kind, be there, try to understand and show you care. Then find someone to engage with who peps you up!
On that note, it’s also vital to connect positively with YOURSELF! As parents, educators, school leaders and students we can often be our own worst critics – however hard we try we are not good enough! Try switching off that critical voice and practice self-compassion. Be kind to yourself, recognise we are all struggling and be mindful of the present moment. Here’s a guided exercise to help you. https://www.positivityresonance.com/meditations.html
2. Be Active
Keep your body moving! Exercise, despite the discomfort and sometimes pain, makes you feel good and increases energy and vitality. Do something you enjoy that’s right for you, but do it every day and keep the body and mind fit! Lots of free virtual support in this space right now, you don’t need me to guide you to that, but make sure you are doing something ideally together!
3. Take Notice
This is all about appreciating what is around you! It is normal when we are fearful and stressed to resist the moment. ‘I don’t want to be here. I want to be somewhere better, safer, different’. Try ‘Savouring the Moment’– the tastes, smells, sights, sounds and sensations. Enjoy the coffee, time with family, walks in the park or garden if you can get outside. Generating an ‘Attitude of Gratitude’ is also a powerful way to create more positive emotion. No-one is saying we should be grateful for Coronavirus or for our job or income being at risk. But we can shift our perspective to focus and share on some good things that have happened or are still happening in our lives. Lastly practising ‘Mindfulness’ has been proven to enhance wellbeing and resilience and reduce pain and stress.
Headspace and Smiling Mind are two evidence-based, simple to use mindfulness apps that are available free for adults and young people. Both have recently adapted their programs to support people through COVID-19 isolation. Check out www.headspace.com www.smilingmind.com.au
4. Keep Learning
While we have this downtime, it is an opportunity to learn new things or develop new interests. This hard when we are stressed so some of the other ways to wellbeing might be better to try first. Remember, you are more open to learning when you feel more positive.
But another approach here is to learn more about yourselves – reflect on your values and motivators, identify your strengths and how you might use them to navigate through these challenging times. Check out the free Values in Action Character Strengths Survey at www.viacharacter.org and learn out your top 5 ‘Signature Strengths’. Do a strengths spot with your family members and guess each others top strengths and tell them why!
Help each other to reflect on how they have used their top strengths in the past and to find new ways to use them. Research has shown that when parents learn to see and build their own strengths and then help their children to do the same this enhances family wellbeing, engagement, achievement, satisfaction with life and buffers against anxiety, stress and depression. Check out www.strengthswitch.com
This is an important time to think of the bigger picture. Finding ways to give something back and help others big or small scale. There are so many inspiring stories out there of people individually and collectively giving gifts of time, doing acts of kindness and getting meaningful enjoyment and satisfaction from helping others. What’s happening in your community?
Of course, each of the 5 Ways to Well-being can relate to and interact with each other. The key is to reflect on what we might already be doing and where we might focus on doing more. And of course, we don’t just draw on wellbeing at difficult times, and these are great ideas for the good times too!
This all may sound like common sense. However, we also know that common sense principles are not always commonly applied! We also know that levels of worry, stress, fear and anxiety are genuine for very many people right now.
So if you are being pro-active about protecting your wellbeing that is fantastic, continue to be mindful of how you sustain it over the long term and help others to do the same. If you know there is more you can do I hope that this article gives you some pointers and tools to use, alongside the support your schools will be no doubt be offering. And remember your school staff need to be looking after their wellbeing too.
I hope that we can both survive this current challenge and also find ways to thrive in adversity and bounce-back even stronger when the time comes! Keep safe and well.
Clive Leach M.Org.Coaching
Clive is an organisational coach who works widely within international schools. He also works in both the corporate and public sectors on individual coaching and group workshop programs. His work focuses on enhancing wellbeing and mental toughness to support engagement and performance. For more information visit: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cliveleachconsultancy/
5 Ways to wellbeing on display at Taipei European School, Taiwan.
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