Most of us have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to some degree. This may be on mental, emotional, social, business-related and/or financial levels; it may be acknowledged or not. In many ways, the pandemic has shed light on what is not working too well in our world.
Depending on the coping strategies we have been using in response to this crisis, the pandemic is serving as a powerful catalyst both for societal transformation and new solutions to many pressing global challenges.
Both in my clinical work with patients, and in the general population, I have observed a variety of tendencies when it comes to the way people are coping during these uncertain times. These can be separated into four main categories:
1. Negative or destructive external expressions: This can involve constantly watching the news, reading about and disseminating information about negative developments, looking for hidden agendas and engaging in conspiracy theories. Furthermore, destructive outward tendencies can lead to people denying or ignoring the facts of the situation and consequentially taking risks, personal and collective, by not adhering to physical distancing or other preventative measures.
2. Positive or proactive external expressions: This can manifest itself in reaching out to provide help, comfort and support to family, friends, neighbours or strangers in different ways. Others have found time to learn a language or read the books they always wanted, or have found pleasure in home activities like playing games, cooking, baking and engaging in creative hobbies.
3. Negative or destructive internal expressions: This style of response is characterized by negative thinking. People worry about themselves or someone close to them getting sick, and form negative expectations about the future regarding their work, life in general, or the state of the world after the pandemic. Some seem to think that they are better prepared if they expect or prepare for worst-case scenarios, but this strategy is likely to create a spiral of negative thinking, avoidance, apathy and self-isolation, which can lead to increased feelings of anxiety, depression, hopelessness and loneliness.
4. Positive or proactive internal expressions: These people have responded to the crisis by contemplating their personal lives and the state of the world, their true values and what changes they could make to live more in-line with them, and how they can contribute to the changes they would like to see in the world. Other examples involve practising mindfulness and meditation techniques; trying to be more present in their everyday life and to accept the present moment as it is, and becoming more appreciative of the things they take for granted in their lives. Such coping strategies can help create a greater sense of meaningfulness and faith in their own capabilities of managing the situation.
Some people express combinations of these coping styles, while others appear less affected by focusing on making their daily routines as normal as possible.