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Five ways to flourish during challenging times

Burnout, stress, anxiety, non-stop worrying: If you’ve been experiencing these symptoms, you are not alone.

We have been living with the COVID-19 pandemic for half a year now, and research shows the ongoing stress is hurting our mental and emotional health. Whether we are worrying about contracting the virus ourselves or spreading it to a loved one, suffering in social isolation, trying to balance work and home life or fearing the unknown, stress is triggering mental health issues and unhealthy coping behaviors. There’s a flip side, though: Challenging times can help us appreciate our strengths and reassess priorities.

Positive psychology — the scientific study of what makes life worth living — focuses on identifying and building on our strengths. Psychologist Martin Seligman, credited as the founder of positive psychology, identifies five areas of focus: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and achievement. Here are ways you can build on each of these areas.

COPE with COVID-19

Remember that these are difficult times and be kind to yourself. When the pandemic started, I developed this acronym with strategies to help people cope with COVID-19:

Control the things that you can, not the things you can't
Open up and share your feelings
Practice daily stress reduction tactics, including physical activity
Engage in mindfulness; be here now; worry will not help!

Count your blessings daily
Overturn negative thoughts to positive
Volunteer to help others
Identify helpful supports and resources
Do your part to prevent spread of the virus

Positive emotions

You can drive this area of your life and feel positive emotions more often than you might realize. Focus on what brings you joy. Practice gratitude daily by naming two or three people for whom you are grateful to lift your mood and decrease your stress. Then dwell on the positive feelings that gratitude brings. Reflect on what is going well in your life and how you contributed to it. Spend time with those for whom you care, and play — yes, grownups — with your children, pets or friends. Exercise boosts happiness, as does participation in activities and hobbies you enjoy. The key component to all of these is consciously making time for them.

Engagement

Allow yourself to become completely absorbed in the moment, doing something you love. Now is a great time to reconsider your interests and passions — and to take on a project or hobby that lets you exercise them. Mindfulness techniques such as meditation, yoga and Tai Chi also can help you ground yourself in the present moment. Take time to savor the beauty of nature, a piece of music or artwork that moves you. Slow down and savor some moments throughout the day.

Relationships

What are you doing to nurture relationships that bring you joy? Do not take relationships for granted: Develop and sustain them, and they will strengthen and grow. Reach out to a family member or good friend you haven’t been in touch with in a while. Ask a work acquaintance to meet you for a video lunch and chat. The more positive relationships you have in your life, the more sources of positive reinforcement you have.

Meaning

Identify your purpose and passion in life. When you are aligned with your dreams, you have the most energy. If you could have any dream that you could accomplish in the next five years, what would you do? While it may seem tough to dream in the midst of a pandemic, we need to do that more than ever right now. We need to support each other in getting back to dreaming again. When you follow your north star, you have energy and you feel positive. Go after what you are passionate about and find meaningful in life.

Achievement and accomplishment

Ah, the satisfying glow of accomplishment. To reach it, begin by defining what achievement means for you. Set “SMART” goals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (attainable within a specific period of time). Then make them SMART-ER by adding evaluation and readjustment if you don’t reach them immediately. Break your biggest goals into smaller, doable goals that are easier to complete; think about what you would like to achieve in the next week, month and year. Celebrate your goals when you achieve them — and savor that feeling of accomplishment. Even simple goals — like learning a new board game — can give you a positive feeling of achievement.

Find more support

Our first series of Buckeye Wellness “Stay Calm and Well” webinars were so popular that we have started a second. Join in on your time.

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About the author

Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk

Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk is vice president for health promotion, university chief wellness officer, dean and professor in the College of Nursing, professor of pediatrics and psychiatry in the College of Medicine and executive director of the Helene Fuld Health Trust National Institute for Evidence-based Practice in Nursing and Healthcare.