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Let’s look at Cognitive Strategies: Changing the way you THINK.

Cognitive Strategies

David Posen, M.D., author of The Little Book of Stress Relief and Always Change A Losing Game

We can’t always change what happens. But we can always change how  we think about what happens.  Easier said than done, but it’s a skill that can be developed through practice.  it’s called Reframing: changing your perspective, changing the way you look at things.  It’s a remarkably valuable technique for reducing stress.

Looking for positives isn’t always easy. This isn’t about being insensitive or being a Pollyanna where everything is wonderful.  It’s about mobilizing your resilience and resourcefulness in a crisis – looking at things with a new set of eyes, through a different lens.  There’s a proverb that says "It's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness" Reframing is about looking for that candle.

The word “crisis” in English has an ominous connotation. But in Chinese it’s written with two characters: one stands for Danger, the other for Opportunity.  It acknowledges the negative side of a situation, but then it invites you to look for something positive.  It’s important not to gloss over the fear and pain too quickly. But to dwell on that for too long is not helpful. 

Betty Rollin wrote a book about her experience with breast cancer.  It’s titled “First You Cry.” That’s a normal reaction. Then, at some point, people mobilize themselves and start to find ways to cope. Reframing is one of those coping strategies. 

So what are some of the bright spots you can notice? The Positives, the Glimmers of Hope? On an individual level, ask: How else can I look at this situation? What opportunities does it present? Is there anything I can learn from this? What would I advise a friend in the same situation?

My own observations include the following:

  • We’re starting to think collectively rather than individually. There’s an emerging spirit of community and pulling together. Adversity often brings people together, even if mostly virtually at the moment.

  • People are stepping up and reaching out in all sorts of ways. Resilience and resourcefulness in action: Italians singing on their balconies, industrial companies retooling to make masks and respirators; small local sewing groups making masks from patterns on the internet; banging pots and pans with neighbours to thank health care workers. Musicians performing free “concerts” on the internet.

  • We’re seeing courage and sacrifice from health care workers, hospital cleaners, lab techs, first responders, grocery store employees and other vital service providers.

  • Political parties are working together, joining collaboratively to pass urgent legislation.

  • We’re learning how dependent we are on one another and the importance of cooperation and collective action. There are some things we can’t do alone.

  • People are paying more attention to the elderly

  • At least the virus isn’t airborne, so we can go for walks and bike rides – at a distance from other people

  • Spring is here, bringing longer daylight hours and warmer weather to sit outside on balconies and back porches. Also, with warmer weather, it’s predicted there will be fewer and milder cases.

  • Most people recover or have milder cases. If/when it resurfaces in the fall, it’ll probably be less virulent

  • Less pollution with fewer cars on the road

  • We’re lucky to have modes of communication that we never had before. Technology allows people to connect, work from home, have virtual meetings, ask questions and get advice from experts.

  • Technology allows vast choices for home entertainment: buying books on-line, movies and series on TV (with theatres having to close) playing Bridge or Scrabble on-line.

  • Overwhelming outpouring of humour and cleverness – and wide sharing of both: memes, cartoons, jokes, old TV clips on YouTube. Humour reduces stress but also reflects resilience and resourcefulness

  • An opportunity and a challenge to explore our ingenuity and resourcefulness. (Necessity being the Mother of Invention)

  • Creative public health measures, such as drive-through testing sites and tents outside hospitals to keep potentially infected people out of ERs. Making face shields with 3D printers

  • Seeing the importance of Prevention and Public Health measures, so often ignored in normal times. We’re learning more about hygiene - importance and methods.

  • Redefining your values: seeing how little we really need materially to make our lives meaningful and pleasant (A reality check) A chance to slow down, catch our breath and reassess our priorities and the busy-ness of our lives. Looking at what really matters. Simplifying.

  • Time to declutter and work on projects

  • Time and opportunity to catch up on reading, hobbies, TV shows, movies

  • Stock markets will eventually rebound and recover. They always do.

  • Government extending the tax filing deadline.

  • Governments sending money to people who can’t work.

Not all of these ideas will resonate with you.  But the ones that do can be helpful.

We can’t always choose what happens. But we can always choose how we look at what happens.  Negative thoughts will drain you – and so will negative people.  Conversely, positive thoughts (and people) will energize you. And you have a choice.  So look for and focus on the positives as much as you can.

Control the things you can control.

You have more control than you think.

Now you have to use it!

Keep Well and Stay Safe