Time for a little Sunday support with nerdy guest expert Dr. Caroline Connolly….
A: Yes! Here are three simple strategies that we can offer from positive psychology.
Positive psychology can help us amplify the positive. It can help us build upon the best in ourselves, and from our lives. We can do this by engaging with the present moment, when reflecting on the past, and when imagining the future (https://www.health.harvard.edu/topics/positive-psychology).
Here to help explain the strategies is special nerdy guest, Dr. Caroline Connolly, Associate Director of Undergraduate Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.*
Strategy #1: Savoring:
Savoring simply defined is enjoying something in the moment and appreciating it for what it is. Savoring helps us relish the good by focusing on the PRESENT.
Questions to ask yourself about savoring:
-What is the best part of your day?
-What is it in your present life that you enjoy?
-What is something you do that allows you to be lost in the moment?
Exercise to strengthen savoring skills:
-When you engage in an activity you enjoy, try to really indulge in it. Consider each sensation slowly (e.g., taste, smell, touch, etc.), and relish them each.
-Go on a savoring expedition. For example, identify something you enjoy in your day, and make an effort to savor it. You don’t have to do anything new, time consuming, or expensive. Just identify something you already enjoy and set aside time to properly experience it. This can be drinking your morning coffee; going for a walk; having lunch with a loved one, or anything that you enjoy. When you experience it, don’t rush through it or engage with any outside distractions. Focus on the moment and all the pleasant sensations associated with it. Consider incorporating this savoring ritual into your day.
Strategy #2: Appreciating what you have.
Identify the good in your life. This is important because we often don’t realize that, even in a pandemic, good things happen on a daily basis. Appreciating what we have shines a light on the things that go well in life. This emphasizes the positive as a point of focus, even in times of uncertainty. Taking stock helps us to manage by focusing on the PAST.
Questions to ask yourself about taking stock:
-What is something you are grateful for in your life?
-Who is someone you are grateful for in your life?
Exercises to develop taking stock skills:
-At the end of the day, identify “three good things” that happened during the day. These “good things” can be small (e.g., finding a good parking spot) or large (e.g., a friend got a negative COVID-19 test result). They should just be good things that happened during that day. Try to build a “three good things” ritual to take a few moments to regularly acknowledge what went well through your week.
Another approach, is to focus on gratitude, which helps to amplify the good in life.
-Write a gratitude letter and deliver it: Who has been kind or helpful in your life who has not been properly thanked? You may want to focus on someone who is not always seen or thanked (perhaps a parent, distant friend, or the person who delivers the mail). Spend no more than 10 minutes writing a letter to this person to acknowledge how that individual has helped you in your life. Then give this letter to them safely- thanks for your help with these deliveries USPS!
Strategy #3: Focus on the future, even in times of uncertainty.
Evidence tells us that hope is a powerful factor that influences mental health (https://positivepsychology.com/hope-therapy/). By instilling hope and focusing on the future, we are empowered to use our time in a way that is valuable to us as well as others. Creating goals for the future can also help to define goals, understand the obstacles, and find a new path forward to achieve these goals. Even if this is not possible now, things will look different in a few years. This strategy helps us to manage by focusing on the FUTURE.
Questions to ask yourself about the future:
-What were your aspirations (personal, leisure, career) prior to the pandemic?
Exercises to develop hope and future focus:
-What are your goals for the next five years? You can write this out and also develop sub-goals with a plan of action.
-What are alternative routes to your goals?
In addition to these strategies focused on the present (savoring), past (gratitude), and future (hope), Dr. Connolly also recommends the following:
-Maintaining relationships and reaching out to people. Helping other people can improve your connections/relationship to others, but also benefit your well-being. Dr. Connolly suggests a great practical guide for how to use social media to connect remotely with family and friends, with step by step instructions on setting up social media accounts and reaching out to contacts. This is particularly helpful to share with friends and family who have not yet embraced technology, and are feeling isolated as a consequence (https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-51968122?fbclid=IwAR1Hvj8pU9jKKO7-NzcqmMZuZ4x3YdlME93UgiFdzHGOvrDjNkE0_ByEVSo).
-Becoming socially active and engaged in issues that are important to you. This can connect you to communities with whom you may have not previously been involved and also allow you to take action, even in the midst of a pandemic. This can provide meaning in your life by contributing to causes you feel are important.
We hope that these suggestions offer additional support for you. However, these strategies are meant to support wellness and stress reduction. If you are experiencing difficulty in your daily level of function, we recommend seeking professional help. We have listed a number of resources below.
Stay safe. Stay sane. And Stay Positive!
~Aparna (written/edited/content expertise by Dr. Caroline Connolly)
If you need additional help and/or resources, please reach out to The Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741 or National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
*Caroline Connolly, PhD is the Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Connolly invests her efforts in undergraduate education and advising. She completed her PhD from Trinity College Dublin investigating adult cross-sex friendship, and currently teaches psychology courses concerning Social, Positive, and Developmental Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. In the fall of 2020, she will be teaching courses on: Positive Education and Friendship and Attraction.
Photo credit: Tapping the Value of Positive Psychology (https://www.socialsciencespace.com/2016/08/tapping-the-value-of-positive-psychology/)