About the Author: How to Stay Mentally Strong Through the Pandemic and Help Others Do the Same
By Mark Goulston
During this pandemic, have you ever looked at the people you love – from your children to your partner to your parents to your brothers and sisters – and thought to yourself, “If only there was a way to help them mentally, emotionally and psychologically stay strong through this scary crisis?”
Have you ever thought to yourself, “If only I could find that way for myself?”
And do you ever feel like you are living in a completely uncertain world and even when you’re holding it together, you worry that the next upsetting experience could throw you into a tailspin?
In fact, if you don’t ever feel that way, LATINA Style, would be interested in hearing from you, and how you do it.
In our recent book, Why Cope When You Can Heal? my co-author, Diana Hendel, and I have offered such a way. Although the subtitle, How Healthcare Heroes of Covid-19 can Recover from PTSD, might seem as if it will not help others such as you. In fact, it will help anyone who is feeling traumatized by the pandemic.
Before we get into that, it might be helpful to explain what the difference between stress and trauma is. Stress and trauma are both caused by events in your life that are way beyond what you’re used to dealing with. With stress you can still function and move towards your goals and get done what needs to get done, even if it’s with difficulty. However, when those events are too extreme, and you go from stress to distress, you stop focusing on goals and stop functioning and instead focus on relieving the distress in any way possible. And those ways are frequently unconstructive and include drinking excessively, doing drugs, eating too much, yelling at others or becoming sullen and withdrawn. Stress and distress can happen like that to anyone. In fact, they happen to nearly everyone, but they are usually short-lived.
When however, stress and distress don’t come and go and when instead they are continuous, they can cross over and more permanently interfere or in the most extreme case cause you to not be able to function. It’s at that point that stress has crossed over into trauma.
In our book, one of the ways we help people prevent that from happening is through a Distress Relief Exercise and urge them to keep a Journal which will help them turn the steps into a habit and something they can teach others.
Distress Relief Exercise and Journal
- Buy yourself a small journal that you can carry around with you. Treat yourself to a nice one, because this is going to become a very special possession.
- If possible, think of a person, living or dead, who cares or cared about you, believes or believed in you, has confidence or had confidence in you. If you don’t have such a person, think of a hero who might be in the public domain such a star athlete or singer. If possible, find a picture of that person, print it up and paste in onto the inside of the cover.
- On the page facing that picture, write down the following (because you’re going to imagine them asking you them)
- Date/Time – “Write down the date/time right after something upsetting happened (or as soon afterwards that is possible)”
- “What just happened?” – Write down in 1 -2 sentences what event occurred that has triggered you.
- “What did you think when it happened?”
- “What did it cause you to feel when it happened?”
- “What does it make you want to do?” – This is the most important step to put into words, because it is usually an impulse that if you act upon it, will usually make matters worse. Putting it into words lessens the chances you’ll act on it.
- “Take three deep and slow breaths and exhale.”
- “What would be a better thing to do?”
- “Why that?” – This step will help you develop insight that can help in the future
- Pause and ask yourself how you feel. In most cases, you should not only feel better, but you’ll also have a course of action to follow to help you feel even better.
Why and how did this work?
By going through this process, you’ve essentially talked and walked (or been talked through) your way through upset, past a potentially destructive impulse and landed in an action you can take that may help you feel better and move towards a solution.
Why use a person to inspire you?
When you imagine a person walking and talking you through the steps, there is a good chance that you’ll also feel a deep wave of appreciation and gratitude towards that person. If they’ve died, you may even miss them.
And then is when you’ll discover this interest psychological fact.
You can’t be upset or angry and appreciative and grateful at the same moment in time.
Finally, to put some icing on the cake reach out to the special person or their next of kin and give them a Power Thank You, which has three parts:
- Thank them for something specific that they did for you
- Acknowledge the effort they made and/or how they went out of their way to help you
- Tell them what it personally meant to you – and if you do the third step sincerely and from your heart, be prepared to become a little emotional. But don’t worry, it’s not the “upset” kind of emotion. Rather it’s about being touched by how much they cared about you.
Don’t be surprised if delivering that Power Thank You makes their day and makes your day.
Furthermore, don’t be surprised if developing this habit helps you become more mentally strong.
Mark Goulston, M.D. is the creator of Design Thinking Leadership, where he helps executives become leaders that engender in their people trust, confidence, safety and respect. He is the author or co-author of eight books with his book, “Just Listen,” becoming the top book on listening in the world and with his just released book, Why Cope When You Can Heal? focused on helping traumatized people to recover and begin to heal. He is the host of the My Wakeup Call podcast and of the weekly Linkedin Live Show, No Strings Attached, where he and his guests give away ideas with absolutely no obligation from viewers regarding compensation or even attribution. His blogs and articles appear in Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, Fast Company, Business Journals and Psychology Today and he is a frequent expert resource appearing across all media platforms.