Millions of people in the UK have had their Christmas plans changed at the last moment after the discovery of a new variant of coronavirus led the government to place parts of the country under new restrictions.
Many will be bitterly disappointed that their end of year festive plans have been disrupted and they find themselves separated from family and friends at an important time of year. Many others will be coping with grief after losing loved ones during this difficult year.
At the same time, our initial optimism about a potential end to the pandemic is turning to fear and concern as we learn about a new, more transmissible variant of the virus.
In this context, what can we do to maintain our psychological wellbeing, support others and manage over the festive period?
One critically important thing we can do is to identify proactive strategies for coping during this time. Each of us will need to identify our own overall strategy based on our way of thinking, our context and our life experiences. Six are presented here. It is likely that you will have already used some of them to get through challenging times in your life. You may choose to return to that strategy or adopt a new approach depending on your circumstances.
Keep calm and carry on
The positive thing about this approach is that people continue to function and can take pride in their ability to stay calm through adversity.This famous strategy involves accepting the gravity of the situation and putting on a brave face. The priority will be to try to keep things going – research shows that people who are calm under pressure are able to think better. With this mindset, it helps to focus on one day at a time. In other words, it is about making the best of a bad situation – Christmas and New Year festivities will proceed as planned, even if some of the celebrations will take place through Zoom.
Find silver linings
This strategy relies on our ability to see positives, even in very difficult situations. The focus is on finding benefits, appreciating what is good and being grateful for small blessings. Doing this has a positive effect on wellbeing. People with this mindset will acknowledge that they are more fortunate than many others during this festive season. For example, it is possible to connect virtually with a wider network of family and friends to celebrate.
The positive thing about this approach is that people are able to focus on the few advantages and opportunities that are available rather than being overwhelmed by all the negative aspects of the situation.
Stay focused on the future
This strategy requires the ability to stay focused on what will come after the pandemic is finally over. This means that people who think this way can remain hopeful because they spend time thinking about a time when the crisis is over. Thinking positively about the future can also have beneficial effects on wellbeing. For example, if families are not able to meet in person over the festive season, it can boost morale to think about a meaningful celebration in the future.
The positive thing about this approach is that focusing on the future acts as a reminder that the current situation is not permanent, making it possible to be hopeful.
Turn to faith
This strategy allows people to turn to existing faiths, religions and belief systems for practical advice, comfort and reassurance. The focus is on how to respond appropriately based on the wisdom, teaching and practices of the belief system. This can involve prayer, meditation, reflection and acts of charity, and is particularly relevant at this time of year. In fact, participating in religious services has been shown to support human flourishing.
The positive thing about this approach is that it can strengthen people’s existing connection to their values and beliefs in a way that will make it easier to cope with extreme adversity.
Redesign and start planning
This strategy acknowledges that plans and aspirations are often undermined by adverse events. The response is to redesign life plans and aspirations to respond flexibly to the new reality. People with this mindset will set aside time to take stock of the new situation so that they can start to plan accordingly. Setting goals and planning for a positive future can boost wellbeing. For example, it can boost positivity to start planning a celebratory event later in 2021 if it has not been possible to meet this month.
The positive thing about this approach is that people can feel more in control if they are actively responding to the changing realities.
Support and care for others
This final strategy involves turning attention to supporting other people through difficult times. People who adopt this strategy believe that “we are all in this together” and will focus on what we can do to support one another. For example, sending cards or getting in touch with isolated neighbours or friends during the holidays. Directing energy to comforting and supporting others will give people a sense of purpose and meaning. Supporting others can even decrease our own levels of stress. The positive thing about this approach is that the supporters and those receiving the care will both benefit.
These strategies are not mutually exclusive, and you may be tapping into a number of the approaches already. Or you may have other tried-and-tested ways of overcoming challenges that have worked for you in the past.
At this moment, it can make a significant difference if we proactively decide how we will respond to the extreme adversity we are facing. Whatever you choose to do, the very fact that you’re making a decision to meet this challenge head on will be a crucial first step.
The article was first published in The Conversation
About the Author
Christian van Nieuwerburgh is a Professor of Coaching and Positive Psychology, University of East London. He is a highly regarded executive coach, leadership consultant and academic with an international reputation. He is a thought leader in the areas of coaching in educational settings, interculturally-sensitive coaching and the integration of coaching and positive psychology in professional contexts. In addition to significant experience of delivering consultancy and executive coaching to clients in the UK and internationally, Christian is recognised as a leading academic in the field of coaching psychology.