Jul 6, 2020
Welcome to Episode 45.
Nearly four months after the UK - where I live - went into lockdown due to Covid-19, and as last week more businesses, such as hairdressers and pubs, have been allowed to re-open and plans for the full re-opening of schools in September were announced, my levels of fear are higher than ever. Higher, even, than when a global pandemic was declared and I realised this was serious. As more people resume their previous routines with some semblance of normality, I feel less in control of my own and my family’s safety on the rare occasions we need to venture into public enclosed spaces, such as shops and pharmacies, for essentials. This fear, I know, is not something I am unique in experiencing, though everyone experiences it uniquely and at different levels.
Fear is a powerful emotion. It is one of the six basic emotions identified by Ekman in 1999 (1). It is an essential emotion as, without it, we would struggle to stay alive. We need fear to alert us to danger and elicit the so-called ‘fight or flight’ response. It can also, quite commonly, cause a ‘freeze’ response, where we are incapable of doing anything. I am not a virologist or epidemiologist, so I am not going to dispense advice or opinion in this podcast on what we should each be doing with regard to Covid-19. This is also not the place for political debate. I would like to, however, share some of the ways you can deal with your own levels of fear so it does not become debilitating to the point where you cannot do your job or look after yourself or your loved ones. One way or another, we need to be able to continue to function, despite the current situation, despite the fear. This is something I’ve been working at increasingly hard for some time now and perhaps you have, too. I’d like to offer you some positive psychology tools to help, for you and your children, so you can not only continue to function, but thrive and flourish, despite the fear.
In episodes 25 and 26 I mentioned the work of Barbara Fredrickson on positive emotions (2). According to her ‘broaden and build theory of positive emotions’, if we experience more positive than negative emotions, we can experience improved relationships, perceive and grab more opportunities, achieve more success in our personal and professional lives, and have more fun. We can experience ‘upward spirals of positive emotions’, where as a result of experiencing the ‘broaden and build’ benefits of positive emotions, we experience even more positive emotions, leading to more benefits, and so on. Fear, of course, can be a positive emotion - think about the thrill of a fairground ride or a gripping thriller, for example (though of course those are not enjoyable thrills for everyone!). But in the context I started this episode with, of the global pandemic we are living with, for those of us that experience fear, we are experiencing it as a negative emotion.
Positive psychology does not advocate eliminating negative emotions. All emotions are valid and serve a purpose. But we can improve our lives by not letting those emotions take over and generating more positive emotions for ourselves to counteract the effects of those negative emotions. All of the interventions and activities I have mentioned in past episodes do this to some extent. Last week, I suggested self-kindness bingo, for example, as a way to do activities you enjoy for 30 days. Last year, in episode 9, I shared the importance of gratitude for wellbeing. In other episodes we have explored savouring, curiosity, and a whole host of other wellbeing activities.
So my message in this episode is a simple one: Explore wellbeing activities that will boost your positive emotions. Make a list of as many of these as possible that you can do within whatever level of risk you are prepared to take and is allowed where you live with current restrictions in place. And ensure you do as many of these activities every day, every week, as possible. These won’t make the fear go away, but they will reduce the impact of the fear on your wellbeing by bombarding you with feel-good hormones and allowing you to experience all the benefits Barbara Fredrickson talks about.
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I look forward to hearing from you, and until next time, For Flourishing’s Sake, have a great week!
(1) Ekman, P. (1999) ‘Basic Emotions’, in Dalgleish, T. and Power, M. (eds) Handbook of Cognition and Emotion. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., pp. 45–60.
(2) Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The Role of Positive Emotions in Positive Psychology: The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions. The American Psychologist, 56(3), 218–226. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066x.56.3.218
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