Glass Half Full?
Covid-19 restrictions are upon us – once again – and it is crucial to learn how to surf the waves of uncertainty now more than ever.
We cannot deny the fact that our lives are constantly changing against the backdrop of the pandemic. So, it is completely normal if you feel overwhelmed at times. The key to progress forward without getting bogged down by anxiety and fear is to develop a foolproof resilience toolbox.
First off, let’s get crystal clear on the meaning of resilience. Resilience is about bending but not breaking: it is the ability to bounce back from stressful life events by staying flexible and open to change.
Dr. Karen Reivich who is the Co-Director of the Penn Resiliency Project at the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania suggests that optimism is the “engine of resilience.” Optimism gives us the right attitude to keep going even if the road is bumpy.
How does optimism show up in our lives?
Contrary to popular belief, optimism is not wishful thinking. Optimism is about having a can-do attitude and choosing to move forward despite challenges.
Evidence suggests that there are striking differences between the way pessimists and optimists behave and think. Dr. Reivich identifies some key features of the optimistic mindset in her online course titled “Resilience Skills in a Time of Uncertainty.” Dr. Reivich explains that individuals who are highly optimistic are better at identifying problems and they tend to perceive difficulties as challenges rather than threats. Optimists are also more skillful at identifying what they can control in a given situation.
Dr. Lisa Aspinwall from the University of Utah and colleagues report in one of their studies that optimists pay more attention to risk information in relation to their health. In this study, the researchers presented college students with information about the risks of certain health-related behaviors, like vitamin use and UV exposure. They measured the reading time of risk information and the actual practice of these behaviors. The findings revealed that for optimists, the time spent on reading risk information (compared to neutral or beneficial information) increased as lifetime vitamin use increased. The researchers suggest that optimists pay more attention to risks when the health behavior is relevant to them. Furthermore, this line of evidence shows that optimists are not in denial of “bad news.” In fact, they might possess more skills at deciphering what information serves them and what does not.
Dr. Reivich further adds that people who have a sunnier disposition tend to take active roles in addressing the problems they have in their lives. In other words, they are less likely to adopt avoidant behaviors to cope with stress. On the other hand, according to Dr. Charles Carver from the University of Miami and colleagues, evidence shows that pessimists are less persistent and more likely to give up on their goals. Researchers postulate that certain cognitive distortions might be holding pessimists back.
In light of this evidence, it might be tempting to adopt an optimistic mindset in all areas of life. However, it is perfectly normal to oscillate between optimism and pessimism as Dr. Reivich suggests.
All in all, the optimistic mindset equips us with the tools to stay flexible and open to change when we are faced with situations that are outside our control. Given the current circumstances that we are in globally, it might be beneficial to think about where you find yourself on the optimism spectrum and identify some of the things that you can control as they apply to the Covid-19 pandemic.
- 1. Aspinwall L.G., Richter, L. & Hoffman,III, R.R. (2001). Understanding how optimism works: An examination of optimists’ adaptive moderation in belief and behavior. In E.C.Chang (Ed.) Optimism & pessimism: Implications for theory, research, and practice (217-238.) Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- 2. Aspinwall, L. G., & Brunhart, S. M. (1996). Distinguishing optimism from denial: Optimistic beliefs predict attention to health threats. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22, 993-1003.
- 3. Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., & Segerstrom, S. C. (2010). Optimism. Clinical psychology review, 30(7), 879–889. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2010.01.006
- 4. Resilience Skills in a Time of Uncertainty by Dr. Karen Reivich, University of Pennsylvania