May 22, 2020
The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly been a tough period for a lot of us. We’ve had to completely change how we live and as a result it has been tough on us both socially and mentally.
Many people tend to think that mental health is simply sickness orientated. Unless you’re really struggling, it tends to be something that we would prefer to not think about too deeply. I’ve always adopted a more positive view of mental health – one which is promotion orientated.
The notion of psychological struggle is of course a central part of what it means to live with a mental health condition, but I also feel that psychological struggle is something which is universal to all us, although to varying degrees, and so our perspective on struggle is something that concerns us all.
You may have heard the phrase ‘it’s okay not to be okay’. Of course, I agree with this phrase, but we also need to point out the ‘why’. It’s okay not to be okay because not being okay is normal and this is something we all contend with from time to time, but again, to different degrees.
Typically, we feel that struggle is bad and that if we are experiencing negative emotions that it’s a sign that something is wrong and needs to change. Whilst this might be true to a certain extent, I believe there is a higher paradigm for looking at struggle where at a fundamental level your relationship can shift to viewing your problems as helping you rather than hindering, as you progress through your journey of life.
In my opinion, life isn’t about being positive all of the time. Life can be hard, it can be tough and filled with all sorts of limitation, strife and malevolence. There is an arbitrary quality to it as well and sometimes things are unjust.
But I think what it means to truly ‘live a good life’, is to embrace the ups and downs. I believe that as we go through life we go through periods where we move in upwards spirals and we go through periods where we move in downwards spirals. You never just stay in one or the other and there is always a dynamic flux between the two. Both are fundamental to life because the negative emotions you experience in a downward spiral creates potential to then experience positive emotions and move into an upward spiral. In an upward spiral where you are experiencing positive emotions, you are able to make meaning of the negative emotions you experienced in a downward spiral. One can’t exist without the other – they are 2 sides of the same coin. So, by zooming out and taking perspective, adopting what is called a ‘high level construal’, you can begin to see that the experience of life is filled with ups and downs and through that process it gives your life significance and meaning. Now, of course, we cannot prove this scientifically. This is merely speculation, but nevertheless something which I have personally experienced 1st hand and so I would like to share it.
So, in a downward spiral, where maybe you are experiencing a problem, a challenge, an obstacle of a set-back, these are opportunities to learn and to grow and so when you do eventually reach a particular goal, it’s winds up being a lot more meaningful to you compared to if it was just handed to you on a platter.
You hear of these countless stories where somebody wins the lottery and they suddenly have all of this money, but does it make them happy? Of course not! Sure, they can buy a nice house, and buy some cool experiences but there haven’t developed a palette for life which allows them to truly enjoy these experiences I believe that growth through challenge helps to develop that palette.
As a side note, just because there are parallels between the lottery example and my perspective that I’m trying to explain, it doesn’t necessarily make it true, it’s merely to illustrate a point. I want you to be thinking critically as you read this. Most people think on the surface and like to be told what to believe, but I want to get you thinking for yourself.
As another example, what I’ve found when I go on holiday is that I can’t fully enjoy the experience of the holiday and let it land unless I’ve given it a context. In my view, going on holiday is a peak experience and in order to fully appreciate it you have to have a foundation of say – working hard for a year and pushing yourself. Sure, I could go on multiple holidays in a year and still have fun, but the palette for enjoying it won’t be as developed compared to if I just went on one holiday and I felt like I had earned it.
Now, I can appreciate that this idea of viewing ‘problems as opportunities for growth’ sounds like a nice perspective to take, but in reality it’s a lot harder than what it sounds like. When we have a problem, it kills us! We often think ‘if only I had that one thing solved then I would be happy’.
As Steve Jobs said in his famous speech at Stanford University ‘you cannot connect the dots going forward, you can only connect the dots going back’. When you’re in the thick of a problem, it can be hard to understand its significance or see any way in which it might be helping you and this really where the root of the issue lies.
The downside of not being able to always make sense of our problems and challenges in real-time is that it can encourage you to adopt ‘victim-thinking mentality’. This is where you might ask yourself ‘why is this happening to me?’. Granted, there are definitely cases with victims of any form of abuse and I do agree at their injustice (and these cases are not applicable here), but the issue with this mentality is that it relinquishes the person of self-responsibility for the past and present therefore relinquishes them of self-responsibility in the future; stripping them of their power.
I believe that each person has an internal locus of control and always has free will to choose how they respond to certain events. Life is full of struggle, but there is always a choice you can make to be in proactivity and at the cause of your actions or to be in reactivity and at the effect of the environment and people around you. You want to be responsive and to adapt rather than simply reacting.
This is of course no easy matter and approaching life in this way, I believe, takes a lot of courage. But in my opinion, it’s the best strategy that you can give to yourself. View challenges as opportunities to grow and rather than saying to yourself ‘why is this happening to me’ ask yourself ‘why is this happening for me; what is this teaching me; what are the lessons that I can learn here’. Sometimes the answers aren’t always obvious but by trusting in it as a ‘process’, you can begin to better ride the ups and downs of life and continue develop a greater pallete of appreciation for it. Whilst this notion of ‘trusting the process’ seems clothed in metaphysical speculation, it nevertheless remains an intensely practical solution for contending with the vicissitudes of life.
So, think back to the various problems and challenges that you’ve had to overcome in your life and see if you can draw out the lessons that you gained from the process and how these things have actually helped you to become a stronger and wiser person. If there’s a particular problem that you have right now during Covid, or if there’s something else that you’re just really struggling with, see if you can come up with a few ways in which it might be helping you. Sometimes it’s not always easy to do this, but give it a try!