BY: Andrea Lardani
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2018 is about to finish. It has not been an easy year for some countries in Latin America. For example, 1,5 million Venezuelans emigrated escaping from a terrible crisis and looking for better life conditions in countries as Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador. In Argentina, the “peso” dropped against the US dollar and has now lost more than half its value since the start of the year. Argentina’s central bank raised interest rates to 60 percent. To make matters worse, the country experienced one of its worst droughts in decades which undermined its agriculture sector. It is impossible to ignore how these adverse contexts impact individuals emotionally. Although each one reacts according to personal characteristics and the particular situation lived, we may identify two types of responses towards similar contexts: Strengthening responses and weakening responses.
We consider strengthening responses those reactions that function as buffers and at the same time lead us to develop new skills or reinforce existing ones. For example, a woman who had to close her shop because she was suffering a chronic illness, started to paint. After some time, she started to sell her paintings through the web and she discovered that not only she enjoyed painting but also that she improved her technique and increased her sales.
Weakening responses, on the contrary, are those that increase or expand the negative impact of stressors producing harmful physical and mental consequences. An example could be If this same woman, after closing her shop started to isolate from friends and family. This reaction would start to affect another area of the life – her relationships – which had not been impacted initially and this would probably lead to feelings of loneliness and sadness.
We propose 4 strengthening habits for 2019:
- Develop a resilient thinking style: Our thinking style is a habit as any other habit, so if we propose ourselves, we can change it. For this we suggest to think about difficulties as: a) Temporary, b) That they affect a particular area of our lives and c) That we can learn from them. So each time you find yourself having to cope with an adverse situation you may ask yourself the following questions: a) How long will this negative situation last? Or how long will the impact of this situation last? Try to be specific and determine duration in terms of days, weeks or months.b) Which specific area of my life is being affected by this incident? Try to delimit the area clearly. For example, if it impacts my work life, which specific aspects of my work are being affected (my relationships, my salary, my performance, my job satisfaction?) c) What can I learn from this difficult situation I am living? Would I act different next time? Have I developed a new skill? Have I strengthened an existing skill?
- Generate positive emotions: Popular knowledge has always recognized that positive emotions are good for health. Nevertheless, not so long ago, different studies began to show evidence about this. Barbara Fredrickson, presented evidence about how positive emotions function as antidote for the physiological consequences of negative emotions (as fear, anger, anxiety, sadness, etc.). Positive emotions as love, gratitude, happiness, hope, satisfaction and curiosity can be generated with certain actions. Naming the things for which you are grateful for, instead of taking them for granted, is a way of feeling gratitude for example. Connecting with nature produces calmness. Practicing meditation, breathing exercises and/or muscular relaxation produces calmness, relief, serenity. Performing activities that really interest us generates curiosity, satisfaction and pleasure. So increasing our positive emotions is a way of protecting ourselves in times of adversity.
- Strengthen relationships: Evidences shows that during extreme adverse contexts as wars, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, those who are capable of receiving and providing social support have more probabilities of overcoming the obstacles. In difficult times, relating to others, asking for help, company and love is fundamental. It is also an opportunity to generate new spaces to give and receive support. In this sense, during difficult moments it is really important to make ourselves time to connect with others, as the tendency of doing the opposite is frequent (“I don´t have time to see my friends because I am too busy with my problems”).
- Keep healthy habits: In times of adversity we run the risk of weakening by maintaining harmful habits such as sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy nutrition and lack of sleep. The consequences for health in the long term are of course negative. For this reason, we suggest being much more careful with our habits during times of adversity as we must be prepared for a “challenging competition”. As athletes before a difficult competition, we must eat healthy, sleep well and exercise moderately when coping with adversity.
Incorporating new habits is not easy but possible. Difficult times are opportunities to do it and to encounter with our unknown or dormant strengths and putting them into action. Welcome 2019!!