In these challenging times, some people are better positioned than others – financially, socially, emotionally and psychologically – to ride out the ups and downs of the coming weeks. As a character strengths practitioner, it can feel insensitive to people’s practical needs to recommend focusing on character strengths. Yet over the last few days, I have been having an ongoing conversation with a loved one and in every conversation she has shown me that character strengths matter.
Finding a Role Model in an Unexpected Place
My loved one is a nurse. Everyday whether there is a new virus or not, she is around sick people and exposed to diseases. On the upside this means that she probably has a tough immune system and that she has well-established hygiene habits that she uses even when on autopilot. On the downside, she is exposed every day and she is in the front line when things like this happen.
She told me how she has been leaning heavily on her character strengths:
1. Hope: as a nurse she is trained to deal with situations that are just plain terrifying for the rest of us. She has remained confident that although things are serious, they are temporary and surmountable. She does not focus on the news cycles; she searches medical articles and up to the minute studies for real data. That real data, while worrying, is reinforcing her sense of hope.
2. Prudence and Perspective: she has been offering practical steps we can take to limit transmission, ways to keep ourselves and other safe and at the same time she has been reminding me that we have no serious underlying medical conditions, we live in a safe place with access to the food we need so we are not at high risk. She has encouraged me to think about people who are not as fortunate and first to reach out to them and check-in, and then to consider what steps I can take to assist them. She recommends keeping a safe physical distance from others and at the same time making we don’t leave others cut off during this difficult time.
3. Judgment: weighing one risk against another. One of her roles is to check on recovering patients. Now, with increasing evidence that we can be carriers without showing symptoms, she is evaluating ways to check in with patients without unnecessarily risking their improving health. Those who are having wellness checks she is switching to less frequent visits and more frequent phone check-ins. She is only a call away. This is reducing the risk of patient to patient transmission.
4. Judgment 2: she has been recommending that we take stock of our concerns and prioritize them. For some the basics of keeping a roof over their head and feeding the family are the biggest concerns. She recommends focusing on your top two priorities and leaving the others until later. You cannot take care of everything at once. Then, for those two priorities think about:
- What you have done in the past that has worked.
- Who can help you – even if it is just offering moral support?
- Who you can help in some small way even if it is giving them a spare toilet roll or one can of beans to help them through?
- Where have you researched to see what help is available?
5. Kindness: she is finding that focusing on others is helping her to divert attention from her own worries and worries about loved ones. She focuses on small acts of kindness such as an extra call to an isolated patient or leaving a couple of cans of food on a neighbor’s step. Helping others is empowering even when we are struggling ourselves.
6. Kindness 2 (Self-kindness): she keeps reminding me that we cannot stress 24/7 and that we need mental health breaks. She has been using humor to help herself and others get through. She sends me a COVID-19 joke or meme every day! It is a relief to laugh even if only for a couple of minutes before returning to the business of worrying!
The list goes on!
And who is her role model?
She says it is a long-time friend on the West Coast who is the Director of Nursing at a hospital with multiple cases of COVID-19. They have been sharing perspectives, updates and medical articles.
Five Questions to Ground Yourself:
- Who is your role model?
- What is your #1 priority?
- Who is someone that can help you even in a small way?
- Who can you help?
- What character strengths does your role model display?