Coping with the Coronavirus: A Strengths Perspective | VIA Institute

Coping with the Coronavirus: A Strengths Perspective

By Dr. Ryan Niemiec

It's a confusing and stressful time in the world right now. There are a lot of questions about the coronavirus (COVID-19), and not a lot of definitive answers. In these times, it's especially important that you lean on your character strengths. There are ways you can use your best inner qualities to help you be safe, take measured action, engage in prevention, and keep yourself balanced among the sometimes-hysterical society swelling around you.

You have many character strengths. View your character strengths as opportunities for positive action. Research shows your character strengths play an important role in your physical health. Each of the 24 universal strengths of character is unique and packs health potential. Use them in a balanced way to make good decisions and promote good health.

Here are 6 ways you can take immediate action with your character strengths:

1.) Name Your Positive Coping Strategies So Far

Start with what you are doing right. Pause right now and answer this question: What is the best, healthiest thing I have done so far to cope with the anxieties or stress related to the coronavirus?

Look closely at your response. I can guarantee you, your response has character strengths in it. They might not be one of the 24 character strengths words but synonyms to these would be there.

For example, if your response had to do with frequent handwashing then you can see prudence, self-kindness, and self-regulation there. If your response involved using exercise or activity to keep your immune system strong, then your strength of zest would be a part of this. If your response involved coming up with new activities in the home to do with your family, then the strengths of creativity and leadership can be found there.

2.) Use Your Strength of Judgment/Critical Thinking

Your judgment strength is used when you focus on the facts, not just the scary media stories. Those who are strong in this strength are able to look to the details of a new situation from multiple angles. They do not get lost in one angle, one person’s story, or another’s opinion.

Exercise your judgment/critical thinking by asking yourself:

  • What are the facts here? What are the actual details, as opposed to one pundit’s opinion?
  • What are the newest statistics revealing?
  • Is one side of the issue being overplayed? What are the other sides of this issue?
  • Am I becoming emotionally wrapped up in one possible scenario, one story I heard, or one detail?

3.) Use Your Strength of Perspective

Perspective is your character strength that involves keeping the big picture in mind. While it’s easy to get sucked into atrocious details and a fearful future, perspective reminds us of the wider view of issues, the scope, and the larger whole of the situation's past, present, and future. This is not to say there’s nothing to worry about, but perspective helps you step back and say – what’s the bigger reality for me and for others?

With the coronavirus, the perspective strength involves comparing the millions of people in a given location with the number of total cases and new cases that pop up in your city or state or country. Your wider perspective is informed by multiple points of information, including incidence levels, as well as advice, stories, and viewpoints of medical professionals, public health personnel, and community activists.

Exercise your strength of perspective:

  • As I gather multiple sources of information, I will step back to see the wider view of what is most relevant for me and my family at this moment in time.

4.) Use Your Strength of Prudence

With caution levels heightened, prudence is being collectively elevated in society. There is good wisdom in this. You can use your prudence to think before you act, to plan, to prepare, and to prevent.

Exercise your strength of prudence:

  • Think safety first. Before you engage in activities in public or being around large groups of people, make a plan that will take the necessary precautions and prioritize health.

5.) Use Your Strength of Self-Regulation

This character strength involves being disciplined about habits of health. In addition, it means to manage your temptations, limit your bad choices, and look to your health in the long-run.

Exercise your strength of self-regulation:

  • Be disciplined about the recommended health habits, such as handwashing, use of hand sanitizer, monitoring hand shaking, and your general behavior within groups. Of all 24 strengths, self-regulation has shown overall in research to have the strongest connections with various aspects of physical health.

6.) Manage Your Strengths Overuse and Underuse

A common phenomena discovered in the new science of character is that you can overuse or underuse any of your 24 character strengths. You can see this play out in any problem, conflict, or stressor. The coronavirus situation is no different.

If you find yourself over-reacting, getting lost in worries, avoiding things that typically give you pleasure, feeling confused about what action to take, or other problems related to the coronavirus situation, then examine which of your character strengths you might be overusing or underusing. For example:

  • Overusing your love of learning by watching the news 20 hours a day? Yes, you should learn about what's happening and the details but too much of this strength can leave you drained, panicked, and downright disturbed. If this sounds like you, consider taking a news fast for a short period of time. Or, allow yourself to only receive a news summary at the end of the day.
  • Is your prudence and caution working in overdrive? Been working on your bunker a bit too much? Manage the overuse of your prudence. As mentioned, this is an important strength to exercise at this time, but you can drive yourself to the extreme with it. You might benefit from simultaneously exercising your strength of bravery to overcome the public hysteria and take your normal daily action or keeping that vacation or fun activity you've been planning.
  • Don’t underuse your creativity. If you find yourself being a shut-in and becoming bored at home, turn to your creativity. Use your indoor location as an opportunity to come up with creative games and activities you can do with your family or loved ones. Maybe it's time to dust off your paintbrush or the pottery you had started a few years ago? Always wanted to start a blog or become a poet? Now is the time!

Conclusion

Your character strengths are there to support you and guide you in prevention, making good decisions, and promoting good health. Arguably, any of your 24 character strengths can play a role – they are your best held secret.

As you reflect on the news that unfolds, the media that offers perspectives, and the stories that rattle your eardrums, remember you have a wide range of character strengths you can immediately call forth to support you in your decisions and actions.

References:

  • Niemiec, R. M. (2019). The strengths-based workbook for stress relief. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

  • Proyer, R. T., Gander, F., Wellenzohn, S., & Ruch, W. (2013). What good are character strengths beyond subjective well-being? The contribution of the good character on self-reported health-oriented behavior, physical fitness, and the subjective health status. Journal of Positive Psychology, 8, 222- 232. DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2013.777767

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