The plausible positive alternative to COVID-19

Do you remember those old cartoons with the angel or good guy on one shoulder and the little devil or bad guy on the other? Of course, the good guy was always trying to keep the character out of mischief, and certainly, the little devil was doing quite the opposite. Sometimes, especially now during these uncertain times, it’s easier to see the negative, “hear” that little bad guy over the good one.

The positive is still there, but darn if it isn’t hard to find sometimes. It’s been said that anything good or valuable is worth putting in work to find or achieve it. The discovery process is part of the growth. So, why not take a look right now? Find the brighter side. While we focus on the current COVID-19 crisis, we must also acknowledge that as physicians, we cannot help others if our own mental health is in jeopardy. You must take care of yourself too.

My challenge for you today is for every negative thought, feelings of stress or anxiety, think about what may be causing that thought or feeling. Sometimes it can be hard to identify, and often requires a lot of getting real with yourself. And you know, that’s hard too, and that’s OK.

Once you have those negative thoughts or feelings, I want you to try to find a plausible positive alternative. An example could be feeling stressed about feeling lonely right now during quarantine … or maybe the very opposite … feeling like you’ve got way too many people you are quarantined with.

Negative thoughts could easily drift into feeling sorry for yourself, feeling scared, or feeling as if this is something that won’t ever change. So, how can we turn it around and find that plausible positive alternative?

To begin, you must fully acknowledge your feelings and accept your reality. Find a space that can be just yours for a few minutes, yes, the bathroom counts, and say out loud what you are feeling: “I’m lonely” or “I’m overwhelmed.”

There is some peace in simply acknowledging your feelings. The next step would be to find a plausible positive alternative. For example, your plausible positive alternative to “I’m lonely” could be “I’m given an opportunity to explore other things that I wouldn’t get to if I didn’t have this time right now.” Maybe hiking in the woods, starting that knitting hobby, experiments in what-you’ve-got-in-your-pantry-style cooking, a new language — the list goes on. If you’re overwhelmed by the folks, big and small, around you, your plausible positive alternative could be, “If I’m feeling overwhelmed, they may be too. If so, what can I do about it?” And the answer to that is a lot!

Every choice you make, especially when you are quarantined together, impacts the people around you. Find ways to positively impact them. Have a family meeting to hash out some of the things going on. It’s often good to hear what others may have been needing when you have been focusing on your priorities and your patients. We all stumble and fall. Just make sure when you get back up, give yourself the gift of the plausible positive alternative. You don’t have to listen to the negative side. There is always another side waiting to be found if you look.

K. Maravet Baig-Ward is a psychiatry resident and can be reached on Twitter @drmaravet.

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