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Silver Linings and Other Myths

Looking on the bright side, finding silver-linings, thinking about the good that might come out of the global pandemic, are quite prevalent tropes at the moment. And if you are spending more time online, it can be quite pervasive.

This post acknowledges that for some this is an effective coping mechanism. But it’s not a required response. And it can be quite damaging for those that feel that they are falling short by not being peppy or capitalising on the supposed growth opportunities presented by a lock-down.

It's not that silver-linings don't exist. But you shouldn't be held hostage to the idea of them if you are feeling rubbish.

Sometimes, when other people are pushing their silver linings, it’s as a way to feel positive themselves. And if that is what helps and soothes them, then that’s good for them. Unfortunately, when it’s very public, or tries to encourage others to do the same, it can provoke feelings of guilt and shame in those whose coping strategies are different.

The trick, if you are feeling guilty or ashamed, is either to avoid social accounts that take this approach, or to adjust your attitude to one of self-compassion and pragmatism. This is a time of great uncertainty and fear. Nobody is immune, and it is very much worse for some than for others, as the lockdown exacerbates or compounds existing difficulties.

So, the message is to be kind to yourself. Accept the chaotic emotions. Do what you have to do to get through. And don’t worry about achieving, or gaining insight – that will come later, when the dust has settled, and you have the time and space to reflect.

Panic, anxiety, pandemic, lock-down

Bright-side-thinking, guilt and shame

In a coaching session, about 12 years ago, I was complaining about a situation in my life that I found particularly difficult and stressful. I didn’t know what to do to solve the problem.

My coach asked “what are the positives in the situation?”.

This isn’t a good coaching question.

It’s a piece of poor advice wrapped up a question. It holds an implicit bias from the coach, which is that there are positives to be found. But sometimes there just aren’t positives. A better way to approach it would have been to explore the problem further with questions like: “what, specifically, do you find stressful?”, “if you could have your ideal resolution, what would that be?” that kind of thing.

All these years on I remember the question, and wish my coach had done better. She could have helped me figure out what might help, so that I could find ways to alleviate the problem; because even with the benefit of hindsight, I couldn’t tell you any positives that arose at the time, or that have arisen since. That’s not to say that I am maudling, or dwell on the issue. I accept it for the bad situation that it was. Sometimes that’s just how life is. Rather than trying to spin the problem into something positive by ignoring the negatives, I might have found solutions that were compassionate and self-soothing, or eased some of the burden.

What I ended up feeling was guilt for not doing better at seeing the bright-side. (Of course, I should not have allowed somebody else’s comment to affect me in that way, but twelve years ago I didn’t know how to not do that, though that’s a different story).

The take-away message

Being positive doesn’t mean ignoring the facts or burying sadness. It doesn’t mean counteracting uncertainty with an upbeat outlook. Sometimes being positive means recognising that a situation is hard and unpleasant, and that a range of emotions is normal and healthy. A good attitude is not about masking those feelings, but about acknowledging and honouring them without becoming despondent.

There is nothing wrong with sadness, anxiety, fear, pain – they are normal responses to uncertain times. It’s important to manage them, of course, and to find ways to self-soothe, to avoid becoming overwhelmed. But for many, there may be no silver linings. And that’s ok. The ability to accept a situation as it is and to find coping mechanisms in the moment is the ideal response.

Some tips for coping

Self soothing, relax, coping strategies, alleviate anxiety, calm, feel calm
  • Be specific about what you have done previously in hard times that have helped you to cope.

Make a list.

Do those things regularly.

(for me they are having a bath, walking, cleaning, breathing, cuddling, holding my hands under cold water or sniffing something citrusy when I get overwhelmed).

  • Think about what you would say to your best friend/ partner/ child when you are at your kindest and most compassionate and tell the same to yourself.

  • Acknowledge the feelings and know that they, like all feelings, will pass.

  • Make yourself an emergency box for when it all feels like too much. Whatever you choose from your box, really focus on it for 10-15 minutes so that you can ground yourself in the present and bring yourself back to the moment. Include something to taste (a favourite herbal tea bag/ strong mint/ boiled sweet); something to smell (citrus smells are zingy and cheerful, maybe try keeping a bottle of essential oil or some tiger balm on standby); something to touch (a fiddle toy, a beach pebble); something to listen to (a favourite playlist, or a compendium of nature sounds); something to look at (an album of photos of favourite people or moments, a colouring book).

  • Write it down: journal all your thoughts and concerns in one big outpouring.

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