Overcoming challenges: How to use your scope for action

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Overcoming challenges: How to use your scope for action

In 2020, our lives were turned upside down – both professionally and privately. Change is challenging for many of us. But why do we deal with it in such different ways? What motivates some people to take personal responsibility and to see their scope for action, even in difficult situations?
Woman with coffee cup
As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, "The only constant in life is change." This was made clearer than ever to us least year. Many previously unimaginable things became a new reality. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic turned our lives upside down. Almost half of those who responded to a study by Sotomo said that the COVID-19 pandemic had negatively impacted their mood. However, the survey also showed that this is much less the case for people in a stable living situation.
Dr. phil. Melanie Peter is a psychotherapist and increasingly receives requests from people who have been thrown off course by the Covid-19 pandemic. She says that the virus threatens humans' four basic psychological needs: the need for autonomy, to increase self-worth, to bond and to experience pleasure. For this reason, she says, it's important to ask yourself: Where can I live autonomously despite the crisis? How can I satisfy my need for bonding despite social distancing? What can I do to feel valuable despite losing my job? And: How can I balance enjoyable activities with the Covid-19 situation? We wanted to know more about this and had an interview with the psychotherapist.

Why do people deal with crises in such different ways?

It's normal for difficult life events to unsettle and challenge us. We get thrown off course and have to reorient ourselves before we do anything else. People who are aware of their feelings and reflect on them and who have learned that they can make a difference themselves, find this reorientation or stabilization easier. These people believe that their actions can lead to positive change. They usually have a high level of social competence and are prepared to seek support in crisis situations. In addition, they can correctly classify the problematic situation and develop possible corrective actions accordingly. We call these skills "resilience-enhancing factors".

What is resilience?

By resilience, we mean psychological resilience – the immune system of the soul, so to speak. Resilient people are referred to as "troopers" or "rocks"; people who get through challenging life situations without great difficulty. Resilience is a skill that we acquire from early childhood; it helps us not to crack during times of crisis and mental stress and emerge stronger from these. Numerous studies show that skills which support resilience can be learned throughout your entire lifetime.

How can we foster our resilience?

According to research, there are several skills that aid resilience:

  • Self-perception and the perception of others: Learn to notice your own emotions and thoughts and to reflect on them. Take time out for yourself. Write down what's on your mind, go for a walk by yourself, do some exercise on your own or do a short breathing exercise. Relaxation training, meditation or mindfulness exercises can also help. It's important to make time to listen to yourself.
    You should also strengthen your ability to correctly assess other people and their emotional states. Good self-perception is helpful when it comes to perceiving others, because you recognize parts of yourself in them. Listen to the person talking to you without interrupting and then summarize what you have heard. This is a good exercise to help strengthen your perception of others.
  • Self-efficacy: People who find themselves to be self-effective have experienced that they can achieve goals via their actions. You can practice self-efficacy by stepping out of your comfort zone every once in a while. It is important to set realistic goals that are as concrete as possible. Many people set their goals too high and have excessive expectations of themselves. It can help to think about what goals you would recommend to a good friend.
  • Social competence: It is essential to be able to correctly assess social situations and empathize with others. This skill is advanced throughout your entire lifetime in a variety of social situations. You can specifically improve this skill with what is referred to as "social competence training".
  • Good self-regulation skills: Learn how to relax yourself and find out which behaviors will help you to do so. This skill is based on self-awareness. Once you are aware of how you feel, you can figure out what behaviors or thoughts you can use to regulate your feelings.
  • Problem solving skills and coping skills: Analyze your problem. It helps to discuss the situation with a trusted person or to write down the problem. Once you have done this, you can develop options for all kinds of actions and implement these. It's essential here to familiarize yourself with your own skills and limits.

What tips do you have for dealing with difficult situations?

  1. Allow yourself to experience difficult feelings. These are just as normal as positive feelings and are just as much a part of life. They show us that one or more basic needs are threatened. Once you recognize the message behind the feeling, you can take care of the corresponding need.
  2. Talk about how you're feeling. A trouble shared is a trouble halved: your friends will understand you and you need this recognition in difficult situations. In addition, other people can help you to discover new scope for action.
  3. Call on your resources and reduce obligations. Ask yourself: What people or activities are good for me? In stressful times, we tend to focus on obligations and cut out the activities that bring us joy. This can create a vicious cycle. Take five once in a while.
  4. Studies show that resilience is greatest in people who have been through a moderate number of crises in their lives. In this sense, crises can sometimes also be opportunities.
  5. If you find that you can't get out of the downward spiral on your own – get professional help. This is not a sign of weakness, but a courageous decision to support your own personal resilience.
As we find our way in this new reality, we discover different perspectives. For example, we have learned to be grateful and have a greater appreciation for what we have. New opportunities have also arisen in the professional world. Working from home is suddenly feasible and becoming more accepted. More and more people are making use of their scope for action and taking new paths. Some are developing creative digital solutions, others are focusing on the essentials – and some are daring to walk the path to becoming self-employed.

Portrait Melanie Peter

Dr. phil. Melanie Peter

Dr. phil. Melanie Peter is employed as a psychotherapist at a psychiatry practice. She has been getting more inquiries of late from people who need help dealing with difficult situations due to the corona crisis.

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