How Do I Thrive In Times Of Uncertainty?

BY Alison Tay / May 13 2020 / 08:00 AM

Clinical psychologist Dr Saliha Afridi shares her strategies for using our universal experience of the global pandemic as an opportunity for personal growth

How Do I Thrive In Times Of Uncertainty?

In one of the most compelling conversations of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia’s Virtual Retreat, Dr Saliha Afridi, the Founder and Managing Director of The LightHouse Arabia used her masterclass, ‘Emotional Resilience: How To Thrive During Times of Uncertainty’ to flip the script on our internal monologue accompanying the COVID-19 crisis.

“It’s very important to understand that anxiety is not the enemy,” she told the audience of our at-home self-improvement series on Instagram Live. “What matters is what you do with it and how you learn to listen to it in these are uncertain times.” Here’s what we learned from Dr Saliha about how to respond to our emotions and environment, rather than react.

Create A Routine

“I believe that you need to hold yourself to a high standard during such times because I want you to bring your best self to your work and to your life every single day,” Dr Saliha declared and – although she conceded that the concept of “your best” is a fluid concept from day to day – that involves stepping away from the loungewear and into the shower at the very least.“A routine is the antidote for anxiety, because it creates a sense of predictability. When your life feels like it’s spiralling out of control, get a good routine in place.” 

What does this look like? “Have a routine and dress for that routine. Act as if you are going out if you want to be your most productive, efficient and organised, so you can actually send calming signals to your brain about what you can expect from your day.” And you don’t have to abandon your comfort clothes altogether. She suggested, “You should actually wear pyjamas to bed because that’s sending a signal to your brain that you need to be going to bed right now.”

Rewrite the narrative

Now is the time to choose your words carefully, as the narrative you create for yourself will inform your emotions.

“Your language is very, very important,” she stressed. “By replacing, ‘I am socially isolated’, with ‘I am staying indoors’, ‘I choose to stay indoors’ or ‘I am staying safe’, you are actually creating a very different story inside of your head.”

She explained, ”One of our most important human needs is a sense of connection and belonging in a group, so words and phrases like ‘social distancing,’ ‘isolation’ and ‘quarantine’ can be constant triggers. Even calling it ‘physical distancing’ makes me feel anxious.”

Instead, Dr Saliha suggests simply stating the facts such as, “I’m standing two metres apart from the person in the grocery store.” Furthermore, she advised eliminating the negatives – grammatically and psychologically – by replacing “I don’t want to get sick” with “I want to stay healthy”, “I want to build my immunity”, and “I want to focus more on my physical health.”

Concentrate On What You Can Control

Dr Saliha insisted we avoid victim mentality at all costs. “If your inner dialogue is, ‘I can’t believe this is happening to me,’ you’re going to feel powerless.” Instead, we should shift our attention to the outcomes we can influence.

“The one thing that we know for sure is what you do with your physical body and what you put into your physical body is in your control. Actions are empowering, and actually counteract fear, so make a list of all the things you can control and then just start moving in that direction.”

Giving us an insight into what to expect from her consultations, she admitted, “I actually write a prescription for people that have gone through something traumatic, such as a break-up or a difficult experience and that says you need to go exercise every single day for two weeks and then come back and talk to me. Just focus on your body and then the mind will follow.”

Filter Your Newsfeeds

Overwhelmed by information? You’re not alone.

Dr Saliha had this advice to filter the 24-hour flow of facts and fake news: “Limit your news sources to one local channel around 10-11am once you’ve completed your exercise and started your routine – not first thing in the morning or last thing at night – then look at the World Health Organization for factual information. That’s only for people who really want to read the news every day. For people who don’t want to read the news every day, wash your hands, take your precautionary measures, and keep two metres away from others. You already know everything there is to know in order to stay safe right now.”

Stay Connected

Dr Saliha had constructive advice for those quarantining alone: “Just because you are alone physically does not mean you have to feel lonely. You are not socially isolated unless you really want to be – and there are some people who are choosing to be isolated because that’s just what they enjoy,” she accepted.

“It’s very important that you stay connected to the people in your life – especially if you’re living alone – to allay fears such as, ‘What if something happens to me? Will someone know? Will someone check in on me? Who will come and get me?’” Her solution? “Have a plan that sets part of your mind at ease. I recommend having a buddy system, where you ask a friend, ‘Hey, if you don’t hear from me by 3pm every day, can you just give me a call and check in on me? And if I don’t hear from you, then I’ll check in.’”

Communicate Your Boundaries

Conversely, those quarantining with family or friends may need some alone time. “People who have others around them might actually need some boundaries in place,” Dr Saliha pointed out. “It’s going to be very important for you to have those kinds of conversations so you stay connected in a way that is healthy.”

Strategies include saying, “Listen, you know, every day I need to have 30 minutes by myself at 6pm. Would it be okay if you look after the kids?” or “How about you go in that corner of the room and I’ll go in this corner of the room and we just read or put on our headsets and have our own space?” She observed, “I know people living alone wishing they were living with people, but there are also people that are living with others fantasising about being alone at this point. In either scenario, respectful communication with each other makes this a better time for everyone.”

Make Your Home A Sanctuary

Not intended as a slur on your colleague sitting in a Zoom meeting in front on her unmade bed, but Dr Saliha acknowledged, “As a psychologist who knows about science and research, I will tell you that if there is chaos on the outside, there’s going to be chaos on the inside as well. So if you want to feel calm and relaxed and have a soothing, comforting environment, you’re going to have to create it.”

Sharing some of her own mood-enhancers, she revealed, “Every time I go to the grocery store, I buy flowers because they evoke beautiful emotions, and make you feel calm. I always have tea with me, which I also find very soothing. You want to create a feeling of, ‘I really like being here,’ because the reality is, we’re going to be at home for the next few weeks, and you want to enjoy them rather than just get through them.”

Stay In The Moment

The reason we’re all in the same storm but not the same boat is our mindsets.

According to Dr Saliha, “People who are very future-oriented tend to have an anxious disposition, and people who are very past-oriented have a very sad or depressed disposition. What you want to do is bring it really back right down to this moment, where everything is okay, and we are safe.”

Sharing a technique to help us ground firmly in the present, she continued, “A sentence that really helps me when I feel a little bit overwhelmed is to replace ‘What if?’ with ‘What is’.

Ask yourself, ‘What’s the smallest step I need to take right now togetthroughthismoment?’Andthatmightbe,‘Ineedto organise my desk right now,’ so I just do that and then I pick the next smallest step and the one after that. And the next thing you know, this will all be over and you will have got through it and grown through it.” 

This pandemic, as Dr Saliha pointed out, can also serve as a valuable lesson in perspective: “This is an experience that can either break you or it can grow you and transform you into a human being that is far more positive, appreciative, and grateful who emerges from this with more meaningful connections and a deeper faith in yourself.”

For more self-improvement masterclasses on Harper’s Bazaar Arabia’s Virtual Retreat, stay tuned to @harpersbazaararabia

Lead image courtesy of Instagram/sarashakeel

Harper's Bazaar Arabia May 2020 Issue