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  • Writer's pictureKim Howlett

Be excellent to each other (Coping with stress via positive events)

Updated: May 30, 2021

So, we're not that far out from a full year of this COVID bullshit. People are 300% done with it. We're weary. We want to see our family. We want to go to the movies. We want to go to TJ Maxx, damnit.

Not only are we isolated, lonely, and bored, we're also at a precipice of political turmoil where a lot of unhappiness is boiling over. One or the other would suck just by itself. These two things together are the volcano experiment from 2nd grade science class.

What the world needs now is love, sweet love, right?

So, where do we start with injecting the positives? Do we go with this 'positive vibes only,' toxic positivity mindset? Do we wallow?

There's a DBT skill called "Contributing to Other."

There's another one called "Building Positive Experiences."

Why are these so crucial right now? Let me give you some context.

Dr. Brian Van Brunt is an expert on threat assessment, and his work focuses on how to assess whether someone is going to say, shoot up a school or attack the Capital.

There are some key factors that determine whether someone is a serious threat, or whether they're a lesser one. He identified these factors as a "having a hardened point of view, being marginalized or feeling discriminated against, seeking connection with others, having connections with extremists, justification, being disengaged from others, having some personal failures going on at the time, a bleak outlook, polarized (extreme) religious indoctrination, and having predisposing characteristics." As you can imagine, the things that protect us against those risk factors are the polar opposites- being connected to others, being able to consider alternative and multiple viewpoints, having "safe" outlets for emotions and stress, feeling secure and safe in their support networks, resiliency and being empathetic, being able to understand and foresee the consequences of one's own actions, being generally emotionally stable and able to empathize and tolerate others, and being in engaged in a professional or academic role (school and work.)

So, let's take a deep breath and look at what's going on in the world right now. Society is divided like never before, with a huge "us vs. them" problem. We are disconnected from each other, both physically and emotionally. We have had fractures to our support networks, as the split between people has created wedges in relationships. The outlook is bleak; when are we going to be able to see our friends and family again? Is COVID going to kill everyone?

Consider also that an understandable and reasonable reaction to many things is to disengage further. After all, when we hit a point where we can't take things anymore, we have to step away.

Do you see how we have a ripe petri dish to see the kind of disruption and chaos we are seeing right now?

Well, so these people need therapy right?

Right now, therapist burnout is a real thing. The people we turn to when we are breaking down are starting to break down themselves, due to a variety of understandable reasons. If you can get an appointment, it might not be for a while, and while therapy can be a life-saver, it's sometimes just not enough.

You know what can be done, though?

Shows of kindness, acts of connection. Trying to being a healthy influences and spread tenderness and goodwill.

It's true that there are limits to what we can do for each other. We can't fix and provide everything for everyone. What we can do, however, is cast out a pebble of kindness and watch it ripple outwards on the surface. Hell, you don't even know what the pebble is touching underneath the water.

Entrée Contributing to Others and Building Positive Experiences.

Contributing to Others is a pro-social skill that encourages one to reach out and create goodness in another person's life. Whether we are volunteering, shoveling someone's driveway, buying groceries for someone, leaving a big tip, or just telling a joke, contributing positively to others creates feelings of well-being and happiness for everyone involved in the interaction. Not only are we being excellent to each other, we are feeling good about ourselves for helping. The world has directly become a better place because of what we have done, even if it's just a smidge.

Building Positive Experiences encourages one to actively contribute to themselves by intentionally bringing fun and soothing experiences into your own life. This overlaps quite a bit with contributing to others. If your day is bleak, try to be intentional with bringing the small, simple pleasures (or bigger!) into your day. Get up, take a nice, hot shower, make yourself a tasty breakfast, and listen to your favorite song as you work. Read something fun. Play a game, craft something. Give someone a heartfelt hug. Give a compliment to others or to yourself. Get on a forum and talk about knitting, cats, hiking, cooking, whatever...

Ultimately, what we put outwards has an impact on others and ourselves. In a beautiful, serendipitous way, what we invest in pays dividends. Not only do we end up making ourselves better and creating more connection with other people, we may inadvertently prevent someone else from making a drastic decision later on down the road. If you look at Reddit's MadeMeSmile subreddit, mental health accounts on TikTok, or some of the various secrets on PostSecret, you'll note periodically that someone provides feedback about "I needed that," or "I was thinking about killing myself but this helped." You never know what will resonate with someone.

Look, I don't want to sound like a cliché, but I'm fixing to get all afterschool special here. Kindness begets kindness begets kindness and everybody wins.

Love multiplies. It does not divide.

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