The coronavirus pandemic is undoubtedly one of the most significant crises of our times. It has caused loss of life, unemployment and massive economic upheaval. However, we can’t ignore the fact that the pandemic also has some upshots.
There was a fall in daily global CO2 emissions during lockdown, for example, and perhaps as importantly, people are now more aware of the seriousness of the climate crisis. There has been a reduction in crime, road accidents, and even paper use. The Venice canals cleared up, wildlife is returning to cities, companies are stepping up their social responsibility, education has been transformed and volunteering has soared.
It can be difficult to see the silver linings during serious and catastrophic disasters. And yet, being able to find the opportunity in a crisis can have huge benefits for our mental well-being and personal lives.
Sit With Difficult Emotions
First of all, it’s important to note that taking something positive from a difficult situation doesn’t mean burying our heads in the sand or ignoring the dire reality of a situation.
Unlike toxic positivity, seeing opportunity during times of crisis does not mean suppressing unpleasant emotions. You can and should acknowledge and process all your feelings when a disaster or challenge happens. Seeing the opportunity means then reframing what the incident means in the story of our lives and what we might be able to do with it.
Accept That Crisis Will Happen
You’ve probably heard that frustrating-but-true maxim that the only constant in life is change. Crises are unavoidable. Whether it’s a relationship breakdown or getting fired, we will all face some kind of hardship in our lives. But adapting how we view and approach these struggles might actually allow us to turn them into something meaningful.
“Crises come into our lives, no matter how we may try to avoid them,” psychotherapist Mel Schwartz, LCSW, writes in Psychology Today. “They are troubling, unwanted experiences or events that take us way out of our comfort zone. Typically, crises result in some type of loss. The very nature of a crisis is antithetical to our core values of certainty and predictability as they vanish in an instant.”
Relish Being Pushed Out of Your Comfort Zone
Change and growth rarely happen when we’re comfortable. Schwartz argues that being nudged out of our comfort zone is key to seeing opportunity in crisis.
Transforming our career or love life, for instance, usually takes a great deal of dedication and intention. “Crisis, on the other hand, removes the self-motivating requirement as it places us squarely outside of our familiar zone…[this] is where the opportunity lies,” he says.
“Growth and fundamental levels of change only tend to occur when we are out of our comfort zone. So we might look at the crisis as a blessing in disguise, albeit an unwanted one.”
Yoram (Jerry) Wind, emeritus professor of marketing at Wharton, and entrepreneur Nitin Rakesh, who co-authored a book on transformations during crises, agree. They write: “Instead of viewing the present situation as a short-term necessary evil that we should try to leave behind as soon as possible and return to a comfortable pre-crisis past, we should ask how to use the current situation to speed up long overdue changes.”
Have you been meaning to leave your unfulfilling job but haven’t been able to summon the courage? Maybe you’ve always wanted to write a book, travel the world, or run a marathon, but got too comfortable with your daily routine and put it off. Being forced to shake things up might offer just the chance.
Consider The Big Picture
Another critical aspect of turning crisis into possibility is training yourself to think long-term. Your current crisis is not ideal, but it is just one moment in time.
“To achieve self-empowerment requires looking beyond that snapshot and envisioning what door of potential has just flung open,” writes Schwartz. “Learning to look at the larger themes and patterns that set up these challenges will help develop a vantage point from which you may break through the struggle. In other words, what are the recurring stories of your life? What is your participation in this storyline?”
Maria Langan-Riekhof, Arex B. Avanni, and Adrienne Janetti produced a report about turning challenges into opportunities for Brookings. They write, “To turn an existing crisis into an opportunity often requires reframing the problem or looking at the issues through a different lens.” If possible, allow yourself that perspective — try and see the bigger picture.
Remember Who and What Is Really Important
Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Hinkle, LMFT, provides these tips on applying this mindset in your own life. She offers the following five suggestions:
- Recognize your priorities. Crises can highlight what is most important to us so we see what truly matters.
- Who is there? During a crisis, notice to whom you’re reaching out and who is there to support you. Foster these relationships!
- Develop a support system. If you realize you don’t have the support system you want or need, how can you develop that?
- Self assessment. Notice your strengths and areas for improvement: what stands out for you with where you excel in crisis?
- Ask for help. Practice being okay with asking for help: we all need help sometimes!
Change Your Perspective
At the heart of turning crisis into opportunity is mental reframing. You don’t have to ignore the reality of the situation, but you can change how you view it. Use the experience of being out of your comfort zone to seize opportunities. Remind yourself to see the bigger picture and patterns in your life, and prioritise your support systems.
If you’re struggling to turn a crisis into an opportunity, consider speaking with a licensed Talkspace therapist — a convenient and inexpensive way to make progress on your goals.