Getting to Yes, And

Dr. Maria Sirois: Resilience In The Time Of COVID-19


Dr. Maria Sirois

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Kelly connects with positive psychologist Dr. Maria Sirois about how individuals can better cope during these times of physical distancing and shelter in place.

How are you coping with life right now during this global pandemic?

“Every time something difficult happens, we get invited again to decide how we're going to respond to it, including what we're going to do with our thoughts. I mean, I've had really distressing thoughts recently, like just overwhelmed with sadness, thoughts and fatigue and I can't believe I have to face this again. And then, someone reminded me if my Sicilian, and this is true, if my Sicilian grandmother could find her way to this country at the age of 17, not speaking the language, managed to get through the depression, World War one, World War two, Vietnam, Korea, I can hang out in my house for a few weeks. We can take our minds to better places.”

You write about the importance of mindful breathing as a way to help with your stress.

“So breath is the essence of life, right? And what we know is that under stress, not only do our minds take us to crazy, not helpful places, but we literally often stop breathing or we stop breathing deeply. And our breath actually begins to catalyze even more of a stress response, more fight or flight, right? So the very act of taking three mindful, slow, deep breaths, neurochemically, puts us in a better place emotionally and gives our body a chance for respite. But psychologically what it does is it opens the door to freedom because when you pause long enough to take three deep breaths, you've given yourself the opportunity to choose, okay, what's my next best step? Do I want to go back to the racing mind or do I want to go outside, take some air in, remember that the world is still spinning. Okay, now I can go back to work.”

You have a lovely metaphor for understanding how our brain can shift to negative and positive states - tell us about the swamp and the pond.

“So we are wired for anxiety, for fear, for worry, for rumination. Fair enough. Because as a species that protects us, right? It helps us anticipate danger. It helps us face danger. We're also hardwired for love, gratitude, generosity, kindness, contentment, serenity, passion, creativity. We're also hardwired for positive states. But because the fear and anxiety stuff tends to be stickier, we forget about the good. So the metaphor I like to work with is to build in the swamp and the pond. So the swamp refers to metaphorically all the things that make our days difficult. And the swamp was present every day before Coven-19. It will be present every day after Coven-19. So ordinary swamp stressors are like traffic, too much email, not enough time to get work done. My 17 year olds pissed at me, you know, yada yada, yada, yada. Fair enough. But the pond is always also true. So when I, no matter how big a group of students I'll have in a class, I'll say, tell me some one thing you appreciate about the day. And it doesn't take them long to come up with the cup of coffee, the blue bird, my wife gave me a hug, my daughter sent me a text, I got a promotion at work. There's always the pond as well. So resilience rests in that capacity to notice the swamp, manage it, work with it, do your best to heal it and put most of your focus and energy and attention toward the pond.”

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