Thriving Together Well-Being Weekly: Mindset

by Beth Cabrera, Ph.D., CWB Senior Scholar

Thriving Together Well-Being Weekly: Mindset

This edition of the Thriving Together Well-Being Weekly was written by our center's senior scholar Beth Cabrera, Ph.D., author of the book Beyond Happy: Women, Work, and Well-Being, who shares the power of positivity and purpose through her research, writing, and speaking.

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Mindset is a belief, or the way you think about something. How you view something can transform the situation, impacting your health and happiness. We can’t control the fact that we are facing a global pandemic, but we can choose how we view it. There are ways to think about the current situation that can help you be more resilient.

Challenge Mindset

Our bodies can respond to stressful situations in different ways. A threat response is what you know of as a fight-or-flight response. It prepares you for self-defense, constricting your blood vessels, ramping up inflammation, and getting immune cells ready to help you heal. This response is useful in a dangerous situation, but on a sustained basis, it can hurt your cardiovascular health.

Another type of response to stress is the challenge response. Imagine you are about to run a race or take an exam. In this case, your body responds in a way that helps you to perform better, maximizing blood flow to give you more energy and increasing your confidence and concentration. Hormones are released that improve learning and memory, enhance empathy and intuition, and protect your heart.

The way you view a situation, as a threat or a challenge, determines which of these responses your body will have. Unfortunately, the global pandemic is not a momentary threat that will soon be over. Viewing our current circumstances as a threat can lead to a sustained level of stress that will undermine your health. A better way to think about the situation is as if it were a challenge that you need to overcome.

A challenge mindset will cause your body to respond in ways that will help you be smarter and stronger in order to successfully meet the challenge.

Benefits Mindset

The pandemic is causing a huge increase in stress and anxiety. Uncertainty, loneliness, worries about our health and the health of our loved ones, financial concerns, and a sense of loss are some of the reasons we are feeling sad, anxious, disappointed, and scared. It is important not to ignore or suppress these negative emotions, but it’s important to make an effort to generate positive emotions as well. Positive emotions are especially beneficial these days, due to their impact on mental health, resilience, and immune system functioning.  

Fortunately, there is a silver lining to experiencing adversity. People often undergo positive changes as a result of difficult life experiences. Psychologists refer to it as posttraumatic growth. So, one way to generate positive emotions during this pandemic is to adopt a benefits mindset by focusing on the potential good that can come from all of this.

Getting through this will likely show you that you are stronger and more resourceful than you thought. It may already have brought you closer to others, rekindling or strengthening your relationships. You are also learning coping skills that will build your resilience. Knowing that you are better prepared to handle future challenges will boost your self-confidence. Experiencing hardship often gives us a renewed appreciation for life and for those small activities that we used to take for granted, like meeting a friend for coffee at Starbucks, going to our favorite restaurant for dinner, or getting a haircut.

A benefits mindset can help you stay positive by keeping you focused on the ways in which you will emerge from this adversity as a better person.

Mindset Exercises

  • Foster a challenge mindset by thinking about what you will do to get through these times in the best way possible. How about working to boost your immune system by eating healthy foods, exercising, and getting enough sleep? You could build your support network by reconnecting with old friends. Or increase your sense of meaning by looking for ways to help others. Our Thriving Together Well-Being Weekly resources page can give you additional ideas. Now list the strategies you plan to use to successfully rise to the challenge of living during a global pandemic.
  • Cultivate a benefits mindset by reflecting on the positive changes you have already experienced over the past several months. Write down ways you have been trying to cope with the current situation. What have you learned about yourself, your strengths, your relationships? Have you started any new habits or stopped any old habits, in order to improve your life? Have your priorities about what is important in life changed? How can you draw from this experience to make positive changes in your life going forward?

Additional Resources

Learn more well-being strategies from Beth’s book Beyond Happy: Women, Work, and Well-Being.

Watch Kelly McGonigal’s TED Talk How to Make Stress Your Friend.

Explore these 8 Ways to Test Your Stress Mindset from PsychologyToday.com.