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Rising up When the World Has Turned Upside Down

“Creativity itself requires limits, for the creative act arises out of the struggle of human beings with and against that which limits them.”

—Dr. Rollo May

The toll of this pandemic, on countless fronts, has been far greater than any of us imagined possible in our lifetime. It is easy to feel discouraged and disempowered, especially with the barrage of seemingly more bad news around each corner just when we start to feel optimistic about the prospect of a light at the end of the tunnel. There is no getting around the fact that this has been a challenging time for all of us not only in practical ways, but emotionally as well.

Like you and so many others, this journey has invited me to take a deep dive into my own perceptions and assumptions about life, reorienting to the new world we are all living in. Here are some of my observations, deconstructions, and useful tips to help you transform this unique time into a more positive and life-giving experience.

Make a Mental Shift

By making a mental shift about the current situation as an opportunity to use our inner creative resources to access new possibilities for transformation, hope is possible and the whole landscape irreversibly changes.

While it is true that the world as we knew it before the pandemic no longer exists, it is helpful to think about our current situation as a disruption that is fertile soil for creating something new. The pandemic policies and general practices are not in any way a reflection of a static redefinition of reality beyond this particular moment in time.

This Is Not the “New Normal”

Many refer to the policy and lifestyle shifts as the “new normal.” This characterization is blatantly untrue and is unnecessarily limiting. Because as humans, we long for a sense of order, our brain has an uncanny tendency to make conclusions prematurely in an effort for perceived certainty.

Freeing ourselves from the belief that what we are living will persist and become an ongoing normative way of functioning, we are more likely to be able to emerge from this surreal and distressing dream with more prospects than we could have previously imagined. This is a time when we most need to courageously harness the power of possibility-thinking and become victors and agents of positive change instead.

Be a “Possibilitarian”

At its core, my job as a psychologist is to help those I serve learn how to see new possibilities to transform their thoughts and experiences in and about the world. This is especially the case in times of discomfort. I do not know about you, but amidst this unprecedented time of curfews and masks, physical distancing, border closures, and travel limitations, in my mind, there is a lot to feel uncomfortable about right about now!

When we choose to focus on possibilities, the walls that seem to bind us can evaporate. And indeed, it is in times when we are pushed to our limits that we are motivated to creatively explore strategies, resources, and perspectives that we otherwise would never entertain, as we are reminded of by the mythic story of the Baba Yaga.

Baba Yaga Wisdom

About 20 years ago, I learned about the Baba Yaga story from Eastern European culture. No one likes crossing the path of this “witch” who hides in the forest. We would much rather be able to freely carry on as we wish and not be challenged. However, when fate has it that we stumble into her lair, we are abruptly stopped in our tracks, unable to carry on unless we are able to complete the tasks or solve the riddles that she presents us with. The kicker is that, sometimes, we do not even know what it is that we are required to do.

By being confronted in such a way, if we want to survive and thrive and be able to carry on with our journey, we must be willing to be open to possibilities that are outside of our typical thinking. By igniting our creativity, we are enabled to discover more about ourselves and what we are capable of and make instrumental shifts in our thoughts, our relationships, and our behaviours that have the potential of enhancing the world that we live in.

In difficult times like we are all living with the COVID-⁠19 pandemic, I find this perspective to be particularly empowering and helpful, offering a sense of agency that replaces the natural tendency to feel powerless and victimized.

Resist Polarized (All-or-Nothing) Thinking

Stressful situations that are experienced as crises unfortunately predispose the human brain to activate less-than-optimal heuristics, often characterized by polarized thinking. In so doing, optimal solution-seeking strategies are often lost, and the ability to appreciate the full range of perceived options can become impaired, replacing creative problem-solving practices with all-or-nothing and reactive thinking. Being aware of this tendency can enable you to pause and invite curiosity about options you may not have considered, so that you can redirect your subsequent thoughts and actions in a way that is more constructive.

Final Thoughts

As difficult as it can be to see beyond the storm and the global suffering that is infiltrating virtually every aspect of our lives, we all have a choice to either succumb to feeling like a victim, or stepping up to be a victor and do all that we can to rise above the huge challenges before us and relentlessly find ways to be a positive agent of change. Transformation is rarely an easy endeavour but, strategically directed, it is well worth the effort.

Theresa Nicassio, PhD, Psychologist

Theresa is a wellness educator, radio host, and the award-winning author of YUM: Plant-⁠Based Recipes for a Gluten-⁠Free Diet.