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“Radical Optimism”

Staying Calm and Hopeful During Times of Stress and Uncertainty


"We have a choice in how we think about any situation we face. Even if you weren’t born an optimist, you can still learn to think like one. “Radical optimism” is the notion that there’s an upside to everything. Even a global pandemic and worldwide health crisis."


by Dr Natalie Dattilo, Clinical Psychologist

As a clinical psychologist specializing in stress and anxiety, coping with Coronavirus has been on the agenda lately. In therapy, we practice de-catastrophizing by playing out worst case scenarios, developing practical plans to manage uncertainty, and discussing strategies for staying calm in the midst of chaos.

During times of extreme stress, it’s normal to feel anxious. During times of unpredictability, it’s normal to feel unsettled. When a situation feels out of our control, how we manage our reaction to the situation matters. An effective way to do this is to monitor and modify the way we think about it.

We have a choice in how we think about any situation we face. Even if you weren’t born an optimist, you can still learn to think like one. “Radical optimism” is the notion that there’s an upside to everything. Even a global pandemic and worldwide health crisis.

Optimistic thinking is a powerful tool that allows us to reframe a situation. It’s a thinking strategy that empowers us and helps us build confidence. It can breed a sense of personal strength and is the foundation of resilience. And like anything, with practice you can get better at it. Our current circumstances provide the perfect opportunity to do just that.

For example, it is believing that during times of great challenge, our best selves step up. That in the midst of uncertainty, we learn how to trust. In the midst of rationing resources, we learn how to go without. In the midst of disappointment, we get better at tolerating unpleasant emotions. And in the midst of illness, we develop a deeper appreciation for our health and the health of our loved ones.

History tells us that during times of great stress, our values and priorities become very clear. We adapt. We recalibrate. We carry on.

Humans are extraordinarily resilient. Now is no different. We will come together. We will overcome. We will learn. We will grow. We will make tough decisions and we will be stronger as a result.

How we think affects how we feel and what we do. Remind yourself that you are capable. Because you are. Don’t lose sight of the goal. Distance, but don’t isolate. Prepare, but don’t panic. Have compassion for others. How well you handle this depends almost entirely on how you think about it. And that is something over which you have great control.

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