Positive psychology is the scientific study of valued subjective experiences, including well-being, contentment and satisfaction (in the past); hope and optimism (for the future); and flow and happiness (in the present).
The social isolation and loneliness that many people are living through right now are likely to negatively impact certain elements of those experiences, particularly those focused on the present and future.
Achieving flow—which is defined as a state of optimal experience characterized by focused engagement and enjoyment of the task at hand, a merging of actions and awareness and a distorted sense of time—is something most of us would find nearly impossible at the moment considering the distractions at home and the uncertainty in the world.
And hope and optimism for the future may be hard for many of us to imagine these days.
For these reasons, the use of positive psychology is particularly important when working with clients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In ACE’s recent webinar entitled “Connecting with Clients during COVID-19,” Sabrena Jo, MS, ACE’s Director of Science and Research, highlighted two a that are particularly pertinent right now.
First, having meaningful social connections and the ability to communicate are two of the things that make us uniquely human, and they are necessary for our survival throughout the lifespan.
And second, when social connectivity and engagement with others is restricted, it could lead to social isolation and loneliness, which could have adverse health consequences. A 2015 study looked at these negative health outcomes across the lifespan from childhood to older adulthood and found a higher likelihood of the following (Hawkley & Capitanio, 2015):
- Anxiety or depression
- Poor-quality sleep
- Problems with self-regulation and cognition
- Compromised cardiovascular function
- Impaired immunity
The good news is that now more than ever before we can use technology to our advantage to connect with others. Videoconferencing has surged recently due to the shelter-in-place orders, and with good reason. People crave connection. When people experience the loneliness associated with isolation, they are prompted to seek meaningful engagement with others. Through videoconferencing, we can talk to, listen to and see the important people in our lives while maintaining physical distance.
Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter can also be used to communicate with clients. That said, it’s important to note that social media can be either helpful or harmful depending on how it is used.
A 2017 study looked at behaviors associated with using social network sites and found that people who use them to obtain and maintain meaningful social connections and have personal engagement with a smaller circle of people report higher levels of well-being. On the other hand, people who go on social network sites and do not meaningfully engage with others and who compare themselves to others report lower well-being (Clark, Algoe & Green, 2017).
The best approach may beto help your clients by engaging with them in small, private groups or one-on-one through online technology. In addition, remind clients to use social media as a means of staying connected with friends and family members, not to scroll through relative strangers’ photos or updates while comparing their own day-to-day experiences with people who, in many cases, are only sharing their “highlights.”
In terms of positive psychology, remind clients that feeling out of sorts while they’re in isolation is completely normal and to be expected and that there are options for connecting with others. Empower them to share their ideas and strategies for daily exercise and healthy eating with others in their social networks.
Finally, be sure to remind clients not to believe everything they read on social media, which should be used for social engagement and human connection, not for getting information on science and health. Be sure to share credible resources with your clients that provide evidence-based content, including the :
- American Council on Exercise – ACEfitness.org
- Centers for Disease Control – cdc.gov
- World Health Organization – who.int
- National Institutes of Health – nih.gov
- National Academy of Sciences - nationalacademies.org
- American Psychological Association – www.apa.org
* Sabrena Jo also contributed to this article.