OPINION: Using Hardship to Boost Well-Being

Oct 13, 2021
10:28 AM

Photo by Neillwphoto/CC BY-SA 2.0

The pandemic is still impacting our everyday lives, as the variants and the CDC’s changing guidelines keep us on our toes. According to data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths have occurred at higher rates among Latinos than other ethnic groups except for Indigenous. We have also seen higher rates of job loss, pay cuts, and all the hardships that occur with an unstable income.

Despite the data, it is possible to use the hardships of the present circumstances to pivot, learn, and thrive. 

Bad habits can’t be dressed up; you must replace them with good habits. Rollo May, the American existential psychologist, said it best: “It is an ironic habit of human beings to run faster when they have lost their way.” When we do what we’ve always done and don’t get the results we want, the response shouldn’t be to double our efforts. We must try something new.

It seems simple, but when dealing with stressful conditions, a person’s focus narrows, and the nose-to-the-grindstone mentality dominates. Positive risk-taking and expansive thinking will lead to a solutions-based mentality, instead of one focused only on the problem. Expansive thinking allows us to think beyond our present condition and context, which makes us more creative and open to connecting with others. 

Expansive thinking is the opposite of a stress response, such as fight-or-flight, which is a survival mechanism. A survival mechanism simplifies our thinking because we are just trying to achieve the bare minimum: survival. This is not to diminish the idea of being alive. But thriving is more complicated: as we accept the past and embrace the present, we must also plan for the future. 

How do we shift from fight-or-flight to expansive thinking?

Climb out of the rabbit hole of worry and reach out to people who are doing what you want to do and people who have what you want. If you’re an introvert, the idea of talking to people, instead of doing research on your own, might be unnerving. However, new behaviors will create new outcomes, and life is a series of experiments. Everything we need or want is manifested through relationships and reaching out to others.

Create a list of people in your life who are solutions-focused, can-do people, and write down two questions to ask each one. Data mining via conversations can be inelegant, so limiting the number of questions is helpful. No one wants to be responsible for someone else’s wellbeing or finances, so make sure your reach-out calls are low pressure.

The experience of organizing a conversation around specific goals is very liberating. You are basically doing micro-interventions for yourself –it is self-care. Let people know you are looking for a job, an apartment, more clients for your business, and practice reciprocity. Always end the conversation by letting people know you are available to talk if they need help with something. 

Ideas are free, generating ideas requires other people, and ideas eventually lead to brilliant solutions. The hive mind is not only about cults; it is also about building bridges to new possibilities. Latino Rebels, for example, started as a group of us talking on social media at all hours of the day and night freely exchanging ideas. 

Helping other people and letting other people help you creates an important bond and diminishes the sense of isolation that can occur during a crisis. Vulnerability shared with the right person can be a very enriching experience. The conversation is about trust and faith in the other person. Everyone needs social support, and meaningful connections increase well-being. 

Focus on training your mind to find solutions. State a problem simply and ask people how you might solve it. No prolonged lamentations are necessary. Keep it simple and keep it moving. 

Use all the resources available to you: food banks, free classes and workshops, church clothing drives, emergency cash assistance to cover rent, and so on. Taxes are paid to help those in need. Your needs might be small, or they might be great, but they are temporary. Connect with institutions that keep you motivated and feeling that your life has value. You are not your job, and you are not your bank account. 

Khan Academy, MIT, and the Small Business Administration provide free resources to learn, earn, and connect with others. Mind your mind and take actions to avoid letting it meander toward worry and depressive perspectives. Your intellect has much better uses. Use your mind to learn, plan, daydream about positive outcomes, and learn to negotiate. Exercise your body to increase positive feelings and exercise your intellect to provide yourself with healthy, prosocial amusements.


Odilia Rivera-Santos, MAPP is a Puerto Rican writer born on the island and raised in NYC. Rivera-Santos studied literature at Smith College and psychology at UPenn. She lives in PA with her ant farm. Twitter: @bezotes.