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In This Challenging Time, How Well Do You Test Out?

April 06, 2020

By H. Steven Moffic, MD
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The opinions expressed by Psychiatry & Behavioral Health Learning Network bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone and are not meant to reflect the opinions of the publication.

You may recall the famous statement of Thomas Paine that helped to inspire the American Revolution: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” He also wrote: “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”

Perhaps these statements resonate with how we feel in the midst of our unexpected coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Most have had our daily routine changed or upended in one major way or another.

Moreover, in a crisis, usually parts of our character are tested in a way that has never occurred before and may never again. For many in physical distancing, this can be a test for loneliness and boredom. For those on the front lines of medical care or public service, it can be a test of risking one’s life for others.

This situation thereby provides a rare opportunity to take stock of our souls or, in psychological terms, our character. Right now, in the course of this pandemic, may be a particularly relevant and inspiring time to do so since we are in the midst of three beloved days: the secular April Fools’ Day; the Jewish Passover, and the Christian Easter. Soon to come, too, are Earth Day and the Islamic Ramadan. These days annually suggest, at least symbolically, that we review our foibles, how we have used our freedom, how we can resurrect our lives after trauma, how healthy is the earth, and what may be being revealed to us, respectively. In terms of the pandemic, these days may be asking us:

Are we doing anything foolish, like ignoring physical distancing when we don’t practically have to?

Are we willingly curtailing our freedom for the good of all?

What are we willing to sacrifice to help others?

Can we continue to curtail carbon emissions after the pandemic is over?

What has this pandemic revealed about us that we need to learn?

Whether administrator, clinician, patient or public, there are many ways to try to answer these questions for ourselves.

  • Introspect. Take some minutes each day to think about how your life has changed.
  • Journaling. The Wisconsin Historical Society is even requesting submissions of daily journaling over 30-90 days that will indicate how we dealt with the epidemic.
  • Loved ones. Be sure to process how your relationship is being influenced for better or worse, in sickness or in health.
  • Colleagues. If you are working, colleagues may be an invaluable source of support, especially if we view each other as our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
  • Therapy. Existential-oriented therapy, like the logotherapy founded by Viktor Frankle, MD, from his experience in finding meaning in the Holocaust concentration camps, may be particularly appropriate for the times.

If you want to try to score how you are doing, there are ways to do so. Abraham Maslow is well known for his pyramid of psychological needs. On top is self-actualization. Though self-actualization in this schema can seem at first glance too individualistic and narcissistic, it includes social relationships and other aspects of the self. Among the free, researched and confidential online tests to see how well you are self-actualizing are:

  • Characteristics of Self-Actualization Scale (CSAS)
  • Light Triad Scale (LTS)
  • Awe Experience Scale (AWE-S)
  • Healthy Personality Scale (HPS)

In Ecclesiastes, one of the books of the Old Testament, there is this well-known passage (3.1): “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

Now, in the spring of our seasons in the United States, “these are the times” to grow our characters like we do our gardens. How well we get out of this crisis and “begin the world over again” will depend on how well we collectively self-actualize. Just as we are learning more about the coronavirus, we can learn more about ourselves.

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