Deconstructing the pandemic with Psychology: Meaning-making, positive introspection can help us make sense of unpredictable times

Meaning-making on an individual and global level has proven to play a significant role in how individuals deal with situations of crisis — such as a pandemic — influencing their adjustment and survival

Archana Raghavan June 10, 2020 16:43:36 IST
Deconstructing the pandemic with Psychology: Meaning-making, positive introspection can help us make sense of unpredictable times

Research in the field of meaning-making and stress-related growth is promising for mental health experts, as well as individuals profiting from a capitalistic world. There are sheer volumes of information regarding meaning-making and its effects on human health and well-being, thereby requiring organisation and integration. The meaning-making model in Health Psychology classifies two levels of meaning: global and situational. Global meaning refers to individuals’ general orientation systems and views of many situations, while situational meaning is regarding a specific instance.

Situational meaning consists of the initial appraisals, revisiting the global and appraised meanings, and the outcomes of the process. So, for instance, in the light of a global pandemic that is a stressful event, appraised meanings revolve around threats, losses, challenges and availability of resources. We try to envision what the situation will mean for us. Somewhere along this process, there is a discrepancy in our anticipation and we escalate towards distress. We then try to comfort ourselves, and construct effortful meanings to soothe ourselves.

Deconstructing the pandemic with Psychology Meaningmaking positive introspection can help us make sense of unpredictable times

Meaning-making on an individual and global level has proven to play a significant role in how individuals deal with situations of crisis. Illustration by Adrija Ghosh

On a global level, we try to construct narratives that involve how the universe works; how nature is seeking revenge for all the issues that humans have caused; how the pandemic is beneficial to the world; and how this is an intricate system woven between faith, identity, justice and control. Constructing these narratives leads to a holistic sense of motivation, on both an internal and external level, leading to a newfound sense of purpose within a world that seems to be characterised by unpredictability.

Meaning-making on an individual and global level has proven to play a significant role in how individuals deal with situations of crisis, influencing their adjustment and survival. Within the context of an illness, however, being diagnosed with a deadly virus that has no cure and treatment plan seems to detrimentally affect their global beliefs about fairness, political views, benevolence and predictability of the world. On an individual level, it impacts their sense of invulnerability and personal control. Additionally, individual goals in their current lives, as well as their plans for the future, are seeped into and violated by the anxiety and fear around re-evaluating their belief systems.

Increasing levels of anxiety and distress — intuitively and statistically — demonstrate how individuals are spiralling into negative thought cycles, feelings of loneliness and isolation, thereby establishing a sense of purposelessness which causes high levels of distress. At this point, within the framework of meaning-making theory, it is determined that positive spirals of introspection and meaning-making such as “the pandemic has made us resilient” “the lockdown has helped in reducing the effects of climate change, although minimal” and “this period has allowed us to self-reflect and take care of our health in a way that we have never” seem to assist in cultivating a positive mindset and promote health and well-being among those of us who try to make sense and annotate meaning during these unprecedented times.

Archana Raghavan is an associate clinical psychologist at The Emotional Wellness Initiatives

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