Broaden And Build To Hack Away Your Stress (Real Science)

Positive psychology, unlike traditional psychology, focuses a lot more on the well-being of a person, not just the absence of diseases and disorders.

Let us dive into the Broaden-and-Build Theory from positive psychology and find out how it can help.

10 Helpful Strategies To Cope With Stress Using Broaden-and-Build

The following techniques will help you have a healthy balance of positive and negative emotions without being overwhelmed by any.

And a balance of emotions is an ideal state to begin a broaden-and-build journey.

how to cope the stress of lockdown

Let us fork out the strategies to cope with stress first:

  1. News: Limit the crises’ news. You can pull everything you need to know from the web in just 5–10 minutes. Anything beyond that is going to occupy your mental space with unnecessary news that does not affect you. If constant pandemic news is a new habit or hobby you grew, ask yourself: Why? Do I even like it? Is it affecting me positively?
  2. Control: Focus on what you can control, not what is beyond your control. Worry about things you can influence. That way, you can do something about it.
  3. Abuse: Seek immediate online help if you are experiencing any form of abuse and toxicity at home. People are stuck with people, and that creates an opportunity for aggravating negativity. It is also an opportunity for predators to take advantage of your vulnerability.
  4. Productivity: Do not feel obligated to be the most productive person on the planet. It is not compulsory. It is also ok to feel bored or have nothing valuable to do. You will learn to tolerate the new balance of boredom, fun, and productivity. Begin small.
  5. Guilt: Do not feel guilty for not making the most of your time. These are hard times for many and, despite what memes say, nothing is wrong with you if you are leading a normal life and not learning 29437 new skills. Especially if that is all you can handle.
  6. Loneliness: There are ways to feel slightly better if your loneliness is crippling you – have a warm bath, sleep with a blanket, video call, have random conversations, and wear clothes that make you feel secure. Loneliness is complex, but aloneliness (yes, that’s a word) makes things more complicated because you may be stuck with people who you cannot get away from.
  7. Physical activity: Move your body in whatever capacity you can. Exercise, stretch, yoga, breathing, etc. It’s for your baseline health.
  8. Basics: Food, Sleep, personal hygiene, and home hygiene are fundamentals you should not ignore.
  9. Conflict: Personal conflict might feel “exciting” to some. Remember – those already fragile may be at their breaking point right now. Those who were previously healthy, maybe in a fragile state.
  10. Rewards: Be proud of surviving. Create a reward for yourself, even if it is a token, to show some self-love.

For you to employ this approach, it is important to snap out of the downward spiral.

For that, here below are some recommendations to snap out of anger. It is one of the deeper emotions you feel in the spiral.

Ideally, most people can function well enough with other emotions in the downward spiral – frustration, stress, doubt, worry, etc.

10 Helpful Ways To Get Over Anger And Hate With Broaden-and-Build

What should you do if you are fuming with anger and experiencing hate?

The following tips are ideal when you are already in a downward spiral and experiencing a lot of negative emotions. Feeling frequent anger is a sign of being in a downward spiral enough to stay there. Snapping out of anger and the downward spiral can help you reset.

These are 10 ways to exit the downward spiral at the pit stop called anger.

  1. First, withdraw yourself from the situation. If you have to, announce you will return after you have calmed down.
  2. Wash your face, brush your teeth, change your clothes, stretch your body as a diversion from your thoughts.
  3. Use the 4–7–8 breathing technique: Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 7, and exhale for 8. Doing this a few times is enough. Regular deep breathing is also fine if this is too hard. Try a 3–6–5. Use a timer and watch the seconds increase. Focus on the time.
  4. Use the 5–4–3–2–1 sensory grounding mindfulness technique. Notice 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, 1 thing you can taste. Use this to snap out of it.
  5. Listen to music, close your eyes, and get into the groove. Of all things we can do, only music has the power to regulate every aspect of our body and mind.
  6. Don’t vent. Don’t try to “let it out.” Don’t try to release your anger through aggressive actions. Those things usually amplify your anger, not reduce it. Catharsis is often not the solution, nor is venting on social media. However, honest conversations about it can help.
  7. Dance or exercise. Do any activity that disconnects your body from your mind. Anger is a complex emotion built out of simple aggressive and intimidation “stances”—tightening of muscles, the closing of fists, locking eyes, clenched jaws, etc. Disconnecting the body by exercising or dancing changes the feedback to your brain and changes your emotional state.
  8. If you must express your anger to resolve it, do it after a time-out. Choose a later time—say 30 minutes later. That way you will express it in a different way than you would have, usually, it’ll be less intense.
  9. Focus on what is behind the anger & fear – is there any insecurity, disappointment, personal problem, or is some other issue being misdirected as anger?
  10. If you are generally angry, think about what you do not want to lose because anger can strain many of your relationships, compromise physical health, and mental health, reduce productivity, and even reduce self-respect and others’ respect for you, etc. Focus on what you value in those, even if it is very hard for you to see at the moment. Don’t stop until you see it.

By the way, what’s the best creative way to control anger – this?

Broaden-and-Build Theory (BBT) of Positive Emotions

When we experience positive emotions, they broaden our perspective. This broadening effect of positive emotions generates novel thoughts and creative insights.

It also improves our relationships. And helps build skills, gain knowledge, and develop resources like resilience, social support, and optimism.

The broadening effect opens us to a much wider range of thoughts.

The outcome of this “broadening” & “building” is an improvement in our well-being, personal growth, social relationships, physical health, and quality of life.

In turn, it generates new positive emotions that continue the cycle of broadening & building.

Positive emotions serve an adaptive survival function by broadening our attention and mobilizing our resources.

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, who developed this theory, calls it the “Upward Spiral” — because positive emotions increasingly expand mental aspects and build resources that improve well-being.

And that reignites the positive emotions to further broaden the mental repertoire and improve resources that ultimately lead to contentment. The cycle goes on.

Broaden Build Theory Pic
Broaden Build Theory Pic (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

However, right after contentment comes a tricky emotion—boredom.

Boredom fuels the “downward spiral” of negative emotions.

Once boredom sets in, negative emotions like pessimism and frustration arrive. They create distress, color our thoughts with negativity, and fuel anger, and insecurity.

This throttles our mental resources and ultimately leads to the lowest states of well-being—characterized by powerlessness, depression, hopelessness, and crippling fear.

It is a state with limited mental resources that we commonly know as having no “energy” to focus or do anything. Boredom connects the two spirals.

So how you deal with emotions around boredom determines which spiral you climb on.

Can you tolerate boredom and find a way to experience positive emotions? Or does boredom begin a chain of unfulfilling events in life?

How To Apply BBT To Crises

People speak about boredom. That’s the mid-point. Some people do activities that generate positive emotions and spend their time in a fairly satisfying way.

One common example of the broaden & build theory is baking bread at home.

You may have wondered why so many people have taken to baking. It reflects food security, it gives rise to a sense of creation, and a sense of mastery.

The instructions are easy enough, and the process takes time, but it’s hardly boring.

The initial mental state to begin baking is not difficult to achieve.

The comforting nature of baking bread is enough to fuel the upward spiral, and the physical resources (ingredients) needed are few. That’s an opportunity to begin and the process itself is a “broadened skill” for many.

Perhaps the initial emotional trigger for baking is the fear of scarcity and food insecurity and lack of control.

But why be baking bread? That’s a good question and let’s answer it in 4 steps.

4 Steps To Join The Upward Spiral And Then Continue

  1. Positive emotions: The idea of making your own food creates positive emotions about security, control, and survival.
  2. Broadening: That broadens our perspective, we then think of baking – a simple, attractive activity. Instructions are simple, it consumes time, and the ingredients are usually available.
  3. Building: Once we begin, boredom is replaced with complete sensory immersion. We tell others, we share it on social media, and we feel good working.
  4. Contentment & fulfillment: Whatever the outcome is, the process creates a sense of satisfaction, a highly desirable positive emotion.

Not everyone considers baking as a wholesome activity, some aren’t aware of it. That’s where emotional contagion plays a role. We see photos on social media and that triggers the first positive emotion in the 4 steps.

Emotional contagion is the spread of emotions between people by observing them. Social media tends to amplify them and that builds the trend.

[Do your Facebook friends make you happy, or do they reduce your joy?]

Of course, baking isn’t the only option. Some can have a broaden-and-build approach with pets or musical instruments.

Any hobby for that matter. Zoom parties, online games, and new social dynamics can all occur during an upward spiral. People who begin the upward spiral tend to stay on it until they are bored again.

Quite often, not gaining complete satisfaction and doing a “broaden & build” routine with many activities can sustain moderate well-being because there is no opportunity to reach a post-contentment state of boredom. But when that does happen, we see negative behaviors such as obsessing over crises.

Pessimism about the world can narrow our attention to focus on just the negative aspects and deplete our mental resources to stay calm.

Depleted resources can bleed into interpersonal relationships due to the lack of inhibition (inhibition & restraint need resources).

Rewards can be tricky, they may reinforce the downward spiral and the upward spiral. Watching a lot of porn and wasting a lot of money on online gambling could be events that are sustained during a downward spiral and reinforced by rewards.

Before you start the upward spiral, you should ensure two things:

  1. Make a few lifestyle adjustments so negative scenarios do not burden your mind too much.
  2. Maintain a baseline level of well-being where positive emotions and new thoughts have an opportunity to thrive.

Final Words

The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions describes how positive emotions broaden our thoughts and behaviors and help us build social, mental, and physical resources.

This means our perspective broadens and we build better relationships, and coping mechanisms, and improve our health. Ultimately, that leads to an improved quality of life.

Our life in the lockdown is different from what we are used to and prepared for. To deal with stress and fear, you can kick-start a fulfilling life with a few positive emotions.

Between a spiral toward happiness and a spiral toward fear and misery, there is boredom – the critical point that is neither an upward spiral nor a downward spiral.

How you cope and what you do determines where boredom takes you – happiness or misery.

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Author Bio: Aditya Shukla is an applied psychologist and the creator of Cognition Today, a website that explores the inner workings of the mind.

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When it comes to mental well-being, you don't have to do it alone. Going to therapy to feel better is a positive choice. Therapists can help you work through your trauma triggers and emotional patterns.