With all the tragic things that are happening in the world as a result of the coronavirus, now might seem like an unusual time to talk about being positive. Yet staying positive is a core ingredient in the recipe of successful coping in a crisis.
Now, more than ever, is the time for us to be proactive about creating small moments of happiness in our days, given the findings in psychology research that positive emotions help us to undo the negative effects of stress.
I’ll come to the research in a minute, but first there are a few really practical things you can do to foster positive emotions.
Savour the small moments: Even during lockdown you still have many small moments to savour. The smell of coffee, the feel of the warm shower on your back and so on. When you stop to take in these moments, rather then let them rush by on automatic pilot, you are giving your brain a chance to process the pleasure, which boosts your serotonin – the feel good neurotransmitter that helps elevate your mood and make you feel calm.
Strengthen your connections: for those of us in family lockdown, now is the opportunity to spend quality time with our loved ones. Take the time to hug your kids or partner, look them in the eyes, have long conversations with them – all of these gestures promote closeness and also boost your oxytocin, which is a hormone that bonds people and also has a calming effect on your body. When your oxytocin levels spike they tell your body to switch off cortisol, the stress hormone.
Look for the good in others: These types of crises can bring out both the worst and the best in human nature.
This week there were two Youtube clips that went viral in Australia about toilet paper. One was of three grown women fighting in Woolworths over a packet of toilet paper. The other was two young children dragging a large cart of toilet paper behind them and stopping at the homes of elderly people in their neighbourhood to give them a roll. I like to think that the best in human nature is rising to the coronavirus challenge.
Philanthropists are donating money to scientists to find a cure. Doctors and medical staff are working overtime to help sick patients. Neighbourhoods are putting together care packages for people who are sleeping rough.
People are posting positive messages on social media. Friends from across the globe reaching out to each other. When we tune into these positive and pro-social aspects of the crisis, we are united in hope.
By tuning into these three silver linings, you can potentially change your brain chemistry and build up your energy stores to help you cope with the other aspects of your day that have been made more difficult.
Taking charge of our mental health and capturing the small moments will help as we go further into the unknown, too. If we can foster positive emotions, the flow-on effects are well researched, and well documented. In fact, positive emotions are a key resource for us during the coronavirus crisis because they can do a number of things:
Increase your resilience: Research has shown that when we experience positive emotions on the back of a stressful event, we bounce back more quickly and have a faster “cardiovascular recovery” time – our heart rate lowers and our blood pressure stabilises more quickly when we are able to be positive.
Increase your immunity: a study where people were deliberately infected with the influenza virus and rhinovirus found that those people who had more positive emotions were more likely to fight off the symptoms. People low on positive emotions were 2.9 times more likely to contract a respiratory illness in this study.
Make you think more clearly: the way we feel influences the way we think. Positive emotions boost our problem solving abilities as well as our judgment, decision-making, cognitive flexibility and creativity. Staying positive will help you and your kids to be better at solving all the little problems that are being thrown our way right now, such as figuring out new technology platforms for working (and schooling) from home.
Every dark cloud has a silver lining and this is your chance to thicken that lining and take charge of your mental health so that you come out of this experience stronger.