As the world faces an unprecedented health pandemic unlike anything ever seen before, it’s becoming harder and harder to stay positive.
It’s easy to get sucked into the vacuum of bad news and feel overwhelmed by negative thoughts and feelings of helplessness.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, and while the situation is undeniably difficult, this won’t be our reality forever.
We’ve already looked at the different things people do to stay positive, but if you’re a glass half-empty kind of person, is there any way to become more positive?
We spoke to some experts to find out how to quell negative thoughts while in lockdown.
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Pursue a hobby – but make it doable
If there’s a plus side to being stuck indoors – and away from the pub – it’s that we’ve all found ourselves with extra time to explore those latent hobbies.
Professor Christian van Nieuwerburgh, Professor of Coaching and Positive Psychology, University of East London told Metro.co.uk that it’s important to ‘focus on enjoyable things that you can do under the current restrictions, rather than ruminate about pleasurable things that you cannot do.’
So why not think about hobbies that are actually achievable right now? It could be learning to crochet, cooking, or even just absorbing yourself into a really good TV show?
If you do turn to the screen, Professor van Nieuwerburgh advises setting yourself a time limit:
‘Find an entertaining series on TV and allow yourself a break at the end of the day to watch one or two episodes.
‘Avoid binge-watching and allocate a set amount of time for this. Maybe ask Alexa to set an alarm or set one on your phone. When you watch TV, really savour the experience and look forward with anticipation to watching further episodes,’ he said.
Binge-watching reduces the pleasure of this anticipation, so try to resist the urge to let Netflix roll on.
While some people may be able to spend this time completing their novel or smashing out a song, don’t put yourself under any strain to make your hobby your side hustle, and similarly, don’t load unnecessary pressure on yourself.
Listen to music
Listening to – or even creating – music can have immeasurable impacts on your mood, and can help you step back and reframe your thoughts.
Consumer research conducted by Spotify in partnership with the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) found that 88% of people use music to help improve their mood and overall mental well-being.
More than half of the respondents said they seek out songs with uplifting beats, but music which evokes nostalgia and happy memories also featured high.
And as for the most popular genre? 49% chose pop music, followed by 37% who said rock music lifts thir moods.
Spotify has created a Daily Wellness playlist specially for Mental Health Awareness Week which is packed with positive beats, but why not create your own playlist? Pick a selection of songs that take you back and move you forward.
When you’re done, why not share it with your friends and family too?
Keep a gratitude journal
Research in positive psychology – the scientific study of happiness – suggests that practicing gratitude can help increase overall feelings of happiness and positivity.
The format of the journal is not important – the most important thing is to record the good things that happened to you that day.
Dr Andreas Michaelides, Chief Psychology Officer at Noom, told Metro.co.uk that you can incorporate gratitude in your life by listing three things you are grateful for each day before you go to sleep.
‘Try to reflect and think of new things every day, and you’ll find that you’ll start being grateful for the little things, like your coffee in the morning or that your internet worked all day when you were working from home.
‘Reminding yourself daily of what you have, instead of what you don’t, will bring your mind into the present, uplift your spirits, and create a general feeling of gratitude for everything that you are blessed to have in your life during this difficult time,’ he said.
That’s not to say you should ignore negative thoughts, but balancing these thoughts with positive reflections can help lift you up during these challenging times.
Professor van Nieuwerburgh told us: ‘It is helpful to notice negative thoughts as we experience them. There is nothing wrong with this, as we are all experiencing challenging circumstances. However, it is important to balance these negative thoughts with positive reflections.’
He added that creating a journal ‘can help us to maintain perspective so that we do not go to bed just thinking about all the negative things that may have occurred during the day.’
Limit your news consumption
If you are anxious about the state of the world and are overwhelmed by the news at the moment, resist the temptation to continually check your newsfeed.
‘In times of uncertainty or crisis, it is normal to want to have as much relevant information as possible. However, constantly looking at a news app, or watching the news on TV will overwhelm us.
‘The more we hear bad news, the more it will affect our ability to make a balanced judgement of the situation. It is not advised to stop listening to the news altogether—but it might be a good idea to limit news consumption to two or three times a day,’ Professor van Nieuwerburgh told us.
Exercise, or even better, dance
The positive impact of exercise is well documented, and while all exercise is great for boosting your mood, many swear by dancing, which, as well as offering the health benefits of exercise, lets you blow off steam and connect with others.
Enter… LA-based choreographer Ryan Heffington, whose Instagram Live dance parties have been something of a saviour during the lockdown.
With a shaved head, impressive tash, short shorts, and bellowing energy, Ryan takes his followers through a one-hour ‘dance party’ where he urges everyone to pick up props and don their best disco gear.
A lot of the workout revolves around impromptu dances and a few core moves which are easy to follow.
Even if you’re exercise-averse, miming Madonna through your hairbrush alongside thousands of others – but behind the privacy of your own phone – is an amazing mood buster.
Follow Ryan Heffington on Instagram to see his latest schedule.
Maybe dancing isn’t for you? In which, case, try Yoga With Adriene instead, or if you want more of a challenge, Joe Wicks has a range of free HIIT workouts on his channel.
Reframe negative thoughts
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you make sense of overwhelming issues – such as anxieties over coronavirus – and break them into smaller parts.
Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind, explains that CBT ‘focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your feelings and behaviour and teaches you coping skills for dealing with different problems. ‘It combines cognitive therapy, which is examining the way you think, and behavioural therapy, which looks at the things you do.’
Dr Michaelides told us: ‘CBT works by helping you recognise common downbeat thoughts (“I can’t socialise anymore, and I will never see my friends again”) and replace them with alternative perspectives (“I can’t socialise the way I’m used to right now, but I can do it virtually”).’
He added that it’s crucial to pinpoint the source of your stress – whether it’s uncertainty about your children going back to school, going back to work, not seeing your friends and family, or something else.
Once you’ve identified each individual stressor, you can explore different ways of coping with them separately.
There are a number of CBT tools you can access for free online, or through your GP.
For more information, look at the NHS website.
It’s no surprise this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week has taken on the theme of kindness, as doing small acts of kindness can not only benefit others, but have an uplifting effect on your own mood.
According to organisers Mental Health Foundation: ‘One thing that we have seen all over the world is that kindness is prevailing in uncertain times.
‘We have learnt that amid the fear, there is also community, support and hope.
‘The added benefit of helping others is that it is good for our own mental health and wellbeing. It can help reduce stress and improve your emotional wellbeing.’
So whether it’s dropping a note in on your neighbour, ordering from a local business or checking in with a friend, a small act can go a long way.
It might sound trite, but the act of smiling can uplift your mood and help you channel positive thoughts.
Johanna Scheutzow, Business Psychologist at Thrive mental wellbeing platform told Metro.co.uk: ‘Research has shown that the mere act of smiling may have an effect on our mood.
‘While it is true that our emotions shape our facial expressions, it seems that it’s also true that changing our facial expressions can change our emotions.
‘Expressing a so-called “Duchenne smile”, which is associated with a “true smile”, activates the entire face (muscles in the cheeks and around the eyes), causing an increased sense of positive mood and happiness. Unsurprisingly, a “fake smile” (activation of the cheek-muscle only) does not have the same positive effect.’
This theory is supported by a 2019 study conducted by the Psychological Bulletin which analysed more than 50 years of data, which concluded that smiling makes people feel happier, while frowning makes them sadder.
And whether it’s smiling to your colleagues on Zoom, or to passers-by in the street (albeit, largely behind a mask), the adage is true – smiling really is infectious.
Finally… think about the big picture
While the changes we’re experiencing are undeniably monumental and will have far-reaching, long-lasting consequences, remember this won’t last forever.
Therefore, working out what you can achieve both short-term, and long term becomes all the more important.
‘It’s important to have both short-term and longer term objectives to work towards during this period. Identify one or two positive short-term goals you want to achieve, such as scheduling a Zoom catchup with your friends over the weekend, or planning a long walk one evening,‘ Dr Michaelis tells us.
‘You can also make more longer term plans and goals, such as being able to dance all night for a wedding next year or a career objective you can start working towards now to achieve in 2021. These longer term goals are something that you work towards over time and can be broken down into attainable steps along the way.
‘Once you’ve reflected on your big picture goal, lay out the steps you’ll take to get there. Exploring and writing down the ‘why’ behind that goal will help you understand what’s driving your desire for change and help you internalise it, keeping you motivated over time. It’s important to start small; biting off more than you can chew, especially in the beginning, can be unmotivating and unmanageable.’
This sentiment is echoed by Life coach Carole Ann Rice, who told Metro.co.uk: ‘It’s important to keep it in perspective. Some days feel extremely long and without end but remember this will not last forever.
‘You are in the best place to stay safe and well. There will be an end to all of this, and life will go back to normal eventually – so you have a lot to look forward to.’
‘When it comes to life after lockdown, there’s a great chance that life won’t resume to normal. Bracing and preparing for a ‘new normal’ is one of the greatest ways to use your time during lockdown – allowing you to examine your life, make changes, and focus on building better relationships with yourself and others.’
Making these steps requires a conscious effort, which can understandably be hard to muster at the moment, so it’s important to recognise the difficult reality of the situation while using healthy mechanisms to cope with it.
While, these steps can help, if you are struggling with your mental health, remember that professional help is available.
Mind have a range of resources on how to support your mental wellbeing during this difficult time, and can offer advice on how to get urgent help.
Find out more on the Mind website.
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