To say the past year has been challenging feels like the understatement of the century. While the pandemic, election, market, and protests have impacted everyone to varying degrees, we can all agree that it’s been an anxious and nerve-wracking time in history. People in the media and in everyday life have used the word “unprecedented” to death — and for good reason.
When we face adversity, being able to manage our response can be difficult. Finding a silver lining has been almost impossible given everything that’s transpired, but if we don’t attempt to stay positive, we risk an outcome far greater than what we’ve endured this year. Using techniques from the field of positive psychology can help all of us stay grounded and mentally and physically healthy regardless of what’s happening in the world around us.
“Positive psychology is not about denying difficult emotions. It’s about opening to what is happening here and now, and cultivating and savoring the good in your life,” Ron Siegel, PsyD, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, told Harvard Health Publishing. Practicing this means being mindful, practicing gratitude, and sharing kindness with those around you. If you can do this consistently over time, it can help build up a resiliency for tough times that will inevitably come in the future.
Experts at the Mayo Clinic suggest positive thinking can help people through stressful times. It doesn’t mean that we ignore what’s happening around us or don’t participate in a solution, but that we simply approach any unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way. To put it simply, this means not assuming the worst. Doing so can have immediate impacts, including an increased life span, lower rates of depression, greater resistance to illnesses, and better psychological and physical well-being.
Again, this doesn’t mean ignoring what’s going on in the world. Instead, it means finding a way to distract yourself when headlines and news cycles get to be too much. Stressful times often mean replaying worst-case scenarios over and over in our minds, but experts say finding positive distractions can stop us from riding this negative train. Take a walk, meditate, practice yoga, listen to music, or cook your favorite meal for a loved one. Engage in simple tasks that remind you there is joy to be found if you allow it.
This is not to undermine or gloss over your feelings of stress, but finding small things every day that you can concentrate on can bring you moments of joy. Maybe it’s watching your dog sleep or the leaves blowing around in your backyard or sitting with your child and reading a book. Then, at the end of the day, think back and reflect on what moments brought you peace, and try to incorporate those into your everyday life. Finding small things you can be grateful for is an easy way to remain positive during difficult times.
Yes, we know this can be difficult at the best of times and especially during stressful events. If you don’t, you risk a long-term impact on your mental and physical health. Doing things that are just for you, even if it’s for 30 minutes a day, helps you feel a sense of control over your life, which can help you stay positive. Go for a walk, take a yoga class, or set aside time to read that book you’ve been meaning to get to. This will help clear your mind and give you the energy you need to manage stressful situations.
It can help to check in with yourself. How are you really feeling? If the answer is, “Not great, but I hate complaining because so many people have it worse than me,” you’re undermining your emotions, which can make it difficult to address or fix the problem at hand.
The goal isn’t to banish stress completely. “Schedule time in your calendar to feel bad and overwhelmed and all of those things,” says Emily Anhalt, PsyD, psychologist and emotional fitness consultant. “That frees up your mind the rest of the time to experience the good vibes coming your way.”
It’s healthy to face the stress head-on and give yourself permission to be angry/sad/frustrated. Using the tips above will then help you manage those feelings so you can stay positive no matter what life throws your way.
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