Turn to any news site on the web nowadays and the coronavirus crisis dominates headlines. The World Health Organization (WHO) says we are in the midst of a viral pandemic, but it’s much more than that: We are also living in a pandemic of fear.
As COVID-19 spreads across the world, people are becoming increasingly afraid. Public spaces have cleared out. Social distancing has become a habit. And panic buying has set in with hand sanitizers and toilet paper rolls flying off shop shelves. The new normal is a glass half empty.
But this is a natural and important response. If we do not pay attention to the house on fire, we have no chance of saving it.
So don’t stop social distancing, maintaining hand hygiene, and keeping yourself and each other safe during the lockdown. But ensure you are not overwhelmed by the relentless flow of coronavirus news.
Tip: Creating a daily time slot for news consumption may help limit stress.
Excess stress and pessimism from media reports can hurt your mental health and immune function, both of which you need now more than ever. In fact, 20 years of research from Carnegie Mellon University shows that people who report less stress in life are less susceptible to developing cold symptoms.
Psychiatrists Rebecca Reed and Charles Raison also suggest that psychological stress reduces the efficacy of our immune response to fight viral infections.
So let’s balance our stress by turning our attention to the positives of this lockdown.
In the absence of long commutes and social plans, we now have more time with our families. We can finally pick up that book or develop a skill we have been putting off because we “didn’t have the time.” And we can devote time to our well-being.
Here are some activities you can try to grow the good in your life right now:
1. Practice gratitude. Whether you count three blessings each day or write a gratitude letter to someone you have yet to thank, gratitude trains your mind to focus on what’s going well. Studies by psychologists Briana Robustelli and Mark Whisman reveal that this practice increases long-term happiness and satisfaction with life.
2. Exercise. Roll out your yoga mat for a solo workout or join a virtual cardio class on Cult Fit. You have more options than you know. John Ratey, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says that exercise uplifts your mood through the release of endorphins and improves cognitive functioning. Leading psychologists Guy Faulkner, Kate Hefferon and Nanette Mutrie also found that exercise prevents the onset of mental health disorders.
3. Cultivate joy. Pick an activity that brings you joy—whether it’s playing an instrument, cooking, or reading—and add it to your daily routine. A leading scholar of positive psychology, Barbara Fredrickson, asserts that positive emotions like joy build psychological resilience and protect you from any health damage, enabling long-term well-being.
The age of COVID-19 can be overwhelming. But instead of looking at it as a glass half empty, we can choose to look at it as a glass half full.
Priyamvada Dalmia is a Positive Psychology expert and Behavior Analytics specialist at Harappa Education.
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