The past month has been difficult, and it’s unclear when things will improve. Many people remember to use coping skills when life is proceeding as usual. However, these coping skills may be quickly forgotten during a crisis. The initial response to a crisis is often panic, fear, and efforts to avoid danger and loss. Because there is a logical reason to feel stressed and sad, some people mistakenly believe that they have no control over their coping with these emotions. Have you forgotten your coping skills, or is it hard to imagine using them during a crisis? Do you believe that you cannot experience any peace or positive emotion during this difficult time? Fortunately, we can use the same coping skills during a crisis that we use to cope with typical life stressors.
Seek out positivity
There is no shortage of negative news articles and predictions of the worst outcomes. It’s so easy to be drawn into pessimistic thinking after paying attention to negative information. Science shows that our brains have a “negativity bias.” This means that we pay more attention to negative or threatening information rather than positive information. This negativity bias can help keep us safe and avoid negative consequences, but it’s harmful to mental health. Even during this crisis, we can find positive news, including stories that demonstrate compassion and cooperation. Finding and focusing on the positive takes some effort when you are in the habit of focusing on the negative. In addition to positive news, there are likely to be moments of positivity within your day that you overlook. These small moments may be overshadowed by the larger, looming health crisis. This does not have to be the case. Noticing and savoring small moments of joy will have a great impact on your mood.
Acknowledge and grieve your loss
We have all been impacted by the pandemic differently and have all experienced some form of loss. Whatever your loss, its impact needs to be acknowledged. Some have lost jobs and even lost loved ones. Others have lost opportunities, including opportunities to celebrate important milestones such as graduations or weddings. No loss is too small to acknowledge.
The mental health benefits of exercise are well established. Research shows that aerobic exercise such as running or biking boosts the mood both short term and long term, and it also reduces anxiety. Just 20 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week will provide these benefits. Non- aerobic exercise such as weightlifting and yoga also provide mental health benefits. These exercises involve focusing and quieting the mind to fully focus on the present moment. This mindfulness practice has immense mood boosting and calming benefits.
Feeling grateful has a positive impact on mental and physical health. Gratitude is the practice of reflecting on the positive in your life and allowing yourself to experience feelings of appreciation, joy, and satisfaction. If you have difficulty feeling a general sense of gratitude, try focusing on specific things for which you are grateful. You may think about a person you recently connected with, and then reflect on the reasons you are grateful for them. You may focus on small moments, such as what it feels like to be outside in the sunshine. There are many ways to practice gratitude. Journaling at the end of the day, making a point to notice and appreciate the small things, and discussing what we appreciate are examples of practicing gratitude. There are also many structured gratitude exercises that can be found online.
Although you are physically separated from friends and family, it is more important than ever to stay emotionally connected. Make time for meaningful connection with friends, as well as brief check-ins when days are hectic. Connecting can occur through video conferencing, phone calls, and writing letters to loved ones. Seek out interactions with those who acknowledge your struggles as well as encourage you and help you to seek out positivity.
This article was originally published in Waco Today