By Soji James, CPT, CSCS
It sucks to say it, but humans are hardwired for negativity. People are much more likely to remember an insult from an enemy over a compliment from a friend. That tough critique from a boss during a performance review is likely to linger. Contrast this with the positive feedback from that same meeting. The pain from past failure is more likely to hold you back than the boost in confidence from a past success is to drive you forward.
This phenomenon is known as negativity bias. Evolutionarily, our ancestors benefited from learning from negative experiences. They learned to avoid the situations that would bring about their demise, and, as a result, they lived longer lives. This modern-day world is often void of many of these same challenges. So, it’s easy to see how this tendency could hold us back from living our best lives. In a time that is filled with fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, it’s extremely easy to allow the negative news flooding your life to keep you down. I challenge you to take the high road and choose positivity by doing three things: gaining control, finding value in something, and leaning into the idea of community.
Routine is the anchor that provides a sense of normalcy. The consistency in it gives you roots that serve as the launching pad for productivity at work, in the gym, and in your personal life. When people accepted the challenge to do their part to save lives and stop the spread of COVID-19, daily existence was turned upside down.
Everything changed: The fitness sanctuaries that we attended every day were forced to close, the restaurants we frequented were forced to shut their doors, and the people that had been everyday staples in our lives were pulled from it. Have you felt unmotivated at points, or have the days begun to feel like they’ve blended together? You aren’t alone. This tremendous shock to daily patterns coupled with both the gravity of the pandemic and the uncertainty of when this situation will pass has left a lot of people feeling disorientated, unproductive, and hopeless.
The balance in eustress vs. distress has changed for many people due to the lockdown. One of the best things that you can do to gain back control is to establish a routine of some kind for yourself. A routine can liberate your mental health by alleviating stress. This is because it helps you to cope by providing some stability, which the human brain views as safety. This structure can serve as an anchor in disheveled times and provide you the mental, physical, and emotional nourishment you need to stay positive.
Building in the time for important things such as exercise, self-care rituals, and hobbies like cooking ensures that you are adequately taking care of yourself amidst the crisis. Having a routine will also have a positive impact on your sleep schedule to ensure that you can maximize each day with the things that matter to you at this time. After you’ve established some sort of routine, it becomes much easier to find purpose amidst all of this chaos.
When coping with the emotional fallout of this demanding time, it’s important to cultivate “tragic optimism.” Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl coined the term tragic optimism. It is the ability to say “yes” to life amidst the negative and miserable circumstances that will undoubtedly arise. At some point in life, everyone has to face some sort of pain, suffering, and loss.
People can preserve their mental health and come out of crises with a stronger resolve. Those who achieve this success find meaning despite the calamity. One study followed college-aged students after the September 11 attacks. It monitored positive emotions such as gratitude, interest, and love experienced in the wake of the tragedy. Researchers found that these positive outlooks buffered resilient people against depression. Additionally, it fueled their ability to thrive despite undergoing such psychological turmoil.
While it can be difficult, it’s important to focus on the positive. Stay educated and up to date with what’s going on, but don’t flood your life with negativity. Focus on stories of love and camaraderie. If it’s within your means, find ways that you can be a resource for others to lean on in this difficult time. Instead of focusing on all of the things that you can’t do, focus on the things that you can. Use this time to learn a new skill, connect deeper with loved ones, or read a book. Instead of focusing on the things that you don’t have, focus on the things that you do. Make sure to count your blessings. In addition to finding positive meaning, it is so important to find other people to connect with during this time.
People are social beings at heart. They thrive off of connection. Connection with others improves mental and physical well-being. Furthermore, research shows that it helps people live longer. One study showed that stronger relationships lead to a 50% drop in mortality rate. A huge part of the overall decrease in morale has been due to losing communities via social distancing. The smiling faces, hugs, and embraces of loved ones that many people take for granted have been taken away as people work to flatten the curve.
Technology is beautiful. Even though you can’t physically be with others at this moment, you can still maintain connections. Just find other methods for connecting in equally beneficial ways. The novel coronavirus has put the creativity and importance of the internet on full display. It has become a vital lifeline of sorts. Apps such as Zoom have been used to teach wellness classes and host virtual dance parties. Instagram Live has been a hub for live music, comedy shows, and yoga classes.
People have turned to streaming platforms such as Netflix to enjoy their favorite shows. Additionally, they can use Xbox Live to battle it out in their favorite games. The possibilities are endless, but the purpose is uniform. Maintain hope by getting out into the world digitally and connecting with others. There are so many people going through this situation; you don’t have to brave it alone.