How to stay positive when everything is falling apart around you

Keeping a smile on one’s face is never exactly easy, even when life is relatively normal. Today, though, as we’re all faced with a seemingly never-ending barrage of COVID-19 related bad news, maintaining a sense of positivity can feel downright impossible. If you can’t help but feel the pandemic blues, researchers from North Carolina State University have devised a new way to overcome daily stressors.

Do your best to focus on the present moment, but at the same time keep an eye towards the future. 

Now, when we say focus on the present that doesn’t mean you should fixate on the current pandemic unfolding before our eyes. Instead, do your best to focus on the comforts of your home and family during these strange times. Think about all those books you now have the time to read or that project you can finally get started on. 

All the while you should also start planning for the future. It may seem like a pipe dream at the moment but this pandemic will be over at some point over the next few months. The time we’re all spending in self-isolation represents a great opportunity to start thinking about all the fun stuff waiting for us on the other end of this situation; vacations, parties, nights out with friends, or just a good meal at a restaurant.

“It’s well established that daily stressors can make us more likely to have a negative affect or bad moods,” says Shevaun Neupert, a professor of psychology at NC State, in a press release. “Our work here sheds additional light on which variables influence how we respond to daily stress.”

Blocking out the headlines these days isn’t easily accomplished, but if there was ever a time to disconnect from social media and the internet for a little while it’s right now. 

Circling back to the actual research, the study’s authors investigated two specific factors that influence how an individual copes with stress; mindfulness and proactive coping. Mindfulness is just a fancy way of saying living in the moment, and proactive coping is the act of planning to avoid stress in the future.

A total of 223 study participants were examined for this research. All were from the US, but 116 were between the ages of 60 and 90, while 107 were between the ages of 18 and 36.

Each person filled out an initial survey designed to gauge how often they engaged in proactive coping. Next, participants completed a series of surveys that asked about their mindfulness habits for eight days straight. During those eight days, study subjects were also asked about the stressors they encountered each day and how often they felt depressed.

The ensuing results indicated that proactive coping can really help mitigate the influence of daily stressors on one’s mood. However, planning for the future appears to be much more effective if an individual also practices mindfulness. 

“Our results show that a combination of proactive coping and high mindfulness results in study participants of all ages being more resilient against daily stressors,” Neupert explains. “Basically, we found that proactive planning and mindfulness account for about a quarter of the variance in how stressors influenced negative affect.”

“Interventions targeting daily fluctuations in mindfulness may be especially helpful for those who are high in proactive coping and may be more inclined to think ahead to the future at the expense of remaining in the present,” she concludes.

It’s important to stay up to date on what’s happening during this pandemic, but at a certain point, it’s a good idea to stop and appreciate the little things. Revel in the simple pleasures of your home, and take comfort in the fact that there’s undoubtedly a light at the end of this viral tunnel.

The full study can be found here, published in Personality and Individual Differences.