It isn’t hyperbole to say that millions of people are feeling more stressed, anxious, scared, uncertain, lonely, or depressed this year. 2020 has already worn out its welcome, yet we’re only halfway through the calendar year.
Of course, some people are coping better than others. So what’s their secret? Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill surveyed 600 Americans back in April on how they’re dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. The ensuing responses make up a road map of sorts on how to cultivate and maintain some positivity amid this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.
To start, scrolling through social media was identified as a waste of time when it comes to fostering a positive mindset. We’re all drawn toward our phones and social media accounts during these uncertain times in search of new information, but the vast majority of the time you’re going to end up feeling worse than you did before logging in.
Staying connected with other people is a big part of maintaining a healthy mental state, but social media is a very poor excuse for real interactions. The amount of time surveyed Americans reported scrolling through social media was strongly linked to subsequent feelings of negativity and anxiety.
“If your feeds are like ours, they’re mostly composed of distressing news and politicking. Keeping up with these endless streams is far from uplifting,” says Barbara L. Frederickson, the Kenan Distinguished Professor in the UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and director of the PEP lab, in a university release.
As far as activities that promote positivity and well being, regular exercise was a frequent response among respondents who have been coping well over the past few months. Another big factor when it comes to having a better day is practicing self-care. It doesn’t matter what the activity is, from a favorite hobby or lounging with a good book to meditating, what’s important is that you’re taking some time to do something for you. During these distressing times, it’s so easy to get caught up worrying about the world as a whole that we forget about taking care of ourselves.
“Most people know that these things are important, of course. But they are especially so these days as we stay at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus,” Frederickson comments.
“The tie between time spent on these sorts of activities and positive states was particularly strong for people who felt more of the negatives states. So, the more stressed, anxious, lonely, or depressed you are, the more it matters that you take the time to exercise and care for yourself,” she adds.
While taking care of oneself is a big part of the equation, the research team also caution not to become too self-focused. Legitimate social interactions with other people are just as important. Among the survey participants, Americans who reported spending more time interacting with others overwhelmingly experienced more positive emotions and less depressive feelings. This relationship held up even among introverts and people who live alone.
“Importantly, it matters how one is interacting with others,” explains Michael M. Prinzing, a graduate fellow at the Parr Center for Ethics at UNC-Chapel Hill & worker in the PEP lab. “Time spent interacting face-to-face or by voice or video call came with more positive emotions, whereas time spent in text-based interaction did not.”
So, text messages aren’t as effective as other forms of communication that allow us to hear or see the other person.
“This was a useful wake-up call for us. We thought we were doing ourselves good by keeping up via text. But the evidence suggests this isn’t as valuable as we thought,” Prinzing says. “It’s much harder to establish a meaningful connection with someone via text.”
Besides just keeping in touch with friends and families, actively helping other people was also identified as a great way to keep one’s spirits up. Simply put, we feel good when we help each other.
“Crises provide ample opportunities for kindness,” Frederickson notes. “You can donate face masks or other equipment to healthcare workers. If you’re healthy, you can donate much-needed blood. Such altruistic acts aren’t just good for those receiving help. They’re good for those giving it as well.”
Finally, the last trait or habit researchers identified as a means of staying upbeat these days was resilience. The fact is that COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon, and we’re all still very much amid this pandemic. That’s obviously not great, but life is rarely ever perfect. The ability to take the bad with the good in life and keep smiling has never been a more valuable asset.
The main idea here isn’t to avoid negativity, depressive thoughts, or annoyance and setbacks in life. Those things are going to happen, but a resilient mindset can rise above any challenge.
Some may say they aren’t as resilient as others, but the study’s authors believe resilience is not a “fixed trait;” it can be learned, cultivated, and built upon.
So, in summation, the best ways to ensure you have a good day in 2020 are to avoid social media, stay in touch with friends and family, help others, practice self-care, and build resilience.