When times are trying, when things are tough all around and hope for a return to “normal” is elusive, focusing on the positives – no matter how small – brings enormous benefits.
Channel your inner Pollyanna. Be optimistic. Be positive. It’s a leap of faith, yes, but a leap worth taking.
This post was prompted by an internal rant that played in my head over two days. What a waste of energy! I didn’t like how I was feeling or responding, nor how I spent all that time focused on such negative emotions. I challenged myself to turn it into a positive.
You’re now reading the result of that challenge. Lots of editing happened along the way. Moving from negative to positive is always a process.
We’re all stressed and anxious during this pandemic. News cycles amplify those reactions. I’m sure like me, many of you are having similar struggles to focus on positives.
There is no normal life that is free of pain.Mr. Rogers
After nearly forty years offering advice as a family law attorney helping people during crises in their lives, I learned a lot. I saw first-hand the dreadful consequences of unrelenting negativity.
What follows are tips similar to those I would often give my clients, tailored for our current crisis. With some help from Mr. Rogers.
Practice the Four Pillars of Civility: Please, Thank You, You’re Welcome, and I’m Sorry.
Simple words and phrases that grease the skids of civil society. Even when, inside, you’re seething with anger and resentment. Be polite. Everyone feels better when these common civilities are used regularly, with sincerity, with strangers and loved ones. Plus, it never hurts to store up some good karma.
Care for the Helpers
We all know how important it is to support first responders and anyone risking their own health to help others during this pandemic. They’re doing extraordinary work at great personal sacrifice. Care for them any way you can, even if it’s simply offering a heartfelt “Thank you; I appreciate you.”
Remember, too, there are many levels of caregiver beyond hospital employees and EMTs: counselors, teachers, long-term care facility workers, domestic violence and crisis center advocates, law enforcement, and perhaps most of all, all those keeping us supplied with necessary items – the truck drivers, grocery clerks and other wage earners in essential jobs. (I’m sure I’m leaving off vast categories of helpers and I apologize for that.)
Try to avoid adding to their burdens by asking for favors, making extra demands on their time and energy, or expecting special treatment. Most of them are taking on additional duties and hours already, feeling traumatized by the demands of these times, often while risking illness and/or isolating from their own families. Appreciate them, thank them, provide for them in ways that make sense to you, your community, and their circumstances.
People are stressed and doing stupid things. Be angry if you must, briefly, internally and quietly, then try to forgive and seek to understand. Forgiving doesn’t mean you like or excuse the bad behavior, just that you’re unwilling to hold anger toward the bad actor. Be mindful that everyone has a burden and it’s usually invisible. Be charitable. Try to avoid judgment. Being angry lowers you to an unbecoming level, it’s definitely not fruitful, doesn’t change anything, and only increases your own stress. And that’s just stupid.
Dig Until You Find It.
It may seem a Sisyphean task to find something positive in the world these days, but I assure you, it’s there if you look deeply enough. Keep digging, find it, then share it. Blogger Sorryless does a great job rounding up good news every Friday. And if you haven’t seen John Krasinski’s Some Good News weekly videos on Twitter, well, he’s a good reason to be on Twitter. Two episodes have dropped so far. I promise you’ll laugh and maybe cry (in a good way). Bonus: laughing and crying both strengthen the immune system.
Vent. Then Shred.
Feeling put out by demands on my emotional energy recently, I wrote several paragraphs of pure venting. Brief, private venting is great; it cleanses the soul, washes that shit right out of your system. Write it down but don’t share it. If you post your rant, you might feel better in the short term but what about your reader(s)? Best to delete or shred it.
Venting, in person or in writing, only transfers the negative from you to another. You don’t want to be that person. If you can’t escape the dark mood, seek a counselor trained to help you.
Please don’t publish your rants on social media (see above about shredding vents). I guarantee you’ll be embarrassed later. Or you should be.
Please do liberally apply the “snooze” option to those of your Facebook friends who can’t seem to resist ranting, or sharing and re-posting every bit of bad news they see in their own feed, several times a day. Every day. They’re like the friend/relative who thrives on being the first one to share gossip and rumor with you (and all their other Facebook friends), especially of the juicy negative variety. Such posts only get you riled up. If after 30 days of snoozing you see that friend is still at it, might be time to unfriend them. They won’t know, and are probably too self-absorbed or busy sharing/re-posting their shit to notice you haven’t visited their page in a while.
Post happy stuff! Kids, pets, birds, flowers, trees, sun, moon, stars. Funny videos, music videos. Avoid hot-button topics (or use private messaging to do that with select friends). Since this pandemic started, several people have told me how much they appreciate seeing my Facebook posts in their feed because my posts are always happy and calming. They’re almost exclusively photos of nature and/or my dogs, indulging my hobby of photography. The positive feedback makes me happy.
Stop following Facebook pages or other social media that only cause irritation. In my case, these are mostly local group pages on Facebook that too often stray into politics and social commentary in the comments, most of it negative and ignorant. Follow such pages for a week as a test. If they’re bugging you, unfollow. Or, if the page’s posts are informative, for example those of local, regional or national government agencies (except the WH, of course) but the comments to the posts drive you nuts, avoid scrolling through them. You can always try following a page again or reading the comments when the worst of the pandemic is over and – one hopes – people have calmed down and practice civility again.
Say No. Set Boundaries.
This is way harder than snoozing friends on Facebook or unfollowing pages/people. I’m 63 and only just now learning to say no. And I still waffle, a lot. I’ve always been a helper. Yet when life feels overwhelming, like now, saying no to requests from others can build a needed buffer and offer some respite, some time to recharge your batteries. You may feel like a mean person when you do say no, as if you’re deliberately hurting someone in need. You’re not. The trope about placing the airplane oxygen mask on yourself before your child is true: you can’t care for others without caring for yourself first.
Create Your Own News Filters.
I’ve been a news junkie since learning to read. I’ve always loved newspapers, and for the past decade, online news. But now? It’s all just too much. Ugh! Do I really need to know how many new confirmed COVID-19 cases a state or country has, or how many deaths there were in those locations today? It’s all horrific, and getting daily tallies on the numbers is not only unhelpful, it’s emotionally damaging. Instead, I now choose to get daily digests of headlines from three new sources I trust, one local, one national, one international (BBC). They provide short paragraphs on current topics with a link should I want to read more in depth (and these days, I rarely do). The synopses are usually enough to keep me informed without feeling overwhelmed.
If you’d like a dose of smart, positive, life-affirming and uplifting non-news content in your inbox, sign up for the Brain Pickings newsletters, Sundays and/or Wednesdays. Access is free, unless you choose to donate. The current post is titled: Bicycling for Ladies: An 1896 Manifesto for the Universal Splendors of the Bicycle as an Instrument of Self-Reliance, a Training Machine for Living with Uncertainty, and a Portal to Joy.
Get outside and move if possible, but even simply sitting outdoors in fresh air, observing, is good. Breathe. Relax.
Being outside in nature really does help reduce stress. If you can’t get outside because of a local lock down or personal restrictions, try to be observant of nature just beyond your door, through your windows, even if it’s just the sound of birds singing and insects buzzing, the changing light at sunrise and sunset, the breathtaking beauty of moon and stars. The best things in life really are free.
With the world now in a hush, I find it inspiring that nature is continuing on as usual, thriving even, ignorant of this virus traumatizing us humans. There’s a hopeful lesson there, proof that life goes on and that this, too, shall pass.
Hug Your Dog/Cat/Iguana/Pet.
The health benefits of pets are well-documented. They lower blood pressure (and who doesn’t need that these days?) and cholesterol, strengthen the immune system (hello – beyond eating dirt, what better way to accomplish this?), decrease stress and loneliness, and provide good reasons to go outside for walks or play in the yard. And then there’s oxytocin, the “feel good” hormone: being with pets releases oxytocin in both us and them, stimulating social bonding, relaxation and trust, while easing stress. Don’t have a pet? Lots of animal shelters need foster homes for their residents, and you might have some extra time on your hands right now for a short-term pet commitment.
It’s amazing how quickly helping others takes you out of your own head when it’s full of worries and concerns. Search for local options that suit your abilities, time, and interests.
Real strength has to do with helping others.Mr. Rogers
Be Kind to Each Other.
Most are living through stay-at-home restrictions with close family members, sharing space for many more hours a day than they’re used to. “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” –Dalai Lama. Note that the Dalai Lama didn’t say “It is always easy” because it isn’t. But it is always possible. Remember, you can’t control the actions of others, but you can control your response to them. Be kind. Or walk away, if necessary, until you can be kind.
Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.Mr. Rogers
And Last but not Least, Pamper Yourself.
Life is uncertain; eat desert first. A slogan to live by! We’re going to be spending most of our time at home, isolated, for a long while yet. So, enjoy a special treat on occasion. (Mine? Vanilla bean ice cream!) Within reason, of course; you’ll need to account to yourself and your health in a few weeks/months when life returns to whatever normal will look like post-pandemic. But for now? Relax some of the rules and live for the day. Indulge in your favorite at-home activity, food, movie, book, music, artistic or creative outlet, game. Nap. Garden. Binge-watch videos. (I confess, I was fascinated – in a social anthropology sort of way, of course – with Love is Blind on Netflix.) Chat by phone or online with friends and family, keeping the conversations positive and full of love and support.
Now is not the time to set unreasonable goals for yourself, or worry that you’re not meeting some imagined social expectation of how to “productively” spend your time during the pandemic. Why add to the stress?
Instead, be real. Do something that makes you feel calm and happy every day. Don’t wait, don’t postpone; carve some time each day for yourself, even if it’s just a few minutes.
Make yourself a priority. You’re worth it.
Featured illustration: Leap of Faith by Lucy Campbell