5 ways to stay positive in uncertain times
I have a love-hate relationship with the news.
I can’t help but feel this obligation to keep up-to-date and be informed about what's happening in the world. But reading it is a surefire way to put me in a bad mood.
The fact is that we humans tend to focus on the negative things going on the world. Of course, that's not necessarily a bad thing. After all, if we don't raise the issue, how does it get resolved?
But it can quickly seem like there's a constant bombardment of bad news.
Injustices, riots, and pandemics, only occasionally sweetened by some trivial content, like this video of a 'skateboarding dog' (...but seriously though, look at him go!)
This makes staying positive a bit of a nightmare.
It’s probably not surprising to learn that negative thinking is awful for you.
Studies have shown that a constant surge of negative information can actually stimulate our fight or flight response, which is our body detecting threat. This puts you in a constant state of elevated stress and will make you feel tired and exhausted.
One experiment found that people who watch negative material showed an increase in both anxious and sad moods after just 14 minutes.
It's not just bad news that can be negative to us, either. We already know the feelings that come with seeing peoples' highlight reel' on Instagram, and this is amplified during this strange time.
You're on your 8th straight day of wearing pasta-stained shorts and watching Friends, yet all you're seeing on Instagram is six-pack abs, beautiful scenery, and the uber-productive flaunting their filtered life.
That's a quick way to feel bad about yourself.
So how do we stay positive during these uncertain times?
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to try and stay positive, even in seemingly hopeless and negative times.
Here are 5 things that will help you stay positive and reduce negative thinking!
1. Limit your media consumption
I adore vegan cakes of all kind, but when I overeat, I feel like I'm slowly dying by sugar-poisoning. I then change into loose clothing and vegetate on the couch as my cats heavily judge me.
Obviously, I could eliminate vegan cakes from my diet and go without, but I'd be missing out. Clearly, the best tactic for me is to limit my consumption.
Point being, the same idea applies when consuming content that makes you feel negative.
In 2019, the average time spent on social media was estimated to be around 144 minutes per day. That's a feature-length movie! Imagine watching the most depressing film you could think of every-day - how would that make you feel?
Try limiting your combined news and social media to less than 30 minutes a day. This is enough time to keep you up-to-date, without ruining your day.
Of course, make sure you...
2. Consume the right content at the right time
Have you ever been struggling to get to sleep, and you start scrolling through Reddit or the news app on your phone?
If so, you've probably noticed you struggle even more to get to sleep, and your thoughts turn bitter.
Psychologists treating anxiety disorders have long advocated for the scheduling of 'worry-time.' This is where you set aside a specific part of the day where you actively engage with your worries.
Set aside time to read the news, and address any worries you may have about the future.
Make sure this is conscious and deliberate. Plan it as your ‘daily stock-take', and try to resist checking your news app every couple of hours, or frantically worrying throughout the day. Try taking a piece of paper and 'mind-dumping' all the worries and thoughts you have scrambling around in your head.
Of course, make sure this is not near your usual bedtime - after work is a great choice, as it means you can wind-down from the stresses of the day.
When using social media, limit your feeds to people and pages that make you feel good about yourself. Constantly comparing yourself to someone else, or are their opinions winding you up? Stop following them. Create your own network of positivity.
3. Practice gratitude
The idea of a 'gratitude journal' was first suggested to me by a well-meaning friend in a time of great mental distress.
I'm embarrassed to admit that thoughts of delivering a swift slap to him entered my head. A gratitude journal? What do you take me for? That couldn't help me!
However, take my word for it, its an incredibly powerful practice.
No matter how badly things seem to be going in your life, you can flip the paradigm and use gratitude as a tool to reprogram your psyche.
In my journal, I keep it simple. I write down 3 things I'm grateful for every-day. Crucially, this doesn't have to be significant, so don't just write "my family" every day.
For instance, my last entry included:
"I'm grateful that I have the means to boil clean water and make a great cup of coffee, whenever I want."
This is super trivial, yes, but close your eyes and actively imagine how terrible it would be to not have the ability to make a coffee (or tea). How inconvenient! Now, remember that you have this ability! How amazing is that?
Do this enough, and you'll notice you start to focus on what you do have, not what you don't.
I've used this technique to keep me going through some tough times. When you're at rock-bottom, it can seem like there's nothing you can be grateful for - but there's always something. Still got legs? Walking is terrific, isn't it?
4. Service - give something back
Both positivity and negativity are contagious little things.
If you walk around only thinking about the bad things in your life and the world, you'll pass it on to those you interact with. It's easy to spot and is like a black cloud following you around.
Focus on being positive, though, and you'll lift up those in your circle.
Of course, during a pandemic, it can seem quite challenging to do this. For one, actually seeing real humans in the flesh is a rarity, and things like volunteering opportunities are limited.
This doesn't mean you can't be a positive beacon in a strange time.
Reach out to old friends that you think might be lonely. Reconnect with old family members you've not spoken to in a long time. Start a free online course on something you're passionate about that will have a positive impact on society.
Make every interaction you have with someone be a positive one. Even the smallest act of kindness can be immensely powerful.
5. Give yourself a break
These are weird times. You are human. It's okay to feel weird.
It can be all too easy to expect too much from yourself, and if you're like me, you go through days where your to-do list remains untouched.
The reality is that some days you'll feel like you've got an iron cannon-ball attached to your ankles.
It's important to accept that this is absolutely fine. Do what you can, get a good nights sleep, and try again tomorrow.
Cut yourself some slack. If you're absolutely exhausted, don't be a hero and push through. Listen to your feelings. Get through the day the best you can, apologise to your colleagues where you have to, and take time to relax and recharge.
Even incredible athletes, talented writers, and the most productive people on the planet have off-days. Give yourself a break.
Remember that positivity is a skill
Since I was a kid, cynical and dark humour has always cracked me up. In fact, it still does!
Unfortunately, this translated into a negative mindset as I grew up - I only focused on the bad things. Thankfully, positivity is a skill that can be learned.
You wouldn't expect massive biceps just because you decide that you want massive biceps.
In the same way you have to work on your biceps consistently, with curls and other exercises that target the muscle (NOT in the squat rack please), you also have to consciously work at being positive.
Do you have any good techniques that help you stay positive? Share them in the comments!
P.S We’ve had some incredibly positive news at Vivo recently. In just 1 year, we’ve planted over 150,000 trees! Find out more here!