Coping with a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, family and relationship stress, and loneliness all while the holiday season approaches, is a lot. Many of us are playing more roles than we’ve ever had to before (we see you, parents-turned-homeschooling experts). No one is saying this is easy. In fact, denying or suppressing how we’re feeling is one way to worsen our mental wellbeing – see more on toxic positivity here. What can be helpful, though, is working to balance out some of the stress and negativity in our day-to-day lives.
As positive psychology wisely posits, increasing your ability to thrive in your life isn’t just about trying to fix what isn’t working. So much of what helps humans build and maintain rich, fulfilling lives grows from our positive traits and strengths. So while we’re not going to solve the COVID-19 crisis overnight, or be able to have our entire extended family over for cozy holiday festivities, we can try to make the best of every day starting right now. Check out our proven, psychology-based ways to help brighten your mindset throughout the day and nurture a more positive well-being!
Try a complaint cleanse
Going one day without complaining (for some, even just one hour!) is often harder than you think. Like attracts like, and what we put out into the world with our behaviour and our words will attract more of the same energy. The more negativity we thrust into our internal environment (our thought loops) and our external environment (our behaviour), the more we bring it into our lives. Complaining also creates a negative cycle in our own brains. The more we remind ourselves of the negative experience behind the complaint, the more we focus on it and take away from our ability to enjoy the present. Constant complaining trains our brains to think negatively, and common (but seemingly harmless) complaints – like the barista getting your order wrong or your partner forgetting to unload the dishwasher for the umpteenth time – continuously funnel negative energy into our lives. Try to see how long you can make it without complaining about your most recent inconvenience and then take note of how your perspective and overall mood changes.
Expect the best, not the worst
Pessimism shows up in our lives in tricky ways. It’s easy to expect and prepare for the worst. And while we should certainly take care to ensure we’re prepared for what life might throw at us, we do not need to expect the worst to come true. Our brains are intimately familiar with worst-case scenario thinking – they want us to be prepared to avoid harm. But what they often forget is that a much more positive mindset and fulfilling life stems from smart preparation followed by the best expectations. The way we see our world affects how we interact with it. If we see it as a scary, volatile place, we’re going to be overly reserved and avoid potential opportunities for joy due to fear. Do everything you can to prepare for what’s causing you worry and then actively shift your mindset to expect the very best to happen so you can bring more joy and positivity into your life.
Don’t let others dictate your emotions
We’ve all been there – we’re in a great mood, chatting away over a cup of coffee with our friends or colleagues, when boom, an email comes in that sends your heart rate skyrocketing and your emotions off the deep end. Humans are highly social creatures and while relating to and connecting with others is an integral part of a healthy existence, we also know that emotions and behaviour are influenced by many factors. The way someone reacts to you doesn’t always have to do with you – and allowing others’ reactions to you to dictate your own emotional path throughout a day is a risky deal. You cannot control the way others act, and it’s just not fair to leave our emotional health up to that kind of chance. You deserve to be in control of your mental well-being. Allowing the health of our mindset to depend on others puts us on a rollercoaster we don’t really want to ride. Try not to let what others do get under your skin. You may not always be in control of your emotions, but you can control how much weight you give them and how you react to them.
Lean on the CBT triangle
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the idea that thoughts, feelings, and behaviours interact and affect each other, orchestrating the tone of your overall mental well-being and quality of life. How you think affects how you feel and how you behave, and visa versa. Our physical sensations and bodily intuition travel faster than our conscious thoughts, so we might not always know why we’re feeling a certain way (i.e. what thought triggered your present emotion). In other words, our bodies often know something is wrong before we realize what that is. When this happens, remember that other areas like behaviour are often easier to access more immediately than thoughts: you can use your behaviour to help remedy the troubling emotion that was triggered by the thought. For example, if you have an “off” or “icky” feeling but just can’t put your finger on why or how to fix it – lean on something you know reliably brings you joy. Maybe it’s calling your best friend to catch up, planning a future vacation on a vision board, or cooking yourself one of your favourite meals. Though you might not always consciously realize what’s bothering you, you can always trust in the fact that your wellbeing is determined by 3 things – and when one isn’t available, the other two can go to bat and help in the meantime. After all, lessening your stress and working towards calm may just help you think a little more clearly.
Accept multiple truths
You can be sad about cancelling your holiday plans and also be relieved that you won’t be putting yourselves and your loved ones at greater health risk. You can be stressed about job uncertainty and also be grateful for extended time at home with your kids or by yourself. We don’t have to choose one emotion or the other. Though our brains like to categorize and label, they need a little help sometimes to remember that life isn’t always black and white. Give yourself the freedom in this moment to have gratitude for the good in your life and also to mourn the disappointments.
Reflect at the end of your day
This could be right before bed, or on your commute home from work (even if your “commute” is walking from the kitchen table to the couch). Take 2 minutes or so to think about the 3 best things that happened today – to yourself, someone close to you, or even just positive news stories you heard. This short reflection time ends your day on a positive note and helps to balance out any negative things that happened during the day. Because our brains are designed to keep us safe, they automatically pay more attention to negative (potentially dangerous to our survival) situations. We have to put in a little more conscious effort to get it to pay attention to the “good stuff” too.
We are collectively being called to lean into our resilience during this bizarre and challenging time. This means that while we need to cope with our negative emotions and experiences in a healthy and productive way, we also need be intentional about incorporating more joy and positivity into our lives. The ideas above are designed to help you keep the negativity in your life in check and balance it out with more rewarding and resilience-building experiences.