There’s no doubt about it: life has become intensely weird over the last couple of weeks. All the simple things we used to take completely for granted – seeing friends and family, hugging, standing close to a stranger in a queue, sitting on a park bench, having a nice meal and a few drinks out – has gone in the blink of an eye. For those of us in health and social care, the frustration isn’t only felt in our own personal lives, but experienced at work too: a myriad of ever-evolving company policies to negotiate, breaking the tragic news to parents that they can no longer see their children in supported living, stretching the imagination on a daily basis to come up with creative ways of entertaining our service users – many of whom may be confused, anxious and unable to understand the sudden death of their activity schedule and the complex reasons behind the lockdown.
It’s certainly a stressful time – on that we can all agree – but I often feel like a lone voice in the wilderness when I discuss COVID-19 with friends, family and colleagues and argue that what the world needs now more than anything else is positivity. So rather than giving into the temptation to hide under your duvet until it’s all over, here are a few proactive and realistic steps you can take to put a smile back on your face. And if you’re a nurse or carer, the same goes for the people you support!
Bond with mother nature
Spending time outdoors is absolutely crucial to restoring your energy levels and feel connected to the Earth. At the time of writing, COVID-19 government guidelines still allow all of us to get out and exercise once a day. Not only is nature breathtakingly beautiful, but the great outdoors is a great stress-free zone. No wifi and mobile signals messing up your brain, no CCTV cameras, no man-made noise, no light pollution, no crowds – and no talk of the virus! Whether you’re walking through a forest or sitting down by the ocean, you notice an instant calming effect that soothes the soul. Nature is oblivious to humanity’s problems. No matter what’s going on with our species, the wind keeps rustling in the treetops, the ocean keeps making waves, babbling brooks keep flowing, and birds keep singing. If you live close enough to the wilderness to head out for one hour a day and enjoy the tranquility, do it! If you’re a city dweller, try heading to a park at lunchtime, exercise outside rather than in a gym, and plan regular weekends away to escape the oppressive urban jungle as much as you possibly can. Never underestimate the healing power of the natural world.
Turn off the TV
Television acts like a drug, and even alters your brain chemistry, so it’s worth trying to limit your consumption in these strange times. I’d say this is even more important now than ever before, simply because television – and specifically the news – is more negative than ever at the moment. Try to only watch films and series that are positive, funny, uplifting or educational. Start looking for inspirational films and documentaries you can watch on your laptop. Choose your own entertainment, rather than let pop culture choose it for you. And stay positive!
Dwelling on the horrendous pandemic that is COVID-19 isn’t going to help you or anyone else, so instead choose to be part of the solution. Contact your local councils, charities, food banks, NHS services and other local services to see if you could volunteer – dropping off shopping, medication, or even just being a friendly person to call for those who are feeling loneliness in isolation. Always remember the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Avoid the mainstream news
Fear, terror, shock, horror, fear, terror, shock, horror, death…it makes absolutely no sense to wallow in the awfulness of it all. What will it achieve? I recommend taking one month’s ‘media fast’ per year, where you don’t watch or read any news at all. You quickly learn that the negative energy we create when we feel anxious, angry or frustrated at the world is always better spent on positive thought and action. Terrifying news reports tend to spark widespread fear, division, and hatred for ‘the other’, all of which are detrimental to our shared goal of harmony, happiness, and global peace. OK – you need to know what’s going on in the world, I get it. But knowing all the facts and memorising the exact death tolls for each country due to COVID-19 isn’t going to stop it from happening – it’s simply going to make you feel anxious, afraid and helpless.
Is a better world possible after all this is over? I believe so! But it starts with positive attitude and belief, rather than being dragged into the fear matrix that is the mainstream media.
Channel your frustration creatively
Don’t get mad, get poetic. Writing, drawing, painting, vlogging or blogging, playing a musical instrument, or creating GIFs and shareable memes online are all ways of venting your frustration at the world in a positive way. Creativity is a wonderful antidote to depression. Many people claim they don’t have an artistic side, but I’m skeptical- even doodling on paper can relieve stress, and even if you think you can’t write a poem, you won’t know until you try. We are all creative, including those people you may support!
Disconnect (to reconnect!)
A study from Denmark suggested we’d all feel much happier if we had a break from social media. The Danish Happiness Institute found that participants who put down their smartphones and quit Facebook for a week were more content, and (not surprisingly) interacted more with real-life human beings. Social media can definitely be used for positive change, but if you’re depressed about the world it could do you good to back away from your smartphone for a few days, at least. Instead, do what everyone else is doing – download Zoom or House Party, ignore the negativity on Twitter, and socialise with people you love, spreading your positivity while you do so!
Take control of your mind
Reminding yourself to live in the present moment is a very effective way to eliminate worrying and get some perspective. It’s easy to forget that the past is gone and the future doesn’t exist: all you really have is now. So many of us panic about what might happen or spend a lot of time wishing the past had been different. Since we have no control over any of this, it’s a total waste of your mental energy. If you don’t seem to be able to stop thinking, it’s worth considering meditation. There are even groups that participate in global group meditations to visualize world peace, and these kinds of initiatives have even been credited with lowering crime rates in cities like New York and LA (the idea is that individual brain waves can affect the collective consciousness).
Spiritual philosophers like Louise Hay, Eckhart Tolle, Alan Watts and Jiddu Krishnamurti are well worth checking out for anyone who wants to use positive affirmations, mindfulness, ancient wisdom and meditation to visualize a better planet (or even just to make beneficial changes in your own life). If this all sounds like nonsense so far, I recommend watching a powerful film called ‘What The Bleep Do We Know’, which uses the latest cutting-edge research in quantum mechanics and interviews with leading physicists to illustrate how human beings are truly the co-creators of their own reality. True story!
Remember: millions of people feel the same as you!
Realizing you’re not alone in feeling despair for the world is important. Surround yourself with like-minded people, and never underestimate the importance of a hug – even a virtual one! Reddit even has a forum for people who are feeling down, so if you can’t speak to anyone in your life about how frustrated and down you feel, try an online community. Reaching out to someone else who may be despairing is a great way to boost your own strength and resilience during the lockdown.
Repeat this mantra: “I am not a superhero.” Nobody expects you to be, and nobody is asking you to be. So stop beating yourself up about things that are absolutely out of your control. If you’ve got to the point where you’re so sad about the suffering of others that you’re no longer looking after yourself, you’re really no use to anyone. You’re big-hearted, so it’s normal you can’t stop thinking about the plight of COVID-19 victims here and around the world- but you’d be much more able to take proactive steps to help them if you make sure you’re healthy and happy first. So exercise, sleep and eat well. Do what you love. Give yourself a break. Be your own best friend. It’s vital to stay happy if you want to make the world a better place. There are lots of things we can still do during lockdown – just dancing around your living room to uplifting music will give you an instant energy and endorphin boost. Sing in the shower. Smile even if you don’t feel like it. Hey, there’s even a lot to be said for watching funny goat videos on YouTube.
10. Celebrate and be grateful for the positives
Despite the fact there are so many global issues that urgently need addressing, we can still cultivate positivity in the darkness. Emily Dickinson said “Hope is a thing with wings,” and she was right. The best way to make the world a better place is to begin with yourself and those around you. Treat yourself and your loved ones with love and compassion first, and you will likely find this starts spreading. Make just one person smile today, and you have made a difference.
Not only that, but researchers have found that “people who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis are healthier, more optimistic, and more likely to make progress toward achieving personal goals.” Scientists say that people who write ‘gratitude letters’ to someone who made a difference in their lives “score higher on happiness and lower on depression, and the effect lasts for weeks.” So instead of feeling guilty for your own blessings, say thank you regularly. Every night, make a list of all the positive things that happened to you today, no matter how small. Start your day by telling yourself that something wonderful is going to happen, and within a few days you’ll feel more in control and more optimistic about life – and better prepared to make positive changes in the world.