It’s entirely reasonable during the coronavirus crisis to feel stressed, anxious, lonely, and depressed. Yet, despite the circumstances, some people are doing just fine.
They are able to go about their lives and be happy, feeling gratitude for what they have, love for others, and joy in the small things.
How do they do it?
University of North Carolina scientists set out to find the secret of people who have been able to adjust to the pandemic. They found certain activities help people cope…and others make things worse.
The researchers did extensive interviews with 600 people, asking them detailed questions about what they were doing during the pandemic.
Activities linked to pandemic happiness included doing hobbies, exercising, praying, and meditating.
Professor Barbara L. Frederickson led the study. “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,” she said.
Professor Frederickson said that people prone to negative emotions get the most benefit from positive behaviors. “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 said.
Doing things alone can be relaxing, but the study found that connecting with other people is the basic foundation for health and happiness. Those who spend more time with others have fewer negative emotions and more positive ones.
“Importantly, it matters how one is interacting with others,” said Michael M. Prinzing, a graduate fellow involved in the study. Interacting in person or speaking over the phone was linked to positive feelings. But texting was not. Hearing someone’s voice and/or seeing them is crucial.
Spending time helping others was also a source of uplifting feelings.
“Crises provide ample opportunities for kindness,” said Frederickson. “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.”
Scrolling through social media such as Facebook was the one activity that prompted the most anxiety and negative emotions about the pandemic. These sites are “mostly composed of distressing news and politicking. Keeping up with them is far from uplifting,” said Professor Frederickson.
Pandemic Dos and Don’ts for Emotional Health
During the pandemic it’s “more important than usual for people to stay connected and help each other,” Professor Frederickson said.
Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts to maintain emotional health.
- Do: Connect with people. This means in person, if safe, or by phone, either with video or just audio. Texting does not have the same mood-lifting effect.
Research published in the Journal of Affective Disorders examined people suffering from anxiety and depression. The subjects were asked to either participate in group therapy sessions or join a community group that featured a variety of activities…yoga, art, sports, sewing, etc.
Results showed that people in either group who developed a stronger social connection to others had the most relief from negative feelings. It didn’t matter what activity they engaged in.
- Do: Help others. Low self-esteem is linked with depression.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology had depression and anxiety patients attempt to raise their sense of self-worth through pursuing either self-image goals or compassionate goals.
Self-image goals such as “getting others to notice your positive qualities” led to relationship conflicts and worse depression. But compassionate goals such as helping others and “avoiding selfish behavior” boosted self-esteem and relieved anxiety and depression.
- Do: Exercise. There’s a lot of research showing that exercise lifts your spirits and relieves anxiety. One of the most impressive studies came from Australia’s Black Dog Institute. Researchers followed 33,908 people for 11 years.
Scientists found that people who did not exercise were 44% more likely to suffer from depression compared to those who exercised at least one hour a week.
- Do: Engage in spiritual activities such as meditation or prayer. Scientists at Georgetown University have proven that anxiety disorder patients experience sharply reduced stress hormone and inflammation levels using mindfulness meditation.
Researchers gathered 89 patients with generalized anxiety disorder. It affects about 7 million Americans, and that was before the pandemic.
The patients were split into two groups. One took an eight-week mindfulness meditation course. The other took an eight-week stress-management course that included no mindfulness training. After the eight-week course, the mindfulness group showed a 15% drop in stress markers. Stress among the non-mindfulness group stayed the same.
You can learn to do mindfulness meditation here.
- Do: Take time for hobbies. A study published in the journal Leisure Studies looked at 340 subjects. Researchers found that hobbies such as painting, carpentry, model building, knitting, etc., were “equivalent in potential to reduce stress” compared with exercise and social activities.
- Don’t: Passively scroll through social media. A study from Temple University looked at 750 people age 18 and older.
Scientists found that avid social media users had higher levels of mental health issues. The impact was greater for middle aged and older adults. The study found that people 30 and older were 22% more likely to have mental health problems such as depression if they used social media regularly.
Feeling down during the pandemic is understandable. Help yourself adjust by following the lead of people who are thriving in these troubled times.
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