Caren Osten

The Right Balance

Positive Psychology

10 Tips to Cultivate Calm + Positivity Now

Research-based tools to help you during challenging times.

Posted Mar 23, 2020

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This global pandemic is not a dream from which we will awaken. This is our new reality. So let's consider what we can do to make it the "best" new reality possible.

During these anxiety-provoking times, we may not realize that we can make choices to both alleviate fear and become open to positivity. Here are 10 research-backed ways to brighten your days, and create some needed balance and calm.

1. We Are Connected

My college friends live across the country. For the first time, we organized a virtual "happy hour," using a free video website called Zoom. We caught up and reminisced, while kids and husbands peeked in to see where all the laughter was coming from. 

Despite the physical distance, we are—thanks to technology—still able to connect with people near and far. Research has shown that social connection is the number-one predictor of well-being. Whether you are surrounded by family or alone in an apartment, you are not alone.

If you are lucky enough to be quarantined with family or friends, make time to be together. Meals, games, walks, puzzles—there are many ways to connect. If you are not with others, set up video chat dates with friends, relatives, and neighbors. If you don't have technology as a vehicle, make sure to find a safe way (with 6 feet of distance) to connect. It's important to maintain relationships and use innovative ways to reach out to others.  

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2. Bring Awareness to the Better Moments

It's hard, yet very helpful, to hold onto perspective when feeling fear and anxiety. There is great power in simply counting our blessings. Acknowledging when you feel grateful for another, and savoring moments of laughter and joy will create a spiral of positivity that will continue throughout your day.

Asking yourself a simple question, "What was the best moment of my day?" is a tool that can inspire you to look for good moments. Today, my best moment was the morning hug I got from my son. There will likely be other "best moments." By tonight, I will have noticed as many positive moments—big and small—as possible.

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School, shared his new twist on FOMO (fear of missing out) to inspire a fresh outlook during this current crisis. He suggests thinking about JOMO—the joy of missing out. He's happy to be missing out on commuting and getting dressed. My list of JOMO includes riding the subway and wearing makeup. What are you happy to be missing?

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3. Cultivate Calm Amid the Uncertainty

It is very challenging to feel calm with all of the uncertainty swirling around us—uncertainty about this pandemic's impact on our health, jobs, the economy, and more. "And yet, uncertainty can be compared to a virus itself, one that is only adding fuel to the anxious fires burning in many of us," wrote Judson Brewer, an associate professor at Brown University's Schools of Public Health and Medicine.

One way to combat this anxiety-provoking uncertainty is through mindfulness meditation—a practice that teaches us to be aware of our thoughts and emotions in the present moment. It's a tool that brings our focus to what's happening as it's happening and can alleviate anxiety about the future, an unknown. There are many free apps and websites to learn mindfulness practices and calming breathing techniques.

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4. Acts of Kindness Are Win-Win

Studies have confirmed the enormous benefits of altruistic acts. What can you do to express kindness to another? While we can't get close to strangers, we can still smile from a distance.

We can reach out to our neighbors to make sure they are OK, and for those who may be sick or elderly, perhaps offer to pick up some food or medications and leave them by their door. We can make donations to food banks, no matter how small, and offer words of gratitude to any of the health care workers and delivery drivers who are serving in ways that are enormously helpful. Here's a list of organizations and ways to help others.

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5. Self-Care Is Essential

Stress and anxiety take a toll on both body and mind. A good night's sleep, eating well, and physical exercise are essential to staying healthy. If you do not have access to your regular exercise regimen, try starting a new one at home. Many gyms and yoga studios are offering classes online. Walking, either inside or out, is also a good option.

For many of us, stress can be a trigger for eating, yet eating nutritiously is imperative for well-being. If you can't get fresh fruits and vegetables, try frozen ones. You can make smoothies and try new recipes, getting similar amounts of nutrition.

Sleep is as important as ever during stressful times. According to the National Institute of Health, a lack of it can affect our ability to focus, our metabolism and weight, our mood, our heart health, and more.

Being kind to yourself emotionally—and not beating yourself up for feeling sad, angry, frustrated, etc.—is as important as your physical health. Research by Dr. Kristin Neff, suggests that people who have more self-compassion lead healthier, more productive lives than those who are self-critical. 

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6. Embrace the Extra Time

With additional hours indoors, how can you use the time in ways that will feel positive? TV binge-watching has its place, and you can dance, sing, knit, journal, play music, and on and on. This is an ideal time to catch up on projects—such as organizing old photos or cleaning out the attic. Or try a new hobby. I perused a site called Skillshare and signed up for a free drawing class. Maybe it's time to try a new instrument or learn to build a birdhouse. What are you interested in trying?

7. We Are Resilient

Most if not all of us have gone through a difficult time at some point in our life. Maybe it was a period of grieving, loss, disappointment, or unhappiness. Sometimes, thinking about a past experience and how—what specific things you did—to move beyond that time can be helpful. Take a few minutes to think, or journal, about the actions, behaviors, coping mechanisms, and people who supported you during previous hard times and helped you bounce back.

Here's a writing prompt to get you started: Think of one of the more difficult events of your life. How did you get through it, and how can you use this story to help others? How can you draw on this experience to impact someone in a positive way?

8. Structure Is Key

The abundance of news, emails, and tweets, in tandem with working from home and parenting, can make focus enormously challenging. Whatever is causing you stress—you name it—awareness is the first step to moving forward. And then see how you can structure your day to control your exposure to the cause of stress. Schedule regular breaks into your day (try 10 minutes each hour) for a walk, a healthy snack, a short meditation, some stretching, to connect with someone who calms you—whatever energizes and soothes you. The structure will help with focus and productivity and can reduce your anxiety level. 

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9. Nature Is Nurturing

Spending time in nature is scientifically proven to boost your mood, and even a house plant or small garden is beneficial for our well-being. Despite much uncertainty, we know for certain that spring is here! 

So if you can get out into nature, do so, even for a few minutes a day. And if you can't, then take time to look at the trees outside your window, the sky, the bulbs pushing up from the ground, or even at the plants at home. Nature's consistency is awe-inspiring, something we could all use right now.

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10. Prime Your Environment

Many people are adjusting to working and spending more time at home. And if you have more people than usual sharing your space, that can add even greater complications. In my home, which currently consists of five working people and one college student, we are still figuring out how to claim space of our own, free from others' phone conversations and disruptions.

Try to find a corner of your own—no matter how small—for work or quiet time. Place items, photos, and notes that are inspiring and calming.

I have a meditation corner with some candles and a cushion that I escape to once or twice a day. And I just created a work corner with a chair that looks out into my yard, with a small table that houses a photo of my family, a candle, and a mug for tea. How will you prime your environment?