Positivity is a habit. You need to practice every day.
I live in Madrid and we have been under strict quarantine since mid-March. In the beginning, the time flew by. I found my #coronainspo. I cooked new meals. I caught up on my blogging. I celebrated my health. I followed the news with a near-fanatical obsession.
Yes, it was clear the world was entering a dangerous and unpredictable era. But I’m young, healthy, and fortunate enough to have a steady stream of income.
The first two weeks of quarantine were a piece of cake.
Then, the doldrums hit.
Spain extended their quarantine time. New York City, where the majority of my family lives, encountered an infection rate so serious they had to turn Central Park into a field hospital. I missed meeting friends for coffee. The reality of spending all day in front of a screen made my head hurt.
The truth is, there’s a lot of depressing reality in the world right now. I realized that I needed to create habits of positivity in my life so reality didn’t suck me into the depths of a dark depression. So, I did what any good writer is quick to do:
- I researched the subject at hand.
- I reviewed my notes with an open, creative mind.
- I synthesized to create a reality that works for me.
Here are the five daily habits I came away with at the end of that process.
According to a 2012 study conducted by researchers at UConn, dehydration can affect mood and increase the perceived difficulty of given tasks.
“Even mild dehydration that can occur during the course of our ordinary daily activities can degrade how we are feeling– especially for women, who appear to be more susceptible to the adverse effects of low levels of dehydration than men.”
— Dr. Harris Lieberman, 2012 UConn researcher
We lose water through sweat, respiration, and excretion (aka going to the bathroom). In order to replace these lost fluids, I make it a goal to drink at least eight glasses of water each day. I have found this change to have a huge impact on my ‘activation energy’. I’m more willing to start new tasks throughout the day and take shorter breaks to transition between my different responsibilities.
I started meditating during my quarantine because a friend recommended it. But it turns out that meditation has a plethora of positive benefits. I have felt calmer and less worried about the state of the world with each day of my meditation practice.
Researchers at John Hopkins in 2014 found meditation can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s thought that this change in mood is caused by the activation of areas of the brain involved with executive function.
“Brain imaging found that meditation-related anxiety relief was associated with activation of the anterior cingulate cortex, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and anterior insula. These areas of the brain are involved with executive function and the control of worrying.” — Christopher Bergland for Psychology Today, 2013
I have found guided meditation to be particularly helpful because the instructions help me concentrate on the actions of the meditation.
There are lots of free meditation apps that provide guided mediation. The one I have found to be most helpful is called ‘Insight Timer,’ but I downloaded several and went through a process of elimination to find my favorite. I suggest you do the same.
Start a new project.
An important part of facing the reality of an extended, worldwide quarantine is developing your ability to face your fears. Starting new projects will help you practice that skill. According to a 2017 article in the Huffington Post, trying new things will help you learn how to overcome fear, get to know yourself better and stimulate your creativity.
“Some level of fear is always present when trying something new, but you’ll soon realize that your mind exaggerates things. Eventually, once you make it a priority to try new things, fear will cease to be a crippling factor in your life.”
— Larry Alton for The Huffington Post, 2017
I have started several new projects during my quarantine. My plans range from reading books on unfamiliar topics to finally learning the basics of Zumba. I feel these activities challenging different parts of my mind and body each day. Because I’m trying to learn something new, I find it easier to laugh at myself and admit what I don’t know. It’s a liberating part of my daily routine.
Make a plan.
To manage my quarantine-inspired depression, I make a plan and a to-do list for every day of the week, including the weekends.
There have been days during the quarantine when I’ve written the words ‘get out of bed’ on a piece of paper. When I cross them off, I know that I’ve accomplished something. It makes the world feel more manageable.
This 2017 article from The Guardian highlights some of the most relevant benefits of to-do lists.
“To do lists dampen anxiety about the chaos of life; they give us a structure, a plan that we can stick to; and they are proof of what we have achieved that day, week or month.” — Dr David Cohen, The Guardian, 2017
In these uncertain times, my to-do lists help me differentiate between the things I can and cannot control. There is no room for ‘worry about the mutation of COVID-19’ on my to-do list. I would never be able to cross it off. But I am able to ‘learn three facts about virus transmission’ and then move on about my day.
Since the quarantine started, I’ve been watching 1–2 hours of television every day. NOT the news, mind you. I’ve been watching the excellent HBO series from the early 2000s, The Wire.
Usually, I’m not a huge fan of watching television. It seems like a waste of productive time in the evenings. But during the quarantine, I’ve found watching television has been really soothing for my brain.
This 2016 Vice article backs me up. Watching a familiar show or a comedy can provide the brain with time to rest the neocortex.
“It doesn’t require any skill or physical effort, no one is bothering you or asking you to do anything, and you can get lost in a safe fictional narrative and forget about your own problems.” — Meghan Neal for Vice, 2016
These habits have helped me find positivity each day. Of course, I have days where I’m cranky. I also have days where I’m scared, bored and anxious. But I try to balance out these feelings with the habits I know will make me feel hopeful about my life and my purpose.
Each day, I take the time to remind myself that I’m doing the best I can.