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How to stay positive while practicing Social Distancing

March 15, 2020

The last few weeks have hit Seattle hard. Whatever your personal situation and the level of the impact, there’s no doubt that self-isolating during a time of difficulty is problematic. It is, at this very time, that we crave company and connection the most. However, all we can do right now is follow the advice of the Government and health officials who advise us that minimizing our social contact will protect the most lives in the long run. So, with that in mind we wanted to share some ideas to make it a little easier as we all ride this out separately, but together, nevertheless.

The following article was written by Clare Martin, a UK based Performance Coach and Lecturer, specializing in Positive Psychology.

Increasing positive emotions and staying connected to others (even if remotely) are two of the most powerful things you can do for your wellbeing. At a time of crisis when we are being bombarded with scary statistics and being encouraged to distance ourselves from other people for our own, and their safety, it can be changeling to stay positive and find ways to continue to flourish. But, there are things we can do. So, if you’re feeling the impact of social isolation, or stress about the impact of Corona on your family, business or your own health, then try out some of these evidence-based ideas to give you a boost of positivity.

Create a positive emotion portfolio

Positive psychology researchers have outlined ten main positive emotions: joy, love, hope, amusement, gratitude, inspiration, interest, pride, serenity and awe. Try creating a portfolio of examples for each emotion. You can include pictures, music, poems, letters, objects, anything you like really. The only guideline is that when you see, hear, feel, touch or smell those things they conjure up that emotion. When I created mine two years ago I did it all electronically using pictures and songs but you can be as creative as you like. This is a great exercise to share with someone else. Consider inviting others to join you in this project, with in person or virtually. You’ll end up with different things in your portfolio of course, but it is a great way to connect with people when so much of the other chat is about the stress of what is going on in the world. When you share your examples of positive emotions with each other you get the extra boost of enjoying hearing their examples too.

Practice Mindfulness

Perhaps you already engage in some kind of mindful practice like yoga or meditate on a regular basis. If you do, you will know that the benefits of mindful practice for your mental and physical health, are profound. When we are stressed our minds are often filled with negative thoughts that can become overwhelming. We might be catastrophizing, second guessing ourselves about what is right to do or even getting stressed that we are not being productive enough while working from home. These constant thoughts can create more stress and when we have less social interaction it can be hard to bring things back into check. Mindfulness is not about stopping these thoughts, but about acknowledging them, and letting them go. There are some great apps both free (Smiling Mind) and paid (Headspace and Calm) as well as endless YouTube videos to guide you through yoga, tai chi and mindfulness meditations. Just spending 5-10 minutes a day practicing mindfulness can reduce your stress levels by bringing you into the present moment. 

Virtual Coffee

Having social connection is incredibly important for our wellbeing. We are social animals and thrive from really connecting with another person. If you are self-isolating or at least reducing your social contact with others this might mean that meaningful connection is being lost. But it doesn’t have to be – we just need to be proactive and a little creative. Did you always have a coffee with a couple of people at work on a Tuesday? Or go out for brunch at the weekend with your friends? Could you do this over Skype or FaceTime instead? I’ve arranged to meet a friend of mine who is self-isolating for coffee next week on Skype. I’ve never Skyped her before because she lives 20 minutes from me – but extraordinary times calls for extraordinary behaviors. How can you find ways to get face to face social events happening with your friends and family? Get creative – it could be a lot of fun!

Funny Movies

This might sound a little frivolous but feeling good is very powerful and humor can be a quick way to turn a negative state around. This might be something you include in your positive emotion portfolio if you decide to do one. But I highly recommend having tv shows and movies in your watchlist that will get you laughing out loud. There is lots of research about the positive impact of laughter on both mental and physical health and a whole field known as laughter yoga exists to help people tap into the benefits. But you know what gets you going, maybe its cat videos or your favourite stand up comedian. For me Brooklyn Nine-Nine always seems to do the trick – but whatever it is, remember that a little boost of positive emotion can transform your day allowing you to be more focused and calm to deal with the challenges you may be facing. Remember to share your ‘comedy gold’ list with friends and family. That way when you have your next virtual coffee catch up you can laugh about some crazy show you both watched!

Try something new

A key element of increasing our wellbeing is around feeling accomplishment. We can get this from things we already do and hopefully you may experience this at work. But if you’re finding yourself feeling frustrated or with more time on your hands than normal, consider trying something new. The crux is about it being the right activity for you. As a coach I work with people around their character strengths and what is a natural fit for them in order to increase their wellbeing and performance. This is so important because we are all different and what makes one person tick might be an awful idea to someone else. For example, I’ve had to stop salsa dancing, which means I have a lot more time in the evenings, so I have started playing chess – for some of you this would be of no interest at all. But for me, I am starting to see some improvement, it is engaging and stretching my brain and I’m doing it with my husband, so it has the added benefit of being a lovely social connection. What could you try that is new that you never normally have time for? Think about whether there is something you could do as a family, with a partner or remotely challenge a colleague to join you.

Increasing positive emotions isn’t about ignoring the negative things or just feeling good by putting on rose tinted glasses. Research shows that when we experience positive emotions, we are able to think more clearly, become more creative and are better able to solve problems. Positive emotions have also been shown to reduce our stress levels which is essential to promote a healthy immune system. Whatever happens over the coming months, having these resources will help us manage our own stress and have the mental energy to reach out and support others. 

Clare Martin has spent the past 20 years studying, teaching and lecturing psychology. Her area of special interest is in positive psychology – bringing a scientific approach to understand what makes people thrive. As well as being an experienced wellbeing and performance coach, she has designed and delivered wellbeing training to a wide range of clients both in the private and public sector. She is also our Owner, Amber’s, sister!

Right now she is offering virtual performance coaching sessions for anyone struggling with the effects of a prolonged work from home mandate, or other challenges. Reach out to her on her website or follow her on Instagram at @postivelyclare

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