With the outbreak of COVID-19, there have been a lot of challenges, a lot of anxiety, a lot of lifestyle shakeups. But among the many obvious downsides to COVID-19, are there any upsides?
I can admit it: I am addicted to my gym. Prior to COVID-19, I was there 6-7 days a week. Cardio, yoga, weights, sauna, steam room, cafe. I even got my hair cut at my gym! Since “shelter in place” went into effect, I have been in gym withdrawal. (This would be a good time get out your tiny violin.) My gym is an essential part of my routine, my grounding mechanism, a habit that keeps me relatively sane. Suddenly it’s gone. This is what I have lost. But what have I gained?
Like many of you, I have been walking. And walking. Turns out, much like Forrest Gump, I really enjoy walking. And walking requires me to be outside. Turns out I like outside. I see other people out walking their dogs, hitting baseballs, riding their bikes. I watch from my social distance, but it reminds me I’m part of my local community. Turns out I live in a neighborhood with other people. And as you have noticed, people are friendlier right now. Strangers smile at you. Whatever this thing is or turns out to be, we’re in it together.
So there is an upside to COVID-19–if you can allow yourself to enjoy it. Here are some tips for maintaining your positive outlook:
Choosing to Think Positively
Positive thinking isn’t something that just happens. It’s an intentional choice. It doesn’t mean you ignore the negative. In fact, to truly think positively, you first have to be mindful of the negative aspects. You deal with these head-on, make whatever adjustments you need to make, then you strategically re-frame your perception. Suppose you have a crushing toothache. After a week of sheer agony, you win the lottery. Your tooth still hurts, but suddenly it fades to background noise. You’re focused on the positive thing. You still need to go to the dentist and get that tooth fixed, but now it’s not flashing so urgently in your awareness. See the unpleasant, deal with it, then intentionally redirect your focus to something positive.
Your awareness is like a spotlight
It shines wherever you point it. When you don’t intentionally point it somewhere, it tends to find the negative. It’s a survival mechanism. Your nervous system is always on the lookout for threats. When presented with a threat like COVID-19, it can be hard for your body to let go and relax. So throughout the day, observe what happens with your awareness. Time and again, you may find yourself getting stuck paying too much attention to social media, or worrying about things that are entirely out of your control. No need to judge yourself for being negative. Simply redirect your awareness. Shine your spotlight at things you want to illuminate in your life. Take moments throughout the day to focus on things that make you smile. As you work from home in your pajamas, reflect on the hidden benefits of COVID-19. The more you keep redirecting your awareness toward something positive, the more it becomes an automatic habit.
Acceptance and Surrender
Seeing the upside is often about letting go of your preconceptions. From your perspective, there is a way things are “supposed to be.” You rely on a certain routine, a certain predictability to life. Routine provides security, but it also imposes limits. When you win the lottery while suffering with your toothache, you don’t say to yourself I would enjoy this lottery money a lot more if my tooth wasn’t hurting right now. You’re focused on your big win in that moment, so you accept things as they are. The way things really are is always more powerful, more full of life energy than the way things could be or should be. Start with reality. Lean in. Embrace the here and now with its various quirks and challenges. The key to positive thinking is making peace with What Is. Because really, what else have you got? Habitually redirecting your awareness to What Is gets you out of your head. We spend so much time living internally, rating our experience, judging it. We have a constant commentary going on: Too much, too much… Too little, too little… As if reality owes it to us to match our expectations. Accepting difficult circumstances, surrendering to them, does not mean giving up. It simply means you meet them head-on, courageously embracing whatever “new normal” your life events require.
Although positive thinking is a great place to start, positive doing is essential to sustaining your positive outlook. The first key to taking positive action is recognizing what you can and cannot control. You cannot control the way COVID-19 impacts the rest of the world. You can, however, wash your hands and practice social distancing. At the larger level, you can do other things to secure your long-term medical health. You can eat more healthily, exercise, adopt a more mindful lifestyle. Positive action is about taking personal responsibility. Rather than reacting impulsively to external events, positive action involves you making a concrete plan, setting measurable goals and following through. Over time, you learn to use stressful circumstances to jump-start your positive momentum. In this way, unexpected life challenges can become unique opportunities for profound personal growth.