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Many of us are really struggling as we adjust our lives during this COVID-19 coronavirus scare. Our world is upside down and we don’t know how long this period of cancellations, social distancing, and food runs will last. Like any tragic event in our lives, we must process the multitude of emotions we are experiencing and try our best to find something positive in these challenging, uncertain times.
We can look to positive psychology for some guidance. The science points to several ways that we can focus our energy—even our fear and despair—in a more constructive way in order to build stronger relationships with loved ones and our fellow community members, and to discover creative solutions to address the complex issues we face.
Here are 5 activities that you can do with your children to feel calmer and more optimistic:
It is so hard to stop reading all the news stories right now, but we will all certainly feel better if we take a break to play and laugh with our children: dress up in goofy costumes, read a joke book, play a fun game like charades, watch a comedy on television, or sing silly songs.
According to the Mayo Clinic, laughing improves our body and mind, and is one of the simplest tools we have for reducing stress and anxiety. When we laugh, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex of our brain is activated, resulting in the release of the feel-good hormones called endorphins. These chemicals create feelings of pleasure and satisfaction, and also relieve pain. In addition, the level of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), and dopamine are lowered. Laughing also relaxes our muscles, which soothes tension from stress, and engages the limbic system, the part of the brain that manages our mood and emotions.
Laughing offers a healthy distraction from negative emotions like anger and stress, giving us a more lighthearted perspective when faced with challenges. When you enjoy a good laugh with your kids, you create a happier, more positive atmosphere.
Art has been scientifically proven to reduce stress levels, so much so, that an entire discipline of art therapy has been developed. Art is a way of tapping into the right side of the brain where creativity, intuition, visualization, emotions, and daydreaming stem from. Creativity distracts us from what is tormenting our minds, giving us a great way to focus on something more positive, productive, and inspiring. When we are creative, we experience a sense of flow and become completely absorbed in what we are doing to the point of being in a near meditative state. When we are in a state of flow, we forget about all of our thoughts and lose track of time. Additionally, working with certain colors can boost our mood.
There are endless ways to share creative time with your children, such as:
- Sing or play music together
- Write a story or poem
- Paint, draw, or mold a sculpture
- Dance to some lively music
- Cook or bake together in the kitchen
When times are tough, that is when we really need to stop and express gratitude for the good in our lives. Dr. Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, encourages people to practice gratitude because it has been proven to make us feel more optimistic, and helps us cope with stress more effectively and recover more quickly from traumatic situations.
Focusing on the positive in our lives boosts our body, mind, and spirit. It gives us energy, inspires us, transforms us, and helps us think about life as a gift. Spend some time with your children these next few weeks pointing out the parts of life you are grateful for. There are many creative ways to encourage your children to express gratitude, such as by keeping a gratitude journal or adding a gratitude moment or prayer to their bedtime routine.
Exercise is so critical to calming our bodies and minds. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, aerobic exercise is a vital tool for reducing stress. It decreases overall levels of tension, elevates and stabilizes mood, improves sleep, and lifts self-esteem. Even just five minutes of physical activity can help relax us. This happens because exercise produces endorphins, the chemicals in our brain that act as natural painkillers and make us feel happier and less anxious.
During stressful times, look for ways to be active with your children such as going on a family hike or bike ride; having a catch in your backyard; swimming; or playing fun games like hopscotch, jumping rope, tag, or freeze dance.
All the experts tell us that one of the best things you can do when you feel down is to help someone else. When we make others happy, we experience an amazing biological phenomenon called a helper’s high. According to Psychology Today, the helper’s high is a literal “high,” similar to a drug-induced high. Doing good deeds triggers the reward center in our brain that is responsible for releasing endorphins that make us feel elated and excited naturally.
One way that my family will create positive energy is by reaching out to those who need help during this crisis. Here are some ideas:
- Write letters to the elderly in assisted living facilities to cheer them up.
- Send thank you notes to health care workers and first responders.
- Call friends and neighbors to ask if they need anything like groceries.
- Reach out to loved ones through phone calls and online to stay in touch and lift each other’s spirits. You can play games or read books together using your screens.
- Make donations as a family to charitable organizations on the front lines of fighting this disease.
What are you doing to bring some positivity into your home during this stressful time?