As the Delta variant continues to spread across the globe, anxiety has become a constant companion for many. What initially felt like a sprint to recovery has turned into a marathon, and many individuals are struggling to feel optimistic about the future.
At this time last year, the world was anxiously awaiting the rollout of the first vaccines. We thought “Once we have vaccines, everything will get back to normal, right?” Clearly, our exuberance was tempered with unforeseen complications.
Like children who learn not to touch a hot stove, we are suddenly wary of hope. We cautiously carry on with our daily lives, but we brace for the unknown, always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
- Will there be another variant soon?
- Will we have to go into another lockdown?
- Will there be more mask or vaccine mandates?
- Will schools close down again soon?
- Will we ever be able to return to normal?
While these questions are entirely fair, realistic, and understandable given the past year and half, this uncertainty can be stressful and anxiety-producing for many. According to the CDC, the number of individuals reporting symptoms of anxiety has tripled since the start of COVID, with rates of depression and suicidal ideation also on the rise.
Stuck in a heightened state of alarm, many individuals have developed a sort of happiness anxiety, which is the mind’s maladaptive way of protecting us from being hurt or let down in the future. For many people struggling with anxiety, staying in control of our emotions or expectations provides a veiled sense of safety. We think, “If I prevent myself from feeling happy about something now, I can protect myself from the shock and pain when something inevitably goes wrong in the future.”
Unfortunately, no matter how hard we clench our jaws and resist the temptation to feel happy, we can’t control nor predict the future. Instead, we’re simply forbidding ourselves from feeling joy and this doesn’t make the pain we may feel in the future hurt any less. All our happiness anxiety is doing is robbing us of experiencing joy, now — and that’s no way to live.
So, how can we rewire our brains to focus on the positives and embrace feelings of happiness while we continue to feel wary about the future? By giving ourselves permission to feel happy and embracing fearless positivity.
Leaning into Fearless Positivity
In the midst of emotional turmoil, it can be nearly impossible to find a beacon of light, but there is always hope to be found. When we embrace a positive mindset, it does not mean we ignore the risks, dangers, or concerns whirling around in our brains. Instead, it means embracing the agility of our minds and choosing to direct our focus rather than being led by our emotions. Every single second, our brain receives 11 million bits of information but of that, we are only able to process 50 bits at a time. That means, while we may be focusing on 50 bits of negative information, we can choose to focus on millions and millions of other bits that may be more positive or beneficial to our wellbeing.
Fearless positivity is not the absence of fear or negativity, but an intentional decision to look at the world through a lens of realism and give priority to the positive. Then, we can move forward with hope and release the fear that’s been holding us back.
These four strategies can help us rewire our brains to view the world through a more positive framework.
- Take a Breath: When you find yourself spiraling with negative thoughts, take a moment to breathe. Pushing our emotions aside in order to carry on with our daily tasks only compounds our emotions and leads to outbursts or breakdowns down the line. So, the next time you feel like your brain is getting bombarded by negativity or fear, take a moment for yourself. Step outside or into a quiet room and take some deep breaths. A few simple moments of breathing can give us a bit of perspective and allow us to take control of our emotions.
- Reframe Your Thoughts: Once you feel a bit calmer, remind yourself that your thoughts and fears are not prophetic. Just because you are afraid that something is going to happen, doesn’t mean it’s going to actually happen. Remind yourself that at this moment, you are safe and that the only thing threatening you, is your own thoughts. Focus on your breath, the sounds and smells around you, the feeling of grass or carpet beneath your feet — and once you feel grounded recite your daily affirmations.
- Practice Daily Affirmations: Daily affirmations can feel silly at first, I’ll be the first to admit that, but they really do help reframe your thoughts. So, if fear has become a daily stressor in your life try writing down a daily affirmation such as, “I choose to overcome fear because my happiness/family/career, etc. matters more to me”. Write it again and again until you start to believe it and feel the shift in your mindset.
- Talk it Out: Lastly, don’t be afraid to talk it out. We have collectively been through an incredibly stressful eighteen months. Your friends and family are likely experiencing similar feelings of anxiety. By talking it out, you take away your anxiety’s secret power over you and might even help a friend in the process.
While staying optimistic amid uncertainty can be a challenge, these strategies can improve our resilience and allow us to reframe our situation in a more positive light.