In these extra challenging times with the COVID-19 virus, it naturally causes a lot of fear in many of us. We don’t yet know what the consequences of the virus will be, neither at a personal level or for the greater society.
Besides taking the important precautions to not spread the virus, we can actually be mindful of cultivating positive emotions inside ourselves – simply because positive emotions have the potential to help protect us from viruses.
A ground-breaking experiment conducted by PhD Sheldon Cohen from Carnegie Mellon University, has shown that people who experienced higher levels of positive emotions were more resistant and showed less severe flu symptoms than those that displayed less positive emotions (Cohen et al. 2003). This was the finding based on 334 participants who got a common cold virus squirted into their noses and then got isolated into cleared hotel rooms to await for symptoms. The conclusion was clear – positive emotions have beneficial effects on the immune system functioning.
But, how can we then cultivate positive emotions in these highly disruptive and stressful times to boost our immune systems?
Here are 9 examples of how you can boost your positive emotions:
1. Spend time in nature, go for a walk near the water, or get sun-light. Nature helps us feel better emotionally and reduces fear and stress. It can also increase your physical health e.g. measured by a reduced heart rate, lower blood pressure, and lower levels of stress hormones. So where in nature do you normally like to go? Can you go to new outdoor places e.g. via bike to avoid public transportation to gain variety?
2. Prioritise time for exercise. Exercise has a double effect as it both lifts our moods immediately by releasing endorphins and then the physical exercise can increase your physical resistance to quicker fight off a virus. What types of exercise do you enjoy? Can you do the exercise in a new way, so you don’t get in close contact with other people?
3. Cultivate your social connections in new ways – there is nothing as social connections that can lift our moods and spark positive emotions in us. Think creatively about how you can keep up the connection to your favourite people now. Can you connect daily via Facetime, Skype, messengers or other social platforms?
4. Acts of kindness – acts of kindness are proven ways to improve your mental well-being and positive emotions. Even small acts of kindness can have an effect e.g. simply smile to a stranger, help your neighbour with grocery shopping or send a kind message to a colleague.
5. Practice an attitude of gratitude. A powerful exercise with scientific evidence to boost your subjective wellbeing is to write down 3 things that went well each night, and provide a rational explanation for these (Seligman et al., 2005). Try it for a week and you will very likely feel a positive difference. Some studies also see a direct link between gratitude and reduced blood pressure (Shipon, 1977).
6. Gain inspiration to do things you enjoy. What things make your smile or laugh? What are you passionate about? In these challenging times, we still need to keep doing things we enjoy. Perhaps there are alternative ways you can seek joy and laughter? What previous passions can you take up again? Find books that can inspire you, use online blogs, listen to podcasts, seek inspiration from people you admire for example online.
7. Listen to music. Music is a very powerful tool to instantly awake positive emotions in us. Listening to music we enjoy will release neurotransmitters associated with reward, such as dopamine, in our brains (Juslin, 2019). It also has the potential to reduce negative feelings of stress. What music do you really enjoy listening to?
8. Practice mindfulness meditation – mindfulness meditation is in a nutshell about stepping into the present moment with your full awareness. Evidence shows that mindfulness has the potential to increases your positive affect and overall well-being (Seear & Vella-Brodrick, 2012). It can also give you a break from stressful negative thoughts. If you are new to mindfulness meditation, I will recommend to get help from guided meditation apps. One of my favourites apps is Headspace.
9. Embrace the negative thoughts. Negative emotions are important to be mindful of, as they serve as a red flag pointing towards something, we need to be mindful of, take action on or simply accept. The good thing is, that as we become better at cultivating positive emotions, it makes us better able to deal with the negative emotions as they emerge. This is a natural part of being a human to experience both negative and positive emotions.
Remember to be extra gentle to yourself in these extra stressful times, when trying out the above things.
I wish you the best of luck with cultivating the positive <3.
- Boniwell & Tunariu (2019). Positive Psychology – Theory, research and applications, Open University Press; 2 edition.
- Cohen, Sheldon & Doyle, William & Turner, Ronald & Alper, Cuneyt & Skoner, David. (2003). Emotional Style and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Psychosomatic medicine. 65. 652-7.
- Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56(3), 218–226.
- Juslin, P. N. (2019): Musical Emotions Explained, Unlocking the Secrets of Musical Affect, Oxford.
- Seear, Kimberley & Vella-Brodrick, Dianne. (2013). Efficacy of Positive Psychology Interventions to Increase Well-Being: Examining the Role of Dispositional Mindfulness. Social Indicators Research. 114.
- Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410–421.
- Shipon, R. W. (2007). Gratitude: Effect on perspectives and blood pressure of inner-city African-American hypertensive patients. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 68(3-B), 1977.
About the Author, Karina Kaae
- Karina Kaae is a sustainable work-life consultant, work futurist, and keynote speaker on subjects related to the sustainable working life* and positive psychology.
- Karina helps companies identify and address unhealthy and unproductive ways of working and adapting to a long-term sustainable working culture. She offers seminars and training for employees and leaders, as well as individual coaching.
- Her clients include organisations such as Carlsberg Denmark, the IT Industry (IT Branchen), Dynamic HR Network and PEJ Gruppen, among others.
- Karina has a background as a management consultant with McKinsey & Co., where she has worked with organisational and cultural changes for companies in Denmark and Europe.
- She holds a MSc from Copenhagen Business School, specialised in organisational communication & business administration and is currently taking a MSc in Positive Psychology & Coaching Psychology from The University of East London.
*What is a sustainable work life?
In a sustainable working life, the individual has optimal conditions for long-term sustainability and viability. The worker is able to create value in the workplace and perform a job well, while getting optimal conditions for taking care of his or her own well-being and energy.
The resulting benefits from personal sustainability is better physical and mental health, social well-being at work, and individual performance.
The workplace may have a desire to ensure a better work-life balance; reduce working hour, tackle a high sick leave, social dissatisfaction or distractions, and lack of focus.
Ultimately, personal sustainability can help reducing employee turnover, increasing employer branding and increasing the company’s bottom line.