What makes some people so resilient during a crisis? Study reveals keys to a positive mindset

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.— In the midst of a pandemic, accumulating good days can be challenging for many people. While some people are able to appreciate what they have, others may struggle to find gratitude or other coping mechanisms. For those who regularly find joy in their days, particularly during a pandemic, what’s their secret? A new study reveals the various factors that build resiliency in people, especially when facing hardship.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab surveyed 600 American adults and discovered ways people can create optimism during lonely days. Taking a look at their experiences and behavior over the course of a day, researchers were able to find the roots of positive emotions and resiliency during social distancing.

How to develop an upbeat mindset

According to the study, exercise, meditation, prayer are among the most common ways people stay centered. Blending favorite hobbies with some relaxation time is also key. “Most people know that these things are important, of course,” writes co-authors Barbara L. Frederickson, the Kenan Distinguished Professor in the school’s psychology department, and Michael M. Prinzing, a graduate fellow at the university’s Parr Center for Ethics, in a media release. “But they are especially so these days as we stay at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus.”

The authors say that people who feel lonely, stressed, anxious, or depressed benefit the most from practicing self-care. Putting time away on the calendar and making these efforts routine is especially helpful in building resilience.

Keep in touch — using video

Social interaction plays a tricky role in the overall health of a person. Too much of anything is bad for you, especially if we’re talking about social media. Keeping up with the world’s troubles is important, but limiting how much news you consume is vital for positive emotions, researchers say. “Our data showed that the amount of time people spend passively browsing social media (scrolling through feeds, looking for updates) was unrelated to positive states, and strongly linked to anxiety and other negative feelings,” the authors write. “If your feeds are like ours, they’re mostly composed of distressing news and politicking. Keeping up with these endless streams is far from uplifting.”

Social interaction also proves to be a strong way to limit negative emotions, say researchers. This is true whether you consider yourself an introvert or extravert, and particularly key for those living along. While interacting is important in producing positive emotion, how the interaction takes place holds just as much value. Face-to-face conversation is of course best, but video chats prove just as effective during social distancing, researchers say.

Conversely, keeping up with friends and family over text doesn’t elicit the same positive feelings.

“This was a useful wake-up call for us,” the authors admit. “We thought we were doing ourselves good by keeping up via text. But the evidence suggests this isn’t as valuable as we thought. It’s much harder to establish a meaningful connection with someone via text.”

Good deeds elicit positive emotions

In a final portion of research, Frederickson and Prinzing say that extending a helping hand to another helps produce position emotions. Those who don’t, experience more negative emotions. Even a simple donation goes a long way, particularly during a crisis. If you’re healthy, donating blood to those in need is highly beneficial. Donating personal protective equipment gear (PPE), if you’re able to, is another feel-good action.

If this seems like too much to remember, the authors came up with an acronym to help. Simply
“MARCH” your way to a happier disposition:

  • Minimize passive scrolling through social media
  • Accept negative emotion
  • Really connect with people
  • Care for yourself
  • Help others

Researchers say that resiliency isn’t a trait you either have or don’t have. It can be developed over time, but it requires effort. The findings of the study may be the best prescription for people seeking a daily dose of positive vibes.

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