By Barb Ward

Globally, and undeniably, Covid-19 has changed our lives. It has changed the way we parent, the way we work, the way we live our lives, and the choices we make. It may have impacted our relationships with family, friends, and co-workers in different ways, but it has definitively and universally changed our world.

In the midst of all of this, has your outlook changed?

This is an important question because even when times are hard, your outlook affects whether you react negatively or positively to the situation. Your outlook affects so many different areas of your life. On an internal level it affects how you feel about yourself, how you process information, and it can affect your happiness and quality of life as well as your physical health. Externally, it makes a difference in your relationships, your work life, in how you show up in the world, what causes you decide to take up with… and on, and on.

Maybe you don’t think of it that way, or maybe you don’t realize how much it impacts your life and the lives of those around you, but it does. So, I ask again. Has your outlook changed?

It can be daunting to admit that it has, especially if you feel it has changed negatively. However, the fact of the matter is you are not alone. The human brain is intrinsically wired to default to the negative. Have you ever wondered why the same negative experiences replay over and over in your head? This is called negativity bias. According to the work of John Gottman and Robert Levenson, who closely studied the effects of negativity with couples, the suggested ratio is 5:1, meaning that for every negative encounter, there should be a minimum of five positive ones to counterbalance the effects of the first. This same concept can be applied to any negative situation.

And, as the pandemic drones on in a seemingly endless pattern where contradictory information is swirling around, our work lives have changed, our children’s school experiences have changed, and we are trying to make the best choices for ourselves, and our families; the negative can seem overwhelming.

So, if your outlook has changed toward the negative, the question becomes, “Can you do anything to retrain your brain to think more positively and to bring more joy into your life?” Happily, the answer is yes. Simply recognizing negative thought patterns as they happen can help you step back and turn them into positive ones.

Here are some simple steps to retrain your brain for positivity:

Seek Support
Whether it is a friend, spouse, counselor, physician, or support group, finding people you can rely on when you are feeling down can be a lifeline in stressful situations.

Stay Connected
Reaching out to loved ones and maintaining connection can spread love and joy to both yourself and those you are connecting with.

Practice Positive Affirmation
Keep a mental list of positive things to think about, such as good memories, inspiring quotes, lines from favorite poems—anything that redirects your mind into a positive mode of thinking.

Focus on small things that make you happy or thankful
Jot down things you are thankful for before going to bed at night. People who consciously take time to reflect on these things have more positive thoughts, get better quality sleep, are healthier, and show more compassion toward others.

Look for good facts and turn them into good experiences
Make a conscious effort to look for the positive in every experience. Take active measures to notice the good in both the world around you and in yourself.

Do something nice
Being kind to someone else provides benefits for you as well. Research shows that it boosts heart health, enhances emotional wellbeing, and improves overall happiness.

Savor the experience
Give yourself time (at least 20-30 seconds) to fully enjoy happy or rewarding moments. By extending our positive sensations, we allow more neurons to fire and wire together in response to the positive event. This solidifies the experience in our memory and helps replace negative memories with positive ones.

Perhaps now more than ever, changing negative thinking patterns can benefit our lives by strengthening and widening our perspective, giving us an entirely new outlook, and improving the quality of our relationships and our lives in countless ways.