Amidst the Coronavirus pandemic and with the country in the throes of the nationwide lockdown, it is important to nurture a positive mindset for overall wellbeing. Thoughts, emotions, behaviour and physical health are closely linked. 

“These are difficult and uncertain times. Few of us have ever had to deal with a situation even vaguely similar to what all of us are experiencing now. Fear, anxiety, and stress are at an all-time high as people worry about protecting themselves and their families against COVID-19, their jobs, their finances, their children’s education, and coping with the restrictions of daily life within the confines of their homes.”

“There is some solace in knowing that none of us are alone in this, and we should all try to maintain a positive mindset. Our mindsets affect how we feel and act, and can also impact our physical health and our immune system. Right now, maintaining a strong immune system and good health is incredibly important,” says Ilse de Beer, Psychologist at Ilse de Beer Psychology.

She says that one of the miracles of the human brain is that it can elicit a response in the body, based on what we are thinking. 

“We are designed to have either a fight or flight response in times of danger or trouble.  If our brain decides that the thought is negative or one of fear and tension, it starts to prepare the body for action. Adrenaline and the stress hormone, cortisol are then secreted to get the body ready for a flight or fight response.” 

“The trouble with today’s fast-paced lifestyle and highly connected world is that most of our anxiety, tension, and perception of danger comes from high demands, information overload, financial pressure, and tension in relationships. This means that instead of a ‘dangerous’ situation happening and ending, we are chronically stressed out. Our minds and bodies are always in a hyper-state where there is an ongoing secretion of stress hormones. This can significantly wear down our mental, emotional, and physical health.”

According to De Beer, most of our thoughts are controllable. When we think positively, it has a positive effect on our minds and bodies. 

“Your thoughts are so powerful that they have the potential to change the anatomy and physiology of your body. Negative thoughts cause negative emotions, which can rob you of your happiness, energy, and creativity.” 

“If you can change the formula of your thinking to be more positive, you can rewire your brain with incredible benefits for your overall health and wellbeing. You will feel uplifted, more energetic, and able to cope with stresses that arise. Your chance of burning out decreases, and your productivity tends to be much higher.”

So how do we go about rewiring our brains – especially at a time like now?

De Beer says it is about making good choices about what thoughts we allow to rush in and run wild in our minds.

“You can choose the way you think about things. Training your mind to be more positive is similar to physical training of your body. It takes consistency and practice. Start small and do it daily, one positive thought at a time. Yes, you have to be deliberately conscious and focused on what you are thinking. As soon as you realise that you are thinking negative thoughts, you must consciously shift focus and change what you are thinking. Our brain’s ability to adapt and change means that we can quickly learn new positive habits. You can rewire your brain this way. However, it takes deliberate focus.”  

She offers these tips for encouraging positive thinking:

•    At the start and end of every day, think about two things for which you are grateful. For example, a good night’s rest, your health and your family. This will help to bring your brain into a positive state.  

•    Have a positive mantra for yourself. Something simple to remember, such as “I am calm, and happy and strong,” will work well. When you feel anxious or stressed, repeat it to yourself. Your brain believes what you tell it! 

•    If you start to feel negative or depressed, write down three things you are thankful or grateful for. The moment you focus on gratitude, your mood changes.

She concludes with this piece of advice for maintaining a positive mindset during a lockdown: “Don’t get swept up in the tide of panic. If this means switching off the news and social media for a day, do it. 

“Focus on what you can do. This can help you to conquer the emotional impact of thoughts brought on by boredom and fear. Make a conscious effort to comply with the preventative measures provided by the government and trustworthy sources.” 

“Keep your body and mind busy, for example, with physical activities that you can do in a confined space. Play games, explore your creativity. Catch up on things that you never have time for, like reading a book, working in the garden, or baking.” 

“Remember to keep telling yourself that things will be ok and that they will get better, such as that; this is not forever. Remember, your brain will follow your lead. If you keep on giving yourself positive feedback, your brain will start believing it. This will proactively counter feelings of panic and stop you from becoming overwhelmed.”

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