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Activities for Busting the COVID-19 Blues

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As shelter-in-place becomes commonplace, the Thrive Center continues to put together research-based, at-home activities to help you bust those isolation blues. This time of social distancing can be challenging, but it also represents an opportunity for growth among kids and adults. For those who are feeling a little overwhelmed, panicked, lost, or just bored, this post offers a few exercises to build up your mental strength and help you bounce back.

Each activity below focuses on developing skills that build resilience, which is the ability to bounce back from stressful situations and negative emotional experiences1 like a global pandemic. Resilient people cope with stress in healthier, positive ways. They are more likely to feel positive emotions like happiness, joy, and contentment, even in the thick of stress2. Resilient people are also more likely to feel less anxious3 and depressed4, find more meaning in their daily life activities5, and feel more satisfied with their lives6 in the midst of turmoil.

If someone you know seems to be handling COVID-19 in a happy and healthy way, chances are that person has resilient coping mechanisms. The good news is so can you! To help fight COVID-19 stress7 and foster resilient habits—such as being mindful and learning to regulate emotions8—give the 3 activities below a try. You can do these activities on your own or with whoever is in your isolation bubble.

Activity 1: Mindfulness Practices

Timing: 5-10 minutes, daily/varies

Ages: 8 and up (with help from an adult)

What: Mindfulness involves being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and even physical sensations in the present moment, without judgement.

How:  There are many ways to practice mindfulness, but here are 2 quick (and free) exercises to get you started.

A Tip from Tolle (2-3 minutes, daily): To help you become more present, Eckhart Tolle9, world renowned spiritual teacher and author of the New York Times bestseller The Power of Now, recommends picking a daily habit you have, such as brushing your teeth or (with COVID-19 practices in place) washing your hands. Consciously go through this habit using all of your senses. If washing your hands, for example, Tolle would tell you to smell the soap, really feel the water and soap on your hands, and hear the sound of the water.


Mindfulness Waterfalls (7.5 minutes, 2-3 times a week or more as desired)10: Try out this brief mindfulness meditation, designed by researchers from UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Center11-12.

If you’re a parent, learn about mindful parenting practices here.

Activity 2: Savoring the Moment

Timing: 2-5 minutes, daily or as often as feels good

Ages: 8 and up (with help from an adult)

What: Savoring involves slowing down and really luxuriating in a positive feeling.

How: Start by savoring the past first. Then, each day for the rest of the week, luxuriate in the present and future, and pick the practice that feels most right to you.

Savor the Past

  1. Favorite Memories: Pick a favorite memory or moment in your past that brought you joy or happiness. This could be your wedding day, passing your midterm exams, match day 2020 success, finally finding that four leaf clover, or just a really fun night with friends or family. Whether a big or small event, just pick a memory that really makes you feel good. Bring the image and feelings of this event to the forefront of your mind.
  2. Luxuriate: As you reflect on this event, try to really slow down your thoughts. Reflect on all your senses. What physical sensations did you feel at the time? What positive emotions did you feel? Who was there, what did your surroundings look like, and what did things smell like? How did this event happen or who made it happen? When you begin to feel joy from any part of this memory, try to slow down the moment and really revel in that feeling. Hold onto those good feelings as long as you can, and then let the positive feelings fade naturally. Continue thinking about the memory until it feels like you’ve reached the end.

Savor the Present

Once you get the hang of savoring the past, try savoring the present! Start noticing when you have good feelings daily. Maybe you feel good when FaceTiming a friend, experiencing the beauty of nature, or simply sipping a delicious cup of crème de la earl grey (my personal favorite). Whatever it is, when you notice those good feelings come up, slow down and really luxuriate in them. Sip your tea slower or stare at a beautiful redwood just a few minutes longer. Let yourself feel the beauty of the moment, experiencing it with all your senses.


Savor the Future

You can do this with the future, too! Think about the things you’re most looking forward to. Maybe you have a Zoom happy hour scheduled you’re excited about, or a virtual bridge game with family on the docket (just me?). Or think about a time when you can be around all your family and friends again in person. Whatever future event sounds fun, focus on that. Just like with the past and present activities, slow down, use all your senses, and whenever good feelings pop up, revel in them.

Activity 3: 3 Good Things13 During COVID-19

Timing: 10 minutes, daily for one week

Ages: 10 and up

What: This practice helps you focus on the good things happening in your life and on life’s positives.

How:

  1. Each day, think about 3 things that have gone well for you. This could be as simple as, “My favorite bread was back at the grocery store today,” to something big like, “My partner surprised me with my favorite family recipe for dinner.” Maybe your neighbor lent you some TP. Whatever the case, make note of 3 GOOD things that happened to you today.
  2. Then, for each of those 3 good things, write down WHAT made this thing feel good, and WHY you think this good thing happened. That is, did someone help you? Did you help yourself? What made this good thing possible and WHICH good feelings did it make you feel (e.g. joy, laughter, happiness, contentment, etc.)?

We are all in a time of stress and building resilient habits is one way to help ourselves thrive. Remember that resource-building activities like these are not one-size-fits-all. You might like one activity and despise another, and that’s okay! Give each one a try and find out what works for YOU.


Looking for more activities? Positive emotions play a key role in building resilient coping mechanisms14. Learn about the activities that play up positive emotions here.


References

1. Tugade, M. M., Fredrickson, B. L., & Feldman Barrett, L. (2004). Psychological resilience and positive emotional granularity: Examining the benefits of positive emotions on coping and health. Journal of personality72(6), 1161-1190.

2. Tugade, M. M., Fredrickson, B. L., & Feldman Barrett, L. (2004). Psychological resilience and positive emotional granularity: Examining the benefits of positive emotions on coping and health. Journal of personality72(6), 1161-1190.

3. Beutel, M. E., Glaesmer, H., Wiltink, J., Marian, H., & Brähler, E. (2010). Life satisfaction, anxiety, depression and resilience across the life span of men. The Aging Male13(1), 32-39.

4. Beutel, M. E., Glaesmer, H., Wiltink, J., Marian, H., & Brähler, E. (2010). Life satisfaction, anxiety, depression and resilience across the life span of men. The Aging Male13(1), 32-39.

5. Folkman, S., & Moskowitz, J. T. (2000). Positive affect and the other side of coping. American psychologist55(6), 647.

6. Rossi, N. E., Bisconti, T. L., & Bergeman, C. S. (2007). The role of dispositional resilience in regaining life satisfaction after the loss of a spouse. Death studies31(10), 863-883.

7. Praissman, S. (2008). Mindfulness-based stress reduction: a literature review and clinician’s guideJournal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, 20(4), 212-216.

8. Arch, J. J., & Craske, M. G. (2006). Mechanisms of mindfulness: Emotion regulation following a focused breathing inductionBehaviour Research and Therapy, 44(12), 1849-1858.

9. https://www.eckharttolle.com/

10. Riches, B., Dubon, V., Mangan, S.,Dowlat, R. (under review). Do You Mind? Testing a Short Online Mindfulness Exercise. Mindfulness.

11. https://www.uclahealth.org/marc/

12. This video was adapted, with permission, from the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC; https://www.uclahealth.org/marc/default.cfm)

13. Seligman, M. E., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventionsAmerican Psychologist60(5), 410.

14. Tugade, M. M., Fredrickson, B. L., & Feldman Barrett, L. (2004). Psychological resilience and positive emotional granularity: Examining the benefits of positive emotions on coping and health. Journal of personality72(6), 1161-1190.

About the Author

Susan Mangan

Susan Mangan

Susan Mangan is a Research Associate with The Thrive Center. As a Positive Developmental Psychologist, Susan is interested in how we, as individuals and as a society, can lead happier, more fulfilling lives. As a scholar more broadly, her research focuses on positive psychology interventions, well-being, and emerging adulthood. She also has a strong background in evaluation, statistics, and community program development.

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