But you don’t have to devote your life to meditation to see change, explained Richard Davidson, founder and director of the Center for Healthy Minds, the institute that did the research on the monks, in a prior CNN interview
Davidson pointed to the results of a randomized controlled trial of people who’ve never meditated before. Using direct measures of brain function and structure, he found it only took 30 minutes a day of meditation practice over the course of two weeks to produce a measurable change in the brain.
“When these kinds of mental exercises are taught to people, it actually changes the function and the structure of their brain in ways that we think support these kinds of positive qualities,” said Davidson, who is a professor of psychology and psychiatry.
One of Davidson’s favorite mindfulness exercises cultivates appreciation.
“Simply to bring to mind people that are in our lives from whom we have received some kind of help,” Davidson said. “Bring them to mind and appreciate the care and support or whatever it might be that these individuals have provided.”
“You can spend one minute each morning and each evening doing this,” he said. “And that kind of appreciation is something that can foster a sense of optimism about the future.”
Like exercise, mindfulness will need to be practiced on a regular basis to keep the brain’s positive outlook in good shape, Davidson said. But the effort is definitely worth it.
“This is really about nurturing the mind,” he said. “And there is ample evidence to suggest that there are real psychological and physical health-related benefits.”
8. Strive for optimism
Science has shown that people who practice gratitude are happier and more optimistic, and you can easily teach yourself how to do it.
“One thing I recommend to everyone in scary times is to write two or three things each day of what you’re grateful for. It shifts your view of the world,” said trauma counselor Jane Webber, a professor of counselor education at Kean University in New Jersey, in a prior CNN interview.
And while you’re at it, list the positive experiences you had that day, which can also raise your optimism.
One of the most effective ways to increase optimism, according to a meta-analysis of existing studies
, is called the “Best Possible Self” method, where you imagine or journal about yourself in a future in which you have achieved all your life goals and all of your problems have been resolved.
To do this, write for 15 minutes about a future day in your life in which you have accomplished everything you wish. Then spend
five minutes imaging that reality. In a 2011 study
, students practiced the Best Possible Self exercise for 15 minutes a week for eight weeks. Not only did they feel more positive, the feelings lasted for about six months.
9. Crack a smile
It’s long been said that “laughter is the best medicine,” and that applies to the anxiety of our times, experts said.
“Remember, you can’t be anxious and smile at the same time. That’s a physiological thing,” Webber said.
So watch funny movies, listen to comedy routines, ask everyone you talk to on the phone to tell you a joke. Give back to them by doing the same.
10. Set up a social phone tree
Staying socially connected with friends and loved ones even though you’re physically apart is a key way to survive this stressful time.
Of course, technology is a great way for many of us to do that, but some in the family, such as grandparents, may not be as adept at using Facebook, FaceTime and Zoom, for example.
Trauma psychologist Shauna Springer, who has spent a decade working with military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, suggests creating a phone tree.
“Instead of just relying on social media, we can make a list of the 10 or 20 people that we care the most about and put them in our phone on a rotating basis,” Springer said. “We’re going to call one of those people every day.”
Next, Springer suggests adding more people from our outer ring of friends and associates that we may not be as close to and put those people into that daily call rotation. That’s especially critical if you think those people may be especially isolated right now.
“Reaching out and connecting with people, especially those who are especially isolated, and giving them space to talk about their experience and anxiety during this unprecedented time of anxiety and then sharing our own experience is how we will get through this,” she said. “When we connect, we survive.”