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How to Look Ahead with Real—Not Fake—Positivity

A new season brings a fresh wave of worry about the future of the pandemic. Here’s how to name it, claim it and reframe it.

How to have a positive outlook
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Here are two facts that might be on your mind right now: the pandemic is not going anywhere anytime soon, and cold and flu season is approaching. These two realities are a recipe for anticipatory anxiety, the psychological phenomenon in which we look ahead with fear about what could happen in the future. 

Even if you have been keeping your authentic positivity practices active throughout the summer, the arrival of the first nip in the air could be threatening to tip your mood in a more stressful direction. That’s OK. It’s also normal. And most importantly, it’s something you can handle.

Name It
Calling anticipatory anxiety what it is—feelings of fear and worry about things that haven’t happened yet—can take away some of the power that anxious fortune-telling can have on our thoughts and moods. Psychologists encourage people to consider anticipatory anxiety a symptom rather than a disorder. To name it and recognize it.

It might manifest as difficulty concentrating, disturbed sleep, appetite disruption, muscle tightness or joint pain, jumpiness or restlessness. Name it, claim it…and re-frame it. Tell yourself, “I am feeling anxious because the future is uncertain. I don’t like this feeling, but I can handle it.”

Control What You Can
A big part of anticipatory anxiety is the lack of control we feel about what may (or may not) happen in the future. One way to keep this feeling in check is to take steps to control what you can reasonably get a handle on right here, right now.

Schedule your flu shot. Stock your pantry with healthy, satisfying staples. Make a list of passion projects you can easily step into when you have the time and energy to do so. Even the smallest steps taken today can help you feel more confident and steady when you look ahead to tomorrow.

Sharpen Your Tools
Anticipatory anxiety is just that—anxiety. The bad news about anxiety is that it’s uncomfortable to experience. The good news is that you probably already have a lot of strategies to manage stress and anxiety in your life. You simply have to sharpen those skills and focus them on the discomfort of not knowing what the pandemic will mean for your life in the months to come. 

Ask yourself whether you are doing what’s called “catastrophizing” or “probability overestimation,” putting too much weight on the likelihood of frightful things to come. Then challenge those thoughts. Put them on trial against any real evidence you have.

Move your body. Use walks, stretches and other movements to remind yourself that you are safe and grounded in the here and now. And reach out for help from friends, clergy or counselors. Remember that especially in a pandemic, anxiety is an expected, manageable part of the human condition.

Are you feeling anticipatory anxiety about the months to come? How are you managing those feelings?

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