How positive thinking can help you through a global pandemic – and help your immunity, too

This article originally published at: help-you-through-a-global-pandemic-and-help-your-immunity-too/

The COVID-19 pandemic has plunged all of us into a new and frightening way of living. In an unprecedented global health crisis, it’s natural to be experiencing anxiety, depression, or other forms of mental distress like a lack of motivation.

It may seem like quackery, but data shows that ‘positive thinking’, i.e. constructive, happy, or simply contented thoughts, can actively contribute to boosting your immunity.

It has therefore never been more important to take care of your mental health, and be kind to yourself.

This is not to say that positive thinking will prevent you from contracting Covid-19. There are no definitive answers in this relatively nascent field. But there is a growing body of evidence that supports the idea that your immunity could benefit from positive thought.

It’s important to note that positive thinking does not involve ignoring frightening thoughts altogether; that’s avoidance. Positive thinking is all about having the right tools to equip you to address frightening situations or thoughts head on, and still find meaning, enjoyment and comfort in life.

The brain and body are linked

Once rejected as fanciful, the idea that the brain could potentially impact the immune system was vindicated in the 1980s and 1990s by studies that showed how the brain was directly wired to the immune system.

In a 2014 study at the University of Queensland, researcher Dr Elise Kalokerinos and her team from UQ’s School of Psychology followed 50 adults, aged 65-90 years, across two years.

Participants were shown a series of positive and negative photos, which they were later asked to remember. Their immune function was simultaneously measured through a series of blood tests.

When reviewed up to two years later, participants who recalled more positive than negative images had antibodies in their blood suggesting stronger immune systems than those of their counterparts. The findings indicate a positive feedback loop between immune health and psychological health, two intricately connected systems.

Evidence indicates that the impacts of optimism on immunity are strong in cases of one-off, incidental illness, but do not carry through to chronic or persistent diseases. It’s therefore

important to remember that positive thinking is not a panacaea for physical wellness, but it can and does have demonstrable effects on the way your body responds to new diseases.

How can I manage and tolerate uncertainty?

Given the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s natural to get caught up in a state of panic, or simply lose your rhythm and motivation.

The stress, anxiety and financial hardships that most people are experiencing as a result of this pandemic make maintaining a semblance of normality very difficult.

Learning to tolerate uncertainty is important, but what tools can we use to put this into practice when we are all stuck inside?


The most important step in tolerating uncertainty is facing it head on.

The ironic truth is that a huge part of the destructive impact of anxiety comes from not acknowledging it, and instead burying it.

In psychology, this is known as the “avoidance paradox”; that the more you avoid something that causes you anxiety, the more debilitating your anxiety about that thing becomes.

Confront and tolerating uncertainty, then, requires resilience. Resilience is not a character trait but a skill, a behaviour that you can learn through practice.

As many people will not have the resources – or the freedom – to see a counsellor at this time, you can practice training resilience at home.


If there are anxieties niggling at your mind that you can’t seem to shake, write them down and use this exercise to help address feelings of panic.

  1. Write down the event or possibility you are worried about. This could be a relationship breakdown, a recession, home-schooling your children or even getting sick and dying from coronavirus
  2. Analyse just how likely this is to happen. Write down a realistic percentage.
  3. Analyse the level of tragedy that there would be if this were to happen – would it be annoying, expected, upsetting or tragic? Write down a percentage. Could it go two ways, is there a worst and a best-case scenario? If so, write them down.
  4. If the worst-case scenario occurred, think of things you could do to cope.
  5. If the worst-case scenario occurred and you don’t feel that you could cope by yourself, think of resources you might access to help (the support of friends and family, counselling).

6. Finally, what are reassuring things you would say to a friend who was worrying about this catastrophe now? What positive – but genuine – reassurance would you offer them? Apply that reassurance to yourself.

A simple practice like this can minimise catastrophising and reinforce your resilience. It can also show you how much of a comfort you can be to yourself, and be an important source of self-love.

Calmness and a clear mind

Practicing mindfulness can allow you to place anxieties into context and maintain a sense of calm in stressful times. It’s no secret that a calm mind promotes a healthy body.


Set aside 10 minutes to sit in a chair and listen to this particular exercise, the Eye of the Hurricane Meditation:

This video is a helpful tool because it offers a practical way to see and understand the feeling of being ‘in the eye of the storm’; seeing the chaos, but maintaining a health barrier between it and you, so that you can be the calm in the eye (or the centre) of the storm.


A helpful way to counterbalance anxiety is to focus on gratitude, specifically the things you have in your life that you are grateful for and what they mean to you.

Aspiring to perfection paradoxically tends to make us less likely to learn and grow; learning to accept the positives of your current situation can build all those helpful tools – resilience and calmness – that can actually help you thrive in the long run.

Various studies over the past decade have indicated that practicing gratitude can potentially have positive impacts on your physical health as well as your mental health, for example by reducing symptoms such as headaches, nausea, shortness of breath and sore muscles.

Gratitude is not always about counting your blessings, but sometimes about counting the ways in which you are good at managing and overcoming challenges.


  1. Write down five strengths you already had before the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdown.
  2. Write down ways in which those strengths have helped you, either in tolerating previous distressing situations or helping you to tolerate this present situation.
  1. Ask yourself to list some new strengths you’ve gained because of this current situation.
  2. Write down how these new strengths make you feel, and how they might equip you to deal with whatever the rest of life might throw at you.

This exercise is quick and simple but can produce a surprisingly efficient boost to your self- esteem and general level of gratitude.

Perspective: focus on what you can control, and release what you can’t
Anxiety, stress and panic are often a response to a fear that makes you feel out of control.

These kinds of feelings are perfectly understandable in the context of a global pandemic.

One way to manage this overwhelming fear is to focus on what you can control, recognising that the things out of your control will not offer you any benefit if you worry excessively about them.


Think through meaningful actions you can do to exercise some control over your current situation. This may include:

  • –  Social distancing and proper hand hygiene.
  • –  Checking in with our loved ones regularly over the phone to help them feel supported.
  • –  Creating a new routine for your day that helps you to feel in control of your life.
  • –  Revisiting activities from normal life; this might be as simple as watching reruns of sports games on the internet, or calling your friends for a catch up. And most importantly, be kind to yourself. Know that it’s perfectly normal for your mental health to take a hit during these times. Know also that it won’t last forever, and that for as long as it does last you have the skills and tools within you to tolerate and perhaps even find positivity under these conditions. Your mind and your immune system will thank you.