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Research Suggests Positive Forward-Thinking Safeguards Mental Health During Lockdowns

We all might feel nostalgic for a time when we weren’t confined to our homes or had rules imposed upon us in public spaces; however new research from the University of Surrey suggests that if we forget about 2020 or even our current lockdown state in 2021 and look forward to the future, our mental wellbeing will presently be more resilient.

Practising gratitude and looking forward to the future facilitate mental resilience during Covid-19 lockdowns, the research in the Journal of Positive Psychology concluded. Researchers investigated how nostalgia, gratitude, and thinking about the future positively interacted with the study participants' mental wellbeing.


Split into four groups, the 216 participants were assigned to practice nostalgia, gratitude, thinking about the future positively, and a control group. Those in the nostalgia group were instructed to thinking about their life pre-lockdown; the gratitude group were told to list three things that they were grateful for that had happened that day; the forward-thinking group were asked to imagine the future post-lockdown.


Look forward to the future and practice gratitude daily


Results showed that those who practised gratitude and positive forward-thinking reported higher social connectedness levels than those assigned the sentimental, nostalgic task. Additionally, overall, those who thought about the future were the most likely to experience positive emotions. Researchers deduced that gratitude and positive, forward-thinking directed thoughts towards the positive aspects of their lives and gave hope rather than concentrating on a present comparison to the past.


Amelia Dennis, a postgraduate researcher at the University of Surrey, said: “As lockdowns have continued people have been presented with unusual challenges and many have struggled. We found that looking to the future and appreciating what is positive in our lives currently is more psychologically beneficial than reminiscing about the past."


"The current restrictions and any future lockdowns have removed our sense of control of our lives. For the sake of our wellbeing, we need to acknowledge what we do have rather than regretting what we have lost."


Participants were also analysed on their own personal characteristics regarding attachment and emotional regulation. And the research found that those who were more likely to believe that they were worthy of love and those who were more likely to trust others were also more likely to deal with lockdowns more easily.


Jane Ogden, Professor of Health Psychology at the University of Surrey, said: "The two lockdowns last year dramatically affected our mental and emotional wellbeing and it is likely any future ones will have the same affect. Reports of increased levels of depression and anxiety are worrying because these can negatively impact upon our physical health. It is important that we understand which psychological techniques can most benefit and support people during unsettling and difficult times."


By Ed Brown in Mental Health Today on 6th January 2021

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