FARGO — It’s become routine for many in the new normal — waking up first thing in the morning to go online and read the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Headlines include where new cases have popped up, where you can get tested and which local businesses are closing — all important information to function in a time of crisis. But also news, when in abundance, can overwhelm.

"What we choose to focus on grows. If we focus on the what ifs and all the stressful news, our fears and anxieties grow," said Ruth Denton-Graber, a licensed professional clinical counselor at The Village Family Service Center in Fargo. "This is not to say we need to avoid news; we need to gather information and take whatever precautions we need to — not out of fear, but from an intelligent and centered place."

After weeks of the coronavirus dominating the news and social distancing becoming a way of life, millions of Americans are craving joy — anything to put a smile on the face and give hope that this too shall pass. Denton-Graber says finding that joy is good for your health.

"Positive emotions play an important role in resilience. Joy can give us a bit of a reprieve from stress and helps us gain a different perspective. Those that experience positive emotions amid adversity are found to cope better overall and are more able to bounce back from problems in the future," she said.

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Flint Group, a Fargo marketing agency, thinks finding happiness amid the news you need to know is important enough to dedicate a hashtag to it. #SparkingGood was the brainchild of Flint social media and content strategist Anna Larson.

“I was in bed trying to think about how to help people during this uncertain, challenging, scary time. Since I work in social media, an uplifting hashtag came to mind. I emailed a few of my Flint Group colleagues on Monday night pretty late—11:34 to be exact—and by the next day, #SparkingGood was alive,” she said.

Larson says Flint might have started #SparkingGood, but they want the community to participate by using the hashtag and sharing good moments, cute photos, gratitude and other happy things on social media.

One of Flint’s first #SparkingGood posts was about a dog named Sophie playing basketball, because how can you not smile at a dog playing basketball?

Animals and kids

No doubt the hashtag will very often accompany a photo of an animal or a cute baby. People have always loved posting pictures of their pets and kids on social media, but that trend has gone into overdrive this last week as millions of American are cooped up, working from home and trading in co-workers in cubicles for canines on the couch.

To alleviate the stress of the global pandemic, social media users are flooding their feeds with requests for more images of fluffy friends and adorable babies. And Facebook friends seem to be obliging. Here is a sample post from Forum reporter Tracy Briggs's Facebook page. Within 15 minutes of posting, more than 30 images had been shared and it just kept growing.

Psychologists say looking at images of people or animals you love can lower blood pressure and provide an overall sense of calm, not unlike meditating.

"Animal videos are just videos – there is no judgment, no expectations, no disappointment. We can look at them and simply smile," said Denton-Graber.

Good news for those people working from home with their dog by their side: according to a study conducted at The University of Hiroshima in Japan, looking at adorable puppies before performing detailed tasks improves both performance and concentration — scientific proof that posting puppy and kitty pictures can count as real work.

But you don't need to be a fur baby or a real baby to ease stress during this time of crisis. A viral video from the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago proves that. The video shows what happens when the aquarium, absent of people, lets its penguins run loose in the building. One Facebook user called it “the video we all need now.”

Music and Movies

Others are creating joy through entertainment. The Hallmark Channel has decided to replay its most popular Christmas movies now, nearly three months after the holiday passed. Therefore, it seems fitting that others are encouraging people to either put up the Christmas lights again (or if you’re like many of us in the cold Northern plains who never got around to taking them down, just turn them on again).

A video of a choir in California is also attracting attention. When a choral festival they had planned to attend was cancelled, they decided to put on a virtual performance.

Moorhead High Orchestra teachers Jon Larson and Anthony Eddleston are using music to create positivity on Twitter. Eddleston, who is playing the violin in a clip from Wednesday, says they'd like to share videos a few times a week.

"We would just like to give people a reason to smile in this challenging time, and also to let people know we care about them so much and are here for them," he said. "We miss our students so much, it hurts us to not have them in the building. I hope these videos can encourage our students and families to be patient, be positive, and know they are deeply cared for and missed."

Connectivity

Social distancing has created a void for, as Barbra Streisand once sang, “People who need people.” How do you stay connected when you need to be six feet apart? Creatively Uncorked, an art studio that gives people the opportunity to paint pictures together, is conducting online classes. Gyms are posting online workouts, and others are choosing to have coffee dates or happy hours over Facetime.

Some citizens in Moorhead are encouraging residents to download a picture of the Moorhead High mascot, Spuddy, and put him in the yard or in the window. Then when residents go out for a walk, they can go on a scavenger hunt for Spuddy. The idea was inspired by a Shamrock Hunt earlier in the week.

Some towns, like Moorhead, are encouraging residents to show solidarity by posting school mascots in their windows and encouraging kids to go on scavenger hunts for them while they go outside. Submitted photo
Some towns, like Moorhead, are encouraging residents to show solidarity by posting school mascots in their windows and encouraging kids to go on scavenger hunts for them while they go outside. Submitted photo

While now is not the time to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the important, often dark news, it’s also vital for mental health that people look for the light.

“We need to be reminded of the good now more than ever. When worry, anxiety, uncertainty, and bad news surround us, it can be easy to focus on the negative and spiral,” said Larson. “ Yes, what’s happening with COVID-19 is very serious and real, but remembering that there’s good in every day, too, gets us into more hopeful mindsets. We just need to be looking for it.”