Transitions in life provide both opportunity and threat. I have always been a believer in seeing them as the former.

However, it is pretty clear to me that our current situation is pushing many of us into the ‘threat’ category and leaving us feeling anxious.

Approaching obstacles with a realistic level of optimism is crucial if we are to overcome what life throws at us. But having this level of optimism currently can be hard.

Research shows that certain situations can override our mind and ultimately wreak havoc on our health.

I have long since learned the lesson of how the mind can work against us when a situation becomes so powerful that it hijacks our logical thinking.

The night before my surgery in 2016, I walked into hospital with no symptoms. In fact, I felt in great shape after a month of cycling in Spain.

As I put on my hospital gown and got into bed I took on the role of patient – in my mind’s eye.

What happened next has stayed with me ever since.

As I got up to go to the bathroom and put my feet on the floor to stand, both my legs gave way.

I was lying on the floor in shock. How is this possible, I asked myself? The answer, I believe, is in the power of the mind.

It’s something known as priming. My environment had given my mind a negative primer, all the information I was taking in was negative.

Putting on the hospital gown triggered past memories and hearing all the staff talk about what is going to happen installed a certain level of helplessness in me.

In fact, it was such a powerful one that it literally took my legs from underneath me.

Think now about the primers around you and the effect they are having on what you believe. Not to mention your health.

The experience of how the power of the mind affected me in hospital has intrigued me ever since.

As I study more and more I have found numerous studies that go a long way in explaining how our environment can affect the power of our minds.

In 1971, in a study known as the Stanford Prison experiment, Stanford University conducted an experiment where students took on the role or prisoners and prison guards.

The students started to take on the roles so powerfully that it had to be stopped after only two days.

Is your current environment changing your inner beliefs?

I am aware of my own beliefs and how some hold me back in life, whilst others drive me forward.

One example of this is the Roger Banister effect. It took years for someone to break the four-minute mile barrier, but once Banister did it, thousands went on to break.

This for me is a perfect example of the power of the mind, and how a positive primer can work for us.

Our beliefs can act as a self fulfilling prophecy.

Why is this relevant to our current situation?

Well, as the country sends out different messages around Covid-19 this week, the one that really triggered my internal alarm was ‘Stay Alert’.

Just these two simple words can have a huge impact on people’s psychological response.

I would say these words might trigger a stress response in many, and at the very least are a negative primer which could cause more, not less, panic.

This isn’t great news for those who already experience anxiety. And even for those who don’t feel anxiety around covid19, the constant negative primers can have an effect on a subconscious level.

Several weeks ago I spoke with Professor Pat Price from Action Radiotherapy about the effects Covid-19 is having on cancer patients and radiotherapy treatments.

I know from going through radiotherapy personally how emotional an experience this can be – let alone dealing with a pandemic at the same time.

We spoke about people’s fears about attending sessions and the anxiety this is causing. If you are facing this or know someone who is, I would encourage you to reach out to the relevant support groups. This is something I still do to this day when I feel anxious or low.

We can’t control many of the current situations we find ourselves in but I feel if we can change either our perception or certainly the language used in our own minds, we might be able to lower anxiety and help manage the possibility of many people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorders in the years to come.

Tal Ben-Shahar, a Harvard Positive Psychology Professor, speaks about the effect on our mental health by using more positive primers and how these influence us on a subconscious level. I believe this is even more powerful currently.

Even though we have to be realistic around Covid-19, it’s important we use rational thinking and search out more positive primers and become aware the negative ones. Ask yourself what coping strategies we have. Can we create a more positive environment?

I have spoken lots over the last few weeks on how you can look after your wellbeing during this pandemic, and as we move through another transition in the language used by government, it’s even more important that we are aware of the effects this is having on our health.

Our environment influences how we think, act, and behave.

So it’s important to work on cultivating realistic optimism. It will boost your immune system and your resilience.