As the pandemic approaches its second year, finding optimism may seem challenging when many families continue to miss birthdays, holidays and other milestones with loved ones. With thousands of lives lost, erratic unemployment, education remaining online and businesses continuing to suffer, oftentimes optimism feels like a rare luxury.

The human mind is naturally wired to find negative thoughts, so training the brain to react positively is more important now than ever, said Dr. Kelly Greco, the Behavioral Sciences Assistant Director of Outreach and Prevention Services at Engemann Student Health Center.

“We know with the pandemic, there is so much news, negativity, things all around us,” Greco said. “So it’s very easy and quick … to focus on the negative … Gratitude is really important during the pandemic. And so really looking at how the glass is half full rather than half empty … doing self reflection is really, really important.”

Research done by Pew Research Center found that many people actually reported finding something good from the pandemic. The study discovered “the vast majority of Americans (89%) mentioned at least one negative change in their lives, while a smaller share (though still a 73% majority) mentioned at least one unexpected upside.”

Setting goals and taking small steps toward our objectives is an important way to keep up an optimistic mindset, Greco said.

“There’s a lot of loss, a lot of disappointment, a lot of grief, but there’s also lots of silver linings,” Dr. Greco said. “I’m always encouraging students to come back to what are your goals, what do you want to accomplish and really taking it day by day.”

Accomplishing any tasks with a positive mindset is extraordinary at a time when people are forced to adapt to new lifestyles whether it is learning remotely or finding hobbies to keep busy in isolation, Dr. Greco said.

Unmasked, an online platform that allows students to post anonymously about their mental health status and feelings, has been available for students at 45 campuses in the U.S., including USC, to provide mental health resources.

Throughout the pandemic Unmasked CEO Sanat Mohapatra has seen an increase in user engagement, with many students expressing their fears of missing out on college experiences and combatting feelings of loneliness.

“Unmasked has been able to provide a platform for people to feel a little less alone in the sense that a lot of students during the pandemic are struggling with similar things,” Mohapatra said.

Chelsey Nguyen, a junior transfer student, agrees with Mohapatra that talking to others, whether it be on an online platform or through clubs, has been a way to keep positivity during the pandemic.

“I’ve found it helpful to just talk to people and engage with people,” Nguyen said. “Sometimes I can feel like a drag to reach out to somebody and just have a talk with. Then afterwards I always feel really replenished and that’s because I’m an extrovert.”

For Nguyen, the pandemic has been a blessing in disguise, as she has more time to spend with her nephew, something that would not have been possible without the pandemic.

“The ability to actually come back home and stay and watch him grow up and really be a part of his younger life has been very rewarding and wouldn’t have been a possibility at all without the pandemic,” Nguyen said.

With the cancellation of spring break, USC implemented new ways of offering mental health services, such as workshops that teach students skills like stress management in hopes that students can find a sense of positivity during these difficult times.

“There’s a lot of focus on the wellness days… we’re offering workshops every hour, anything from meditation to Taiji to managing my emotions, managing stress,” Dr. Greco said. “I think it’s about self care, stress management, really looking at the problem solving mindset.”

Like many others, Nguyen is excited about her return to campus next fall and determined to experience the college opportunities she missed out on for the past year.

“I’m looking forward to just walking places and just seeing people… really getting to experience just like daily USC life, because that was what I was really missing out on as a transfer student,” Nguyen said.