From exercise to kindness — how to bounce back into your happy zone
THE nights are drawing in, the weather’s about to turn and there are ominous warnings about a second wave of coronavirus.
With more and more Covid restrictions to our lives being announced each week, in addition to job worries and winter approaching, we are all likely to be feeling a little anxious.
To improve our mental health, psychologist and wellbeing expert Miriam Akhtar, who wrote The Little Book Of Happiness, shares her tips on how to feel calm and content.
For more information, go to positivepsychologytraining.co.uk.
1. Stay connected
Relationships are the number one source of our wellbeing, not just the ones with our close family and friends, but our wider network too. Instead of thinking of Covid restrictions as social distancing, think of it as “physical distancing”.
Love is our supreme emotion and eye contact is essential for that, so make the most of Zoom and FaceTime to keep in touch.
Dr Laurie Santos, professor of psychology at Yale University, compares social interactions to food. She says: “One great conversation with a close friend for half an hour will feel nutritious.”
2. Spend time in nature
At the University of Essex, there is a department of green exercise, and their research shows it only takes a few minutes of activity outdoors to start producing positive emotions.
The beauty of this is that you don’t have to think about it, you just have to be out there.
3. Get physical
One of the best ways to lift our mood is by moving the body. One study comparing the effect of anti-depressants and exercise on people with depression showed that the group with the lowest rates of relapse was the group who exercised.
It might be a daily walk or dancing around to music in the kitchen. I like to get on my mini trampoline for ten minutes a day with Eighties tunes blaring out of the radio.
4. Use music to influence your mood
If you’re feeling sad, it’s tempting to put on a melancholy song, but try something upbeat instead and notice how much better it makes you feel. Maybe give Pharrell Williams’ Happy a listen.
5. Make a happiness playlist
When you’re feeling low, it’s sometimes hard to think of the things that might help you. If you have a list of mood-boosting activities, then you can turn to it whenever you need a pick-me-up. Do one of these things every day and you’ll see the benefit.
6. Learn to play
Deprived of many of our social activities and hobbies during lockdown — not to mention school and soft play venues — we learned to create our own fun, whether it was baking, gardening or doing jigsaws.
Active recreation is better for wellbeing than passive leisure like watching TV.
It can take us into “flow”, a state of engagement when you’re fully absorbed in the activity. Something that puts you in the zone gives you that deep feeling of satisfaction, which adds to your base level of contentment.
7. Hunt the good stuff
Our brain is hard-wired to notice what’s wrong or what’s missing, so we have to train it into finding the positives.
Start thinking about the good things you have, even in these tough times. It might be your health and family, or just something as simple as your partner cooking you dinner.
8. Turn Japanese and have an 'ikigai'
Set yourself small goals — something you can do which is within your control. It might be finishing reading that novel you’ve had on the go for a while or cleaning the kitchen cupboards. This is particularly good if you feel your life is “on hold” because of Covid restrictions.
Taking a small step to a goal will give you a sense of achievement. Just be careful not to have too many goals or something that’s not achievable. It’s about making progress, not perfection.
9. Try mindfulness
This is the practice of being rather than doing, turning our awareness to the inner and outer landscape by tuning into the body and our environment.
There are plenty of apps available and just a short mindfulness session can help ease anxiety. Similarly, try savouring positive moments as they happen, so you’re in the here and now.This can be savouring the pleasure you get from watching your children play or enjoying a good meal.
10. Practice kindness
When you do a good deed for others, you feel good, they feel good and you’re contributing to the greater good too.
We saw in lockdown how volunteers supported essential services and each other. Volunteering has many benefits for wellbeing.
11. Take time for self-care
Our 21st-century living seems to want to wipe out the word “rest”, but you can’t pour from an empty cup. In times of stress, it’s important to get into the relaxation zone. Many of us keep going and going until we burn out. Do whatever works for you, whether that’s a bath, meditating or having a cuppa.
11. Be kind to your body
Avoid too much alcohol, caffeine and sugar.Eat healthily with plenty of fruit and vegetables and drink lots of water. Carbs are comforting when we’re feeling stressed. A single square of dark chocolate is said to be good for boosting the mood, as is green tea, which can lower levels of stress hormone, cortisol, and reduce the risk of depression.
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