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This past week has been tough for our country.  Fears related to the spread of the coronavirus have created great turbulence in the stock market as well as in our minds as we assess just how much of an impact the virus will have on our lives.  In times of uncertainty, and in situations where some things are out of our control, we do have the power to control what we choose to think about and how we choose to act. One of the most powerful things we can do is something positive.  Doing something positive improves one’s mood and can help increase serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine which are critical neurotransmitters that enhance our feelings of well-being.

Research has shown that positive actions and positive thoughts increase our sense of happiness even when we are faced with difficult life challenges and circumstances.  Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain, says that our brains have a natural “negativity bias” and that the brain responds to and remembers negative situations more intensely than positive ones, so we have to intentionally cultivate the positive.  

So how might we cultivate the positive?  Here are some suggestions from the authors of The Science of Positivity and Habits of a Happy Brain:

  • Observe your thoughts- if you see a negative thought coming you can be proactive to address it and counter it.
  • Each day identify at least three positives.  These could be a compliment that someone paid to you, accomplishing something on your “to do” list, or even that you arrived on time to every meeting. Every evening before going to bed, identify these three things to put you into a calm space of gratitude before going to sleep.  
  • Give someone else a compliment or express gratitude.  We know how much such gestures mean to us. Spread joy further with your own generosity of spirit.  Research shows that the giver as well as the receiver benefit from the compliment.
  • Find an opportunity to help someone else.  Research has also shown that helping others improves our own well-being.  Help could be as simple as holding the door for someone, or more involved like taking a meal to someone in need. Engaging in small acts of kindness are linked to higher levels of “happy chemicals” in our brains.
  • Surround yourself with positive people.  Life’s too short to spend a lot of time around people that drag you down.  Now, of course we can’t always remove ourselves completely from negative people– some of them might be related to us!  We can, however, choose to spend more time with people who uplift us and who bring us joy.
  • Practice good self care.  Exercise and sleep are key to our well-being.  Practicing mindfulness is also proven to improve our state of mind.  Staying in the present moment helps reduce anxiety and fear.  
  • Do things that give you joy.  In our busy lives, sometimes we can even forget what those are.  We may have to push ourselves to make time for such explorations.  Doing things that we love to do reinforces our own self-worth and feelings of positivity.  This is not only good for us, but good for those loved-ones who have to live with us.

As we think about these positive actions that we can take for ourselves, let’s also model them for our children.  They are watching us and taking their cues from how we manage the stress in our lives. We can show them that we too can build resilience.  We too can foster greater well-being. We too can take care of ourselves.