Life has been challenging for most of us these past two years with the ongoing pandemic. I wanted to take some time to provide some resources which I hope will help in case you are struggling (and if you’re not struggling, the points below can still bring some more happiness to your life!).
1. ENGAGE IN EXERCISE
Research shows that for many people, exercise is just as effective as medication for depression (although, with severe depression, you also need medications). I think almost every one of us can say we feel better both physically and mentally after we exercise.
“What if I’m feeling too depressed and tired to exercise?” We all have to start somewhere. Make small goals and aim for 5-10 minutes. Most likely you’ll get energized from the short amount of exercise and will want to do more. It doesn’t matter what time of the day you exercise but for a lot of people, it’s even more beneficial to work out in the morning since it helps to get into the right mindset at the start of the day. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter what time of the day you exercise. Just find the time that works best for YOU.
2. PAY ATTENTION TO NUTRITION
Eating healthy makes us feel good both physically and mentally. When we eat healthy food, we feel better physical and also feel good about ourselves mentally. How many of us have said, “I shouldn’t have eaten that” or “I can’t believe I ate that much”? When we eat too much chocolate, sugar, chips, fatty foods, etc., we often feel more sluggish, tired and…guilty. Of course, it’s okay to have ‘treats’ but it’s best to put them in hard to reach places where you have to make an effort to get them. Or, if you have a hard time controlling yourself, don’t have those particular snacks in the house at all. Have healthier options available so you don’t feel deprived, but still feel satisfied (example, indulge in a piece of dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate). Another good reason to avoid sugary foods…too much sugar increases your chance of getting diabetes, and also dementia.
3. PRACTISE GRATITUDE
When your mind goes to the negative, try to think of the positive things happening in your life instead. Acknowledge the negative thought, then let it go and focus on the positive. When you go through your day, think of what you are grateful for rather than what upsets you. When a negative thought comes in, do your best to change it to the positive. Research shows that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier. Some other things you can do: You could write a letter of gratitude to someone once a week (you can decide whether to give it to the person or not) and/or take 5 minutes in the day to focus on the positive people and things in your life and write it down (or just think about those people/things for a few minutes).
4. PRACTISE MINDFULNESS
Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgment. Most of us lead extremely busy lives and often don’t have time to notice things around us because we are too busy. Mindfulness allows us to appreciate the moment. You can still lead a busy life but allow yourself to pause briefly throughout your day and appreciate what is happening, or appreciate what is in front of you. For example, stop and appreciate the flowers that you would normally just walk by, or focus on your kids or grandkids by just watching them play, or focus on the taste of your food rather than just eating it. Put away the tablet, turn off the TV and truly focus on the flavours of the food you are eating. You’ll likely eat a lot less as well if you do this.
You don’t need to take a lot of time throughout your day to engage in mindfulness. It’s just being more aware and appreciative of the things happening in your day. Yoga and Tai Chi are also great forms of mindfulness. You can also try guided mediation and follow scripts from trainers in the field of mindfulness. There is a great app called, ‘Insight Timer’ or you can find it online at www.insighttimer.com. It is completely free and you can access all of their meditation readings after you sign up. There are lots to choose from so take the time to find someone you enjoy listening to. You can follow a 5 minute session or an hour or even longer. Give it a chance and ideally, do a session once a day when it works for you…even if it’s 5 minutes.
A few extra reasons to practice mindfulness: Mindfulness not only improves mental health but also gives lots of physical benefits. Mindfulness can lower blood pressure, help relieve stress, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties. Those are very good reasons to give it a try!
5. TAKE TIME TO ENJOY MUSIC
So many of you have told me how much you love the 50’s and 60’s workouts…why is that? It’s happy music, it brings back memories, it’s familiar and it makes you smile and want to move.
Consider spending some time creating a playlist on a streaming service (Spotify, Amazon music, etc.) or if you still have them, go through your cd’s, tapes or even your records or A-tracks if you have them! Find the music that you used to love and start playing it again. Play music that makes you happy, not sad, emotional music. I remember in high school I created a ‘slow songs’ tape and I would play it over and over and cry and cry when I was sad about anything. What was I thinking? I should have played happy music instead! We all like different types of music so find what makes you feel good, and play it more often in your home as you go throughout your day. I know so many seniors who watch the news all day…the news always focuses on the negative and yes, we want to be informed but once you are updated, please do your mental health some good and listen to music instead that brings your mood up and makes you happy.
6. GET OUTSIDE FOR FRESH AIR
Research shows that getting fresh air and being in nature lowers blood pressure and depression. It doesn’t mean you need to go for a huge hike…it might mean just sitting in your backyard to enjoy the fresh air, listening to the singing birds or getting some sun on your face. Getting outside and including exercise is even better. But, if you can’t, just stepping outside to breathe in some fresh air will do you some good.
7. SOCIALIZE WITH OTHERS
Engaging with others decreases the chance of becoming depressed and it also lowers your chance of developing dementia. Those are definitely two very good reasons to be social. It doesn’t mean you need to get out often and be with lots of people. It could just mean getting together with a friend or two, or spending time with family.
Engaging in conversation engages your mind which is great for brain health. It also provides a sense of belonging. Meeting up in person is best but visiting with others online definitely helps, too. If you enjoy social settings, look up your local community center and join an activity or otherwise, just plan an outing with a friend or get together with family, whether it be in person or online.
A few others things...do your best to get a good nights sleep; disconnect from the news at times, and if you can or have an interest, take time to volunteer. Often helping others is the best way to lift ourselves up, too.
Sometimes it just takes some small changes to see big results in your happiness and quality of life. I hope some of these ideas help you. After all, we are in charge of our own lives so it is up to us to make the needed changes to improve our own happiness.