5 Easy Ways to Feel Happier… NOW
Whether you are a CEO, a stay-at-home mom, or working two jobs to pay the bills, we are all running around with our hair on fire trying to do a thousand things each day, as if our “To Do” lists will ever be fully checked off. While many health professionals site moderate levels of stress as being beneficial to our mental and physical health, too much is too much. When we stop managing and responding to all the action in our lives and begin reacting and succumbing to it, we can quickly find ourselves (especially women) feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and just plain down.
With the holidays coming up, we will be short on time, money, space (hello, in-laws), and most likely, patience. The time to stock up on tools to pick up your mood and manage your stress levels is today. Here are my five favorite ways to bust stress and feel happier, now.
1. Meditate. I know you what you’re thinking… “Oh, no thank you. I’m not a hippie, or a Buddhist, or even a fan of sitting Indian-style. Next, please!” So, here’s the truth about mediation: it is simple, although not easy, and it is absolutely for everyone. Although it has roots in Eastern religions and cultures, today’s meditation is not a religious practice. You do not need to eat granola or even sit down to practice. Stereotypes (and sarcastic jokes) aside, a regular meditative practice has real physical and cognitive benefits.
So, let’s try it. Close your eyes (after you read this). Feel the seat under you, the ground under your feet. Now, take a breath in. Notice your stomach fill with air and your chest rise. Exhale. Feel the air exit through your nostrils. Is it warm? Cool? Now, do it again. Inhale, exhale. Are you thinking about your grocery list? That’s okay. Just notice that thought and come back to the rise and fall of your chest.
You do this over and over again. That’s meditating. There are excellent guided meditations online and on iTunes, and I highly recommend starting with those. Just five minutes per day is enough to get going and reap the positive effects of mindful meditation. These include increased focus, better sleep, lower blood pressure, and even an amped up immune system. What are you waiting for?
2. Smile. This one was a tip given to me by my first son’s pediatrician at his first check up when he was a whopping three days old. She asked me how I was feeling with the lack of sleep, raging hormones, and worried, frayed nerves familiar to any first time mom. I told her I was fine, and then immediately burst into tears! I didn’t even know why I was crying (I blame those afore-mentioned raging hormones)! Anyway, after handing me a tissue, she told me that she was giving my own doctor’s orders to follow: smile in the mirror, at myself, for at least 2 minutes at a time, at least 3 times a day. She explained to me that the simple act of smiling triggers our brain to release endorphins as well as seratonin, a “feel good” chemical.
So easy! Right? Well, there is one catch: studies show that it is only real, genuine smiles that have this positive, happy effect. You have to engage your cheeks, eyes, as well as your mouth. So, think happy thoughts and say “Cheese!”
3. Hydrate. Did you know that a staggering 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated? That means that 3 out of 4 people reading this need to head to the water cooler. Along with a healthy diet, keeping your body hydrated plays a role in mood regulation. Our bodies are 60% water, so to keep them functioning properly, we need to drink plenty of fluids. In one study, young female participants perceived tasks as more difficult when they were mildly dehydrated. They also experienced headaches, fatigue, and decreased concentration. Need more evidence? Check out Emilie's post on H2O and your Health!
New studies show that caffeinated beverages like coffee do not contribute to dehydration, which is good news to “don’t talk to me in the morning until I’ve visited the Keurig” gals like me. So, bottoms up. It all counts! (Except alcohol... and let’s ditch the sugary sodas while we’re at it.)
3. Reach out. I didn’t do any official research here, I just know it to be true. When I am feeling down, stressed, overwhelmed, or just lonely, I know that picking up the phone and calling a friend or family member to vent, get advice, or just talk about nothing in particular always helps. As humans, we are not meant to be alone. We are not meant to keep our feelings bottled up and our struggles hidden away. We are all different people with different histories and different circumstances, but our experiences are universal. Love, loss, disappointment, joy, stress, indecision, uncertainty. These are common to everyone.
We can create and strengthen our bonds with each other when we trust our friends and families enough to show them our true selves and rely on their support. For me, a sure-fire way to diffuse a situation that has turned my mind into a stress-ball is to talk to a someone else and hear that they have been there before, or that they get me and understand my plight.
4. Move. This one is probably overstated, but there is nothing like a good sweat session to release endorphins, adrenaline, and good thoughts. Next time you feel blue, head to the gym, walk around your neighborhood, or do a yoga podcast in your living room. I guarantee you will finish more in tune with your body and less caught up in your own head.
5. Get out. This one is effective for several reasons. First, leaving “the scene” of your stress can remind you that the whole world is not your messy kitchen or the argument you are having with your spouse. A little distance can do a world of good. In addition to getting you away from possible sources of stress, being outside exposes you to natural light. Known as light therapy, exposure to bright lights, even indoor ones, has the same effect as an antidepressant, but with no side effects. Finally, there is an undeniably calming effect in nature. It is slower, more predictable than our manufactured lives. Taking a moment to watch the leaves rustle in the wind and feel the warm sun on your face can bring you back to the present moment, and most of what causes us stress and anxiety has either already happened or may happen in the future. It’s not now.
Wishing you happiness and an extra glass of water,