Category Archives: Happiness

5 Strategies to Make it a Jolly Holiday

Feeling Numb?

Feeling Numb? Chilly? Out of Sorts?

The holidays can be stressful. There’s alot to do, and the pressure is on to prepare food, entertain, and decorate your home. That’s all on top of the shopping!

Many of us love the holidays! We relish in the merry songtrack playing in the malls (with all the online shopping, isn’t it amazing that the malls are still full!!). We notice and respond to the warm and happy demeanour of the people we meet. We get excited about visiting friends and family.

Some of us dread the holidays. As Ray Williams reports in Psychology Today, “For some people, they get depressed at Christmas and even angry because of the excessive commercialization of Christmas, with the focus on gifts and the emphasis on “perfect” social activities. Other get depressed because Christmas appears to be a trigger to engage in excessive self-reflection and rumination about the inadequacies of life (and a “victim” mentality) in comparison with other people who seem to have more and do more.  Still others become anxious at Christmas because of the pressure (both commercial and self-induced) to spend a lot of money on gifts and incur increasing debt. Other people report that they dread Christmas because of the expectations for social gatherings with family, friends and acquaintances that they’d rather not spend time with. And finally, many people feel very lonely at Christmas, because they have suffered the loss of loved ones or their jobs.”

Whether this is a tough time of year or not for you, you can always benefit from some strategies to engage positive emotion. And, the bonus is…these strategies work all year long!

LOOKING FOR ‘HAPPY’?

Strategy: Think Gratitude

Thinking Questions:

  • What am I grateful for?
  • What makes me smile?
  • What are my blessings?

Body Exercise:

Start a Gratitude Journal. Each day, write down three things for which you are grateful. What do you notice in a week? In a month?

LOOKING FOR ‘CALM’?

Strategy: Focus on Breathing

Thinking Questions:

  • How can I let go?
  • What images/sounds help me feel content?
  • Where does calm reside in me?

Body Exercise:

  • Relax into a favourite position. Touch your thunbs and forefingers and interlock them to make two rings. Rest here for 1-2 minutes.

LOOKING FOR ‘JOY’?

Strategy: Focus on Pleasure

Thinking Questions:

  • What is the source of my delight?
  • What brings me joy?
  • What uplifts me?

Body Exercise:

  • Breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth. As you breathe out, allow the sound ‘Haaaaa’ to come out. Experiement with sounding softly and loudly.
  • What else happens in your body as you do this at least 8 times?

LOOKING FOR ‘UNDERSTANDING’?

Strategy: Observe and Honor the Other

Thinking Questions:

  • What emotion am I noticing in the other person?
  • What does the other person need?
  • Where do I feel connected to the other?

Body Exercise:

  • Step into the other person’s shoes by experimenting with mimicking the person’s standing, sitting, walking, gestures. Put yourself in their posture. How does it feel? What thoughts come up?

LOOKING FOR ‘LETTING GO’?

Strategy: Focus on Now

Thinking Questions:

  • When do I feel most free?
  • What do I do to let go and be in the present moment?
  • What opens me up?

Body Exercise:

  • Stand tall, balanced on both feet. Place your hands behind your head, fingers laced together. Press the back of your head into your clasped hands. Notice the sense of uplifting and opening in your chest and upper back.
  • Choose a strategy, or try them all. The key is….pause and notice the small shifts that might be occurring…and then appreciate and allow them to integrate within you.

As an added bonus, check out a wonderful book written by Kevin Rempel, Paralympian and Founder of the Sledge Hockey Experience. In his book, Still Standing, Kevin tells a compelling and authentic story of overcoming adversity. In one of the final chapters, he says “I get it. I’ve lived it. We all have down days. It’s part of human nature. I just want you to know you can take control of the situation. Here’s how I did it. 1) Accept everything. It allows you to look forward. ; 2) Get your priorities in order. Sleep. Exercise. Eat. Socialize.; 3) Journal. Get it out of your head. ; 3) Reach out for help, then accept help.

So, now…go out and create the kind of holiday (and life) you would like to create.

 

 

The 5 Habits of Psychological Resilience

Resilience…when you look at or hear that word, do you find yourself thinking ‘What is it?  And, how can I get some of that??’  The word conjures up incredible images of strength and flexibility, of being adaptable, of possessing the ability to bounce back from the challenges of life.

Resilience is the ability to absorb high levels of change, while maintaining your personal resourcefulness.  It is more than stress management.  Stress management is about ‘managing’ or getting rid of something that is negative (that you don’t want).  Developing or building resilience is more about creating something positive (that you want).  Focusing on what you want to create provides you with opportunities and ‘answers’ that will not come to you when you focus on what you want to eliminate.

And, that is precisely what Habit #1 encourages.  Decide What You Want.  Every moment of every day, focus on what you want.  What do you want to attract to your life at work and beyond?  What do you want to experience more often?  What words would you like to choose to describe your day?

Once you decide what you want, develop Habit #2, Be Mindful.  In order to be mindful, you need to move out of autopilot and away from the default narrative running through your mind (that’s the little voice in your head, that’s always on, although you might not even be aware of it).  When you purposefully STOP and PAUSE for a mindful moment, you have the opportunity to access information from your environment that you might not have noticed otherwise.  You also, during moments of mindfulness, will become aware of your thoughts and emotions.  This increased awareness helps you to self-regulate (rather than being hijacked by emotions that seem to ‘sneak up’ on you).

Habit #3 is Choose Positive.  Your brain’s primary purpose, in addition to being an amazing logic-processing machine that helps you make decisions and solve problems, is to keep you alive.  Every moment it is assessing whether to move away from danger (negative) or to move toward reward (positive).  While we know that positive yields far better results, your brain is by default, negative.  You need to, mindfully, ‘choose’ positive thoughts. And what we are discovering is that when you get in the habit of choosing positive thoughts (beliefs, expectations of yourself and others), and getting the positive results that go along with that choice, you can create new neural circuitry – you can actually change your brain.

And that is exactly what Habit #4 encourages: Integrate the Experience. You can create new pathways in your brain that move you toward what you want (rather than away from what you don’t want).  When you mindfully notice the benefits of moving toward what you want, and choosing positive thoughts, pause again and integrate that experience.  One NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) strategy is to anchor the experience physically.  As you are noticing the sights, sounds, feelings and behaviors of the positive results you are achieving, touch a part of your body (make it a body part that you can easily access in public!!) for a few seconds.  You might choose to place a finger on your wrist, for example.  Choosing an anchor point, and then using that same anchor point each time you are experiencing this resilient state will help you to build new memories in your body and brain that work FOR you.

Finally, Habit #5 is Take Action.  I love the quotation from Elbert Hubbard ‘People who want milk should not seat themselves in the middle of a field in the hope that a cow will back up into them.’  It’s one I’ve adapted to ‘People who want resilience should not read a short article and hope that their brain can suddenly read their mind.’  If you want different results, you need to ‘do’ something different.

Let’s look at the example of Ted, who was finding that he was continually stressed and tense when he was at home with his family.  ‘It really bothers me’, Ted said, ‘they are the most important people in the world to me, and I am miserable and uptight most of the time I spend with them.  The kids are growing so fast and I don’t want their memory of me to be of a guy who could not relax.’  Ted worked his way through the 5 Habits of Resilience, and this is how it came out for him.

What do you want?

I want to be calm at home with my family

When you are calm, what is happening?  What does it feel like? Where do you feel it in your body? What are you thinking? What are you doing? What are you noticing around you?

I see my wife and kids smiling; I attend fully to what they are each saying and doing; I feel relaxed, my face is loose and my body is open and light; my breathing is at a regular rate; I am thinking about how much I value each one of them, I am smiling

What positive thoughts can you choose to ensure you create this experience more often?

I can choose to believe that this is possible for me every day.  I can choose to believe that my children will benefit far greater from a father who is calm and present than from one who is uptight and over-worked.  I can choose to believe that being ‘in the room’ with my family is not taking away from my effectiveness as an executive, and is in fact making me an even better leader.

How will you integrate this?

Each time I experience this sense of calm – at work or at home – I will pause and take note of it, and I will touch my thumb and middle finger together for a few seconds.

What will you do so that you can have more ‘calm’ in your life?

I will breathe deeply to slow my rate of breath; I will shake my shoulders to loosen and relax my body; I will clear my mind so that I can focus on the other person; I will take note of extraneous distracting issues to look back at later; I will focus my attention on the other person; I will smile; I will remember my anchor.

Start each day by asking ‘What do I want today?’ (#1) Start each meeting by focusing on what you want to notice from your team, and what you want them to notice from you.  Decide, like Ted, what you want from your time with family and friends.  Pay attention to what you notice (#2) when you have what you want, choose to focus on what’s positive (#3), integrate the sights, sounds, thoughts, and emotions (#4) and continue to move toward (#5) creating the life you desire.

Let’s Reframe Aging: You’re not just getting older, you’re getting happier!

Seniors Wellness Day!

Seniors Wellness Day!

Last month I wrote a post in which I shared a strategy I have used to help me deal with my mother’s dementia. Aging can suck. My 84 year old mother-in-law says ‘it (getting old) ain’t for wimps’.

While there can certainly be challenges that come with aging, there is some wonderful research supporting something quite different.

Scientists from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found the psychological health of adults seems to consistently get better over time.  By ‘psychological health’, the scientists are referring to the sense of well-being, of happiness in older adults.

Reading this reminded me of a conversation I had with a girlfriend recently. ‘Don’t you just love this time of life?’ she said. ‘I feel so good about myself; I know I look worse (we laughed) but I just feel happier; more calm, more serene, more at ease with myself and others in my life.’ I had to agree with her. I feel the same.

Now, neither of us would turn down many of the obvious benefits of youth, were they offered to us! The sparkly eyes, the glowing skin, the firm….well, you know what I mean.  What we were referring to, though, was the clear truth to each of us, that we were more mentally healthy now than we were in our youth.

We are much more able to ‘let things go’, we can pause and consider whether or not to pursue something instead of reacting; we simply do not “sweat the small stuff”. The researchers discovered that older adults are better at emotional regulation, and when we experience negative emotion we can more readily determine how to manage it. And, interestingly, the research shows that older adults experience less negative emotion overall. (‘Maybe it’s because we are just happy to wake up every day’ my friend says with a smirk.)

All kidding aside, getting older is not an option (well, it is….but the other one is not very pleasant). So, why not embrace aging? Why not reframe aging?

Here is a little strategy to help you do just that:

A – Attention: Pay particular attention to all the positive parts of aging. Write them down. Each day, remind yourself of how happy you are about where you are in your life.

G – Gratitude: Begin each day with a moment of gratitude — for waking up — and also for all that you appreciate about yourself and your life.

E – Emotion: Feel. And when you do, pause. Embrace the emotion. Researchers have already determined that you have more positive than negative emotion. Feel the positive. Where does it reside in you? Anchor it in your memory.

What’s the best part of aging to you?

Deri Latimer is an expert in positive possibilities for people! A TEDx Speaker and Author, Deri’s message reinforces that positive habits are the pathway to a happier and healthier life – at work, at home and at any age! www.derilatimer.com

 

 

ACT: A Mental Health Strategy for Overcoming Obstacles

project-mom-dev-kneeSometimes you are just rolling along and – WHAM! – you are broadsided by an unexpected obstacle. It might be a physical obstacle, such a being stuck in traffic. Or it might be another kind of obstacle, one that is more ‘internal’, an emotion or a way of thinking that is having a negative impact on you.

No matter the obstacle, there is a simple and practical strategy that can help you move through the obstacle and either get back on track, or find a new track all together!

Let’s look at the first example. You are heading to an important appointment and suddenly you find yourself stuck in a congested roadway. Traffic is not moving. You begin to notice your anxiety (and maybe your anger) increasing as you realize that you may be late for your appointment. If you stay in that state, your body will tense, you might grip the wheel tighter, you might furrow your brow, you eyes might widen, your heart might increase. All of these physical symptoms are congruent with a threat state. In neuroscience, this state is described as an AWAY state; your body is preparing to protect you from the threat before you. Interestingly, when you are in a threat state, you expereince tunnel vision; you quite literally are limited in your ability to perceive and to think.

Instead of staying in the threat state, you could try this simple strategy, called ACT:

A – Accept your current reality

C – Choose a vision of what you want in this situation

T – Take action to move TOWARD your vision

So…instead of gripping the wheel, furrowing your brow, and maybe releasing some unpleasant expletives, you say the following (to yourself, or out loud):

A – I accept that I am stuck in traffic and I might be late for my appointment

C – I want to look for an opportunity to get to my appointment as soon as possible and I want to feel good when I arrive

T – I will:

  • take a deep breath
  • call ahead and indicate that I am stuck in traffic and might be late for the appointment
  • look around to see if I can make eye contact with someone to let me cut in front of them
  • smile at the person with whom I make eye contact
  • prepare for what I will say when I arrive at the appointment, and visualize myself there
  • remind myself that it is most important to arrive safe and feeling good

You might do all or some of these things, or you might choose to do other things such as listen to calming music or recite a mantra that has meaning for you. The idea is, while you are taking action to move TOWARD your vision, you are NOT wasting energy and valuable neural resources focusing on moving AWAY from your obstacle. A positive, toward state provides you will a broadened perspective; you are able to access more internal and external resources to help you in that moment.

Chances are, you will get to your appointment sooner. Or, at the very least, you’ll arrive much more positive and calm when you do arrive.

Let’s look at another example. My beautiful mother has dementia. It sucks. When she first started experiencing symptoms, it was overwhelming. I found myself becoming anxious and sad just at the thought of going to see her. I felt helpless, angry, and vulnerable. Then, I felt guilty; here I was thinking of myself when my poor mother was mentally deteriorating.

Then, I decided to ACT. Here is how that went for me:

A – I accept that mom has dementia and it sucks – for her and for those of us who love her

C – I want to see her as often as I can, and to feel good when I go and when I leave

T – I will:

  • go to visit only after I have had a good night’s sleep
  • meditate before I go
  • bring people with me; mom always liked lots of noise
  • make physical contact with mom (hold her hand, rub her back)
  • smile when I arrive and when I leave
  • remind myself that any unpleasantries are not my mom, they are the disease that grips her brain

I decided to ACT in this situation well over 5 years ago, and I never, ever, not once, hesitate to go and see my mom. I truly and completely look forward to it. I feel good when I arrive and when I leave. Because I am moving TOWARD my vision, I am not stuck in the negativity that arrives when I focus on moving AWAY from the reality of her disease.

So, give it a try the next time you feel stuck! Make sure you address and acknowledge all three elements of ACT. The ‘I accept’ element is very important. Do not leave it out. It simply means that you acknowledge that ‘it is what it is’. It does not mean you like it or that you are happy that it happened; it just means that you accept that it is.

Deri Latimer is an expert in positive possibilities for people! A TEDx Speaker and Author, Deri’s message reinforces that positive habits are the pathway to a happier and healthier life – at work, at home and at any age! www.derilatimer.com

 

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year? Strategies to Thrive in the School Year Ahead

dancer3_May9Remember the Staples commercial a few years ago, the one that featured parents happily shopping for school supplies with a modified version of the Andy Williams song ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ playing in the background? The idea was, parents were thrilled to see the kids return to school; the kids…not so much.

Well, whether you are entering grade school, high school, college or university, this time of year can indeed bring conflicting emotions – for everyone. In this post, I am writing specifically to the returning student…the content will be useful for parents and teachers of those students as well.

It is no surprise that schools – just like workplaces – are focusing time, attention and financial resources on initiatives aimed at providing information and strategies for maximizing positive mental health. In fact, pick up any newspaper or magazine, and I’ll bet you will find an article related to mental health before turning the first page.

I know what you are thinking…this sounds like more blah, blah, blah…

What’s it all about? you wonder. What does it have to do with you?

Here is my proposition for you: You can start to positively impact your mental health – RIGHT NOW – and, every action you take to improve your mental health will positively impact your results (that includes your grades, your relationships and your overall sense of joy)!

And, we are going to keep it simple. You all know about ‘Stop, Drop and Roll’, the simple fire safety technique you learned as a young child. Well, we are going to use the same terms to remember what to do to maximize your positive mental health. We’ll use them in a different way, however, because the best approach when it comes to your mental health is one of prevention of mental illness/distress/unproductive negativity (i.e. we aren’t waiting to ‘smell smoke’ before we jump into action).

Rather than waiting until the state of your mental health is potentially life-threatening, STOP at the beginning of every day and choose a mantra, a positive affirmation, a motivating message to your self. It might be something simple like ‘It’s going to be a great day, today’ or ‘I am looking forward to meeting some new people this year’ or ‘I know I can do well in this course if I set my mind to it and work hard’ or ‘I am not alone; most other students feel exactly the same as I do’. When you begin each day with a message like this, and keep repeating it (perhaps while you brush your teeth, on your bus ride to school), you are helping to ‘program’ your brain to look for evidence to support this message, and to help yourself behave in alignment with the repeated message. When you begin each day with a positive message, your automatic default narrative has no chance to start circling in your mind. You have intercepted it, and added a positive message that will become your new mental ‘play list’.

DROP in throughout the day to see how you are doing. You have regular times for breaks during the school day. Rather than burying your face and your mind in your iphone or other device, take a few seconds to close your eyes and ‘drop in’ to observe how you are feeling and what you are thinking. If you are noticing some negative thoughts or less than productive feelings, recall your mantra, re-frame it for the current or future situation, and repeat it a few times to yourself.

Remind yourself of all of the strategies you have already developed that help you ROLL with whatever comes your way. Here are a few of my favourite strategies to keep rolling. They each include three thinking questions and a body exercise:

FEELING WORRIED/ANXIOUS?

Thinking Questions:

  1. What is the worst thing that could possibly happen?
  2. Is it possible? Is it probable?
  3. If it did happen, who can I call on to help me? Who are my resources? What can I do?

Body Exercise:

Deep Breaths: Take up to 20 slow, deep breaths in through the nose (repeating ‘I breathe in calm’, and out through the nose (repeating ‘I breathe out anxiety). If you lose count, start over. Notice when you start to feel more calm.

FEELING OVERWHELMED/INUNDATED?

Thinking Questions:

  1. What am I saying to myself?
  2. What’s the opposite message?
  3. What can I let go of to feel peaceful?

Body Exercise:

Hands Over Eyes: Rub your hands together rapidly until they are warm. Place a hand over each eye. Notice how the soothing heat from your hands calms the state of your mind.

FEELING SELF-CONSCIOUS/EMBARRASSED?

Thinking Questions:

  1. What is funny about this situation?
  2. What can I learn from this experience?
  3. What do I admire about myself going through this experience?

Body Exercise:

Sink and Rise: Imagine your body sinking into the floor. What do you notice? Imagine your body light as air. Notice where in your body you ‘rise above’ the moment.

So, remember that you can STOP, DROP, and ROLL as a preventative measure (to build long-term resources for internal, mental well-being), not just a reactive one (to protect yourself from imminent, external, threats to your physical well-being)!

Deri Latimer is an expert in positive possibilities for people! A TEDx Speaker and Author, Deri’s message reinforces that positive habits are the pathway to a happier and healthier life – at work, at home and at any age! www.derilatimer.com