Optimism is the foundation of resilience and the outlook that provides maximum energy for our days. On the most foundational level, our routines have been shaken. Our minds and bodies are looking for ways back to normal but there are actually a surprising number of ways we can still find our calm and flow. With much of the business of life being put on hold due to COVID-19, with an optimists mindset, it’s easier than ever to focus on what’s most important to create happiness and flow in our lives. Here are some simple ways to work with your brain and biology (think dopamine, serotonin, BDNF, norepinephrine, and regulating our autonomic nervous system) that are sure to boost our moods and help us find optimism in these unprecedented times.
Start A Mindfulness Practice - Instead of reaching for your phone to grab the first news of the day, either personal or global, find a comfortable place, sit upright with your feet on the floor, and let your thoughts flow. Observe them as they come, but don’t give them a judgment, just let them pass through without attaching to them. Start with even a minute or two and work up to eight (or more!). Science has shown that we start to seeing a lasting benefit at the high minute mark. A mindfulness practice allows us to create space between our thoughts and our emotions. It shrinks the gray matter in our amygdala, the fear center of our brain, and increases the size of our hippocampus making us better learners and improving our long term memory that helps us remember the good ways life has blessed us over the years. When we can separate our thoughts from our emotions, we begin to understand that we have far greater control of the shape of our days than we think. Mindfulness teaches us that everything is a choice, life is not just happening to us.
Listen to Your Favorite Music: Music lifts our spirits. It has been scientifically proven that our favorite music, the kind that gives us chills, releases a surge of dopamine in your brain lifting your spirits immediately. YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music…pick your stream and keep it playing!
Exercise: Our brains love exercise and release all of the mood boosting neurotransmitters with a good 30-60 minute exertion. Run, walk, find the stream or app with your favorite yoga or at home circuit, or have a dance party. Follow @sohoyoga for the best teachers and at home yoga sequences! Exercise releases BDNF and norepinephrine that fight depression, endorphins that dull pain and enhance your mood, and dopamine that increases your motivation and focus. Just because the gym is closed it’s so important not to miss out on movement!
Be Creative: Color, write, paint…express yourself, let it out. This is something that is often missing from a busy work life schedule, and also something we can do with our kids. Now we have no excuse not to create. Difficult times can shape our perspective for the good if we frame the challenge as an opportunity for growth. Expressing ourselves helps us find ways to do this.
Sleep - Sleep is the foundation of our health, the base of our pyramid so to speak. It boosts immune function, creativity, and our ability to manage stress. With all of the change in routine, it is more important than ever to maintain a regular sleep/wake schedule with proper amounts of REM and Deep Sleep to keep our circadian rhythm on track. During REM sleep things that happened in our day are hard wired into our brain as memories, it’s also where we retain the information that we learned that day. Deep Sleep supports healthy cell regeneration, promotes growth and repair of tissues and bones, and overall strengthens our immune system. I use the Oura Ring to track my sleep and readiness and have learned a lot about why I feel the way I do based on the quality of sleep I get. With the data that the ring collects and gives me every morning, I can see when I’m rundown or even getting sick, even before I consciously know it, based on the readiness numbers, which may be more important than ever right now.
Find Gratitude: In this time of slow down, we need to find joy in the simple things. We can cut flowers from the yard, notice how happy our pets are to have us around, read more to our kids, and use social media as a means to spread positivity, kindness, and love. Gratitude makes it easier for us to make choices from love instead of fear and mobilizes dopamine and serotonin, making us feel happy from the inside out.
Choose News Sources Wisely: There is a fine line between staying informed and overdosing on media that sends our nervous systems into a tailspin. We have phones that will deliver breaking news to the palm of our hand, so it’s important to zero in on what keeps us current in this ever-changing environment, and what is overkill. I have chosen three news sources - one of them being ESPN which takes my mind off things and connects me with my interests and inspiration, and then let WSJ and NPR give me balanced information to bring me the news I need to be informed in this fluid situation. Choose your own news outlets based on your interests, but look for the sources that are leading with optimistic stories as well as hard news on the pandemic.
Focus on Your Strengths - It’s important that we see ourselves as our own source of strength in these isolating times. Positive psychology has been a place that taught me about the qualities I bring to this world that help me be of service and find meaning in my days. When we focus on what we are good at, our self talk, that voice in our head that speaks so loudly, is positive instead of limiting. If you want to learn more about your strengths and the field of positive psychology, take this quiz designed by the father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, it’s always a good time to learn more about yourself.
Find Ways to Be Helpful - It’s never been easier to be helpful because the simplest things go a long way right now. A smile, patience and space in the grocery store, dropping notes of encouragement via social media or even in people’s mailboxes, and acts of kindness like shopping for others who are immune compromised help the world, but also help us tap back into that positive neurochemical flow, and fill our days with simple purpose.
Breathe - There is an abundance of information out there on how breath work activates our parasympathetic nervous system. I discovered this through yoga, but there are amazing ways we can improve our immune function and bring calm to our minds and bodies with breathing exercises. My favorite exercises are taught by Brian McKenzie @powerspeedendurance. Check it out for ways to regulate your stress response and improve your immune function at the same time.
Optimism is the backbone of resilience, something we find ourselves in need of more than ever today. It’s the only outlook that boosts both our mood and our immune response. Optimists are contributing to the greater good, now more than ever, in a time when we are called upon to be part of the solution. There has never been a better time to train your optimists lens, for yourself and everyone you support from a distance. Sleep, Move, Breathe and this too shall pass.