5: Nurture Social Relationships

When I was in high school, I had a small group of friends. I was not popular by any means, but I had my group. They were definitely the saviours of my high school experience, as without them, I would have been dreadfully unhappy. One friend had been with me since age 7 and we just ‘got’ each other.

Having many friends is not so important to happiness as is having at least one person who understands you at a deep level. It’s not surprising that studies have found a relationship between loneliness and depression.

As we get older and are less likely to see our friends on a regular basis (school was great for that, wasn’t it), we have to work harder and harder to nuture social relationships. Technology has both helped and hindered us in this – email, Facebook, Skype, all can be used positively and negatively in maintaining friendships. The best thing one can do is schedule a time when nothing else is going on to connect to that special someone.

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4: Practice Acts of Kindness

One of the things I love about working at my school is that they read a book called How Full is Your Bucket?. And then they post lovely things about random people in school on a board. It’s fabulous!

In an article in Psychology Today, they found that doing nice things boosts your serotonin levels. Why is this good? Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that boosts feelings of well-being. So when you are kind to someone else, you are also being kind to yourself.

Depression and anxiety can come through a lack of serotonin, and helping others can combat this, a bit. In addition, it takes you outside your own little sphere. We see that life is not just about ourselves, but about others. And that can really help us see the positives in our lives.

I try to find the positive behaviours that people do and tell them how much I appreciate those good acts. Even just the act of smiling at others, can boost both their feelings of happiness as well as yours. The more you can do, hopefully the more others will also do, thus spreading good feelings long.

Anxiety & Stress

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Life can get overwhelming. Many of us have so much to juggle. And we begin to see these things as stressful or anxiety producing. Anxiety and stress can be tough to deal with, and can even be debilitating. Much of my work centres around helping people to deal with stress and anxiety.

What is stress? What is anxiety? According to the American Psychological Association, stress an uncomfortable emotional experience that comes with a physiological reaction and may lead to cognitive and behavioural changes. Anxiety is an emotion which brings about feelings of tension, bodily changes and worried cognitions.

So, how do I help people deal with stress and anxiety? In several ways, all of which include changing both body and mind reactions. The most important thing to note is that your body cannot physiologically experience stress/anxiety and relaxation at the same time, and your mind cannot hold both stress/anxiety producing thoughts as well as relaxing ones at the same time, so we work to change both. Here’s a few things that you can do to work with your stressors:

1. Deep breathing. Stress and anxiety bring about changes in your body. You may experience nausea or those butterflies in your stomach. Your heartrate will typically increase. The muscles in your neck and shoulders may tighten. And your breathing gets faster. Deep breathing is an important aspect to stress relief. Now, many people try to train you to breathe a certain way – personlly, I can’t breathe easily through my nose so I just do mouth breathing, and that’s fine. But the one thing I would encourage you to do is to breathe from your diaphram. To do this, put your hand on your tummy and breathe. You should feel your stomach going up and down rather than your chest. This is the best deep breathing you can do. It will calm down your systems and many of the symptomology will go away with time.

2. Do a visualisation. I’ve used the same visualisation with students for a long time. It can be brief or you can take your time with it. Many like to have calming music in the background, and I’ve found multiple youtube videos which have hours of music to use. Here’s my favourite visualisation: Take deep breathes and every time you inhale imagine a calming colour going into your body. Each time you exhale imagine a stressful colour leaving your body. Continue with the deep breathing until you feel that only the calming colour is left. I like to imagine the stressed out coloured air is going into a balloon and then I let it go in the end.

There’s a lot more you can do to relieve stress and anxiety. I’ll continue to talk about this as I ‘blog away’. But these are a good start.

3. Avoid Over-Thinking and Social Comparison

I find the third of the 12 things that happy people do differently to be one of the toughest to achieve. I grew up in a competitive world, where students would compare themselves to each other all the time. It became part of who I was, in some ways. But I’ve worked hard at fighting these thoughts. When I see a friend who has done much better than me, academically or financially, my first thought should be, “How awesome for them.” Instead, I tend to do a comparison, and thus think worse about myself. Envy is not something that helps you grow, but rather holds you back.

So now I try to use thought stopping and fighting those thoughts. Someone else’s achievents have nothing to do with me. Am I happy with where I am right now? If not, then what steps do I have to do to get there? And what successes have I already achieved? I then can remind myself that I have the skills to problem solve and get to where I want to be.

2. Cultivate Optimism

The second thing that happy people tend to do differently is to cultivate optimism. When the students ask me how I can be so positive and optimistic, I ask them if they would want to talk to a counsellor who isn’t. They laugh and see my point. Optimism can be an amazing thing.

Optimism can have a very positive effect, particularly if you think about the idea of a self-fulfilling prophesy. In a self-fulfilling prophesy, you predict that something is going to happen in your future. This prediction tends to come true due to a feedback system. If I am optimistic that things are going to go well, then I will act in this way and thus it’s more likely that things will go well. The opposite applies too.

Optimism is part of a growth mindset (if you haven’t read Carol Dweck’s book, you need to!). For example, if you have a failure, instead of seeing it as horrible, you’ll see it as a mistake to learn from, an opportunity to grow.

So, every day, take a minute or two to imagine just how well the day is going to go. Visualize yourself doing an activity the way you want it to go. It’s more likely to happen that way.

1. Express Gratitude

According to Dictionary.com, the definition of gratitude is the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful.  In the States, we tend to do this once a year when we have Thanksgiving.  But for me, it’s something that I do every day.  I started to do a daily appreciation on my private Facebook page after seeing a Ted Talk on Positive Psychology by Shawn Achor (it’s amazingly funny and worth seeing) while being a substitute teacher for a Health class.

Every day I search out something to write.  And so what I’m doing is looking for life’s positives.  This search means that I don’t ignore the little good things in my life, but magnify them.  And the bad stuff becomes lesser.  Many people have a habit of focusing on the negatives and this becomes their life (self-fulfilling prophesy, my friends).  While there are bad things in my life, and I’m not someone who is always positive, I like the fact that I try to find the good in my life and make those experiences more important than the bad ones.  It’s too easy to be bogged down by the downers.

Here’s a visual for you – even in those places where it seems to be ugly, beauty can be found.

Happiness

I recently saw a posting on Facebook about the twelve things happy people do differently. I went onto Google and did a bit of a search and found quite a few resources on this. I figured I could focus on one a week and write about it. Here’s the list:

1. Express Gratitude
2. Cultivate Optimism
3. Avoid Over-thinking and Social Comparison
4. Practice Acts of Kindness
5. Nurture Social Relationships
6. Develop Strategies for Coping
7. Learn to Forgive
8. Increase Flow Experiences
9. Savore Life’s Joys
10. Commit to Your Goals
11. Practice Relgion & Spirituality
12. Take Care of Your Body