MANAGING STRESS & MANIFESTING HAPPINESS
Thank you so much for reading my very first Blog BOQ entry! My name is Dr. Amanda Mei and I am a Chiropractor who works in Brighton, Ont. When I saw that the folks at Blog BoQ were looking for collaborators, I reached out to see what may be involved and if some of my knowledge and expertise may be of interest to the BOQ team; so in a nutshell, here I am!
I was initially going to write a Blog about how to set up your home office to avoid back pain (and I will – next write-up!). But as the last few weeks have passed, I have been really seeing firsthand how the global stress and uncertainty we are presently dealing with has leached into our community. Seeing this motivated me to do some research about how to cultivate happiness in our lives. What I found was that even with the present-day pandemic, we can help ourselves lead happier lives; and the best part is that it is completely in our control.
In my research, I came across the podcast "The Happiness Lab" by Dr. Laurie Santos. Her research explores what makes people happy, how they maintain happiness, and that, surprisingly, the things we think will make us happy do not actually have a lasting effect. In researching some of the topics she has studied, I have decided to share three things we can all do right now to help ourselves lead happier, less stressful lives... and best of all: the things that help are easy, free, and we can do all of them!
So here we go… three "golden nuggets" of happiness:
1. Breathe – Has anyone ever told you to "just relax, and breathe" while you are upset… and it almost makes you angrier? Well turns out they are right! Annoying – I know, but bear with me.
Stress is strongly related to our sympathetic nervous system (our fight/flight response). This system is thrown into high gear by the hormone cortisol in times of stress. This can be helpful in the moment – running away from a predator or gearing up to battle it out with one – but the prolonged chronic stress that we often find ourselves facing as humans leads to many less desirable consequences: nervousness, anxiety, depression and a decreased capacity to make sound judgments – yuck!
It turns out that taking smooth, deep, and easy breaths is a quick and easy, scientifically-backed practice that helps decrease our sympathetic stress response. The practice of deep breathing helps promote our parasympathetic nervous system (rest/digest response). Breathing deeply in a formal (yoga, meditation) or informal (any time you like) setting is an effective way to diminish the stress response and therefore creates more potential for positive feelings! Yay!
2. Gratitude – this is another hippie-dippie practice that in truth has lots of scientific research behind it. Taking the time to write down three to five things you are grateful for in your day can lead to increased feelings of happiness. Our brains are wired to be problem solvers: it likes to find the negative side of things, so it has some work to do. Placing emphasis on things for which we are grateful pulls us out of the pessimistic bias where our brains like to take us, and can help cultivate a more optimistic attitude.
This practice doesn’t have to be laborious or complicated - it can be as simple as appreciating that the sun came out, that you didn’t have to wait in a long line up at a drive thru or that you got a string of green lights on your way to work. It can also be bigger stuff – that you have your health, that you have a great partner even though you didn’t get to have your wedding this year, that you may have been closed for 3 months but you persevered and get to get back to work. Once you start to focus on the things that are going well in life (phew, just had enough cream left for my coffee this morning… woot woot!) it becomes easier to see the good things you may be missing.
3. The last one I feel is one that really resonates so much with the BOQ community: simply put, acts of kindness and doing something nice for others. This pays huge dividends as far as happiness goes. The person performing the act of kindness gets more emotional benefit than the person receiving the kind act. Again, this doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult – compliment someone at work, say yes when the cashier asks if you would like to make a donation to charity, write a positive review online to your favourite local business. Making someone’s day easier or being of service to others boosts serotonin and dopamine in the brain (which are our feel-good hormones), and that equals higher levels of well-being and satisfaction.
Give some of these a try, I promise that although these seem a bit far-out, there is lots of valid scientific research to suggest these practices do in fact lead to increased levels of happiness.
Until next time,
Dr. Amanda Mei is owner and Chiropractor of Northumberland Health & Wellness Centre in Brighton. She has been in practice since 2013 and has an Honours degree in Psychology from McMaster University. She has been in the area for four years and loves the region for all its fantastic establishments, magnificent outdoor lifestyle and the people who make this region so special. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram @northumberlandhealthcentre or at her website northumberlandhealthcentre.ca