Taking Care of Yourself on World Mental Health Day

Ways to Boost Happiness, Even During Turbulent Times

One thing we know for sure, is that life is filled with ups and downs. The up times bring happiness, joy and satisfaction, as well as hope that the good times will last as long as possible. Yet, no matter how blessed you are, challenges are part of life. The down times can obscure those feelings of peace and joy. Still, it's important to find ways to not only survive turbulent times, but also find joy and happiness. Yes, it is possible, because happiness is subjective and a function of your outlook on life. Let's look at some ways to find happiness, even during periods of challenge and chaos.

Express Gratitude

It's hard to be grateful and unhappy simultaneously. During dark times, it's easy to forget what's going well and what you have to be thankful for. If you are going through a tough time, try to focus on the positive things in your life. These can even be “small” things. Bring them to your mind and stay with the pleasant emotions/sensations. Be thankful if you have people around to support you and the lessons you learn during times of hardship. Every hardship is a learning opportunity, and if you stay the course, you'll come away with renewed strength, wisdom and knowledge. If you need a reminder of what you have to be grateful for, start the day by writing down five things that make you feel grateful. It will give you something positive to focus on.

Find Happiness in Small Things

When you learn to appreciate small things, you'll have found one of the secrets to happiness. When you look with fresh eyes, also known as “Beginner’s Mind”, there's joy with even the smallest of pleasures - the sound of birds singing, the spectacle of a vibrant sunrise, looking at old photos of friends and family, and sipping a freshly made cup of coffee. Don't let those moments of small pleasure go unnoticed. Once you open your eyes to them, you'll find them everywhere.

Here's a quotation that shows the power of small things:
Rejoice in small things and they will continue to grow. ~ Slaven Vujic

Surround Yourself with People Who Uplift You

Try to stay away from persons who are negative (It has been proven that negativity is contagious) and try to surround yourself with positivity, hope, and optimism. The people you spend time with can drag you down or lift you up. Connect with the ones that uplift you and less with those who block your happiness.

Watch out for social media too. Studies show that spending too much time on social media makes people feel worse about themselves due to the comparison game. You look at the upbeat posts from others and feel like you're lacking. It feels like a threat (socially) that we’re not doing as well as we think we “should”. Also, negativity on sites like Facebook is something to avoid. Take more breaks from social media and spend time outdoors in nature. Research shows that nature has a calming effect on the mind and body, and can even lower the stress hormone cortisol.

Keep Moving Forward & Practice Mindfulness in Everyday Moments

Even if you don't feel like being productive, take small steps and stay busy with everyday tasks that engage your mind. Break tasks down into manageable chunks. Keeping your mind and body active gives you a sense of purpose, achievement and control, and if you do them with a full focus of attention, it’s also less time to worry about the things that make you sad or anxious. This is also called informal mindfulness practice where we bring a mindful attention to everyday moments. Focusing on these everyday routines and tasks can also bring a sense of safety and predictability to our nervous systems. Don't let challenging times keep you from living. You're stronger than the toughest challenges, and you can show that by not letting setbacks stop you or bring you down for too long. Sometimes we have to close down for short periods, so that we can recuperate and open back up. Find a mantra that motivates you that you can focus on during challenging times.

Stay in Tune with What Brings You Joy

Pay attention to what makes you feel good, the activities, actions, music and/or events that give you a sense of pleasure, enjoyment or uplift for your mood. Do you like hanging out with friends? Learning new things? Being around creative people? Baking banana bread? Treating yourself to a specialty coffee, tea or even bubble tea (mmmm). Whatever it might be, do it. Dig deeper into those feelings and connect them to yourself. When you’re engaging in these pleasant events/activities, notice the pleasant feelings associated with your experience – this is called noticing the pleasant moment. Be curious about the physical sensations in your body – warmth, a smile, loosening of tension, lifting/rising of chest and so on. Because happiness is often tied to pleasurable feelings, understanding what gives you pleasure and why can be a crucial first step in finding it and expanding it in your life. But remember, happiness also comes from doing something charitable or helpful for others. Volunteering or helping a friend, neighbour or family member brings personal satisfaction and uplifts others.

Practice Self-Care

Taking care of yourself should be a given, but it's easy to let healthy habits fall by the wayside when times are turbulent. Make sure you're getting enough sleep (this is so important and yet so elusive for many) and have ways to manage stress. Stay in the present moment by practicing mindfulness exercises like meditation, breathing exercises, Tai Chi, yoga and informal everyday practice. Make time for creative activities too. Get out a notepad and write or create something beautiful with a pen, paintbrush, or make digital art with a mouse. Unleashing your inner creative spirit is beneficial for your mental and physical health, and it can help you discover what moves your soul. Self-care can also mean saying no to invitations if you’re already feeling overwhelmed and actually need time to rest and rejuvenate.

Try to Contemplate and Understand What's Causing You to Feel Troubled

Before you can either solve or accept a current problem, you must identify what it is that is causing you stress. Much of the time, the suffering we feel is related to the fact that we are wishing the situation was different somehow. Is there any thing in your life that you’re wishing were different? It often comes up as ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ in our mind, ex. They shouldn’t have done that; I shouldn’t have let this happen; No one should have to live this way, It shouldn’t be like this etc…Our mind is often clinging or attaching to things being different than they were/are. Can you let go of that mind state of attachment and wishing it was different? What would it feel like if you accepted the situation exactly as it is (doesn’t mean that you have to like it). You’re just acknowledging reality as it is, with self-compassion. This can be a good practice. A meditation teacher of mine taught me to ask myself ‘How am I making an enemy of this moment’ any time I’m feeling stressed, and to see if I can let go of any resistance to accepting things just as they are in this moment.

The Bottom Line

So even in stressful or turbulent times, we can tap into our inner sources of happiness. Remember, that the clouds only block the sun, they don't take it away. Living with that mantra in mind can help, knowing that the next sunny day awaits you and that we can make small choices to boost our happiness along the way.