Prevention and Vulnerabilities
Preventing problems is far easier than trying to fix them. Have you ever felt a cold coming on and taken zinc or some other aid that is supposed to help reduce the severity of the common cold? Do you wash your hands to prevent getting sick? What other things do you do to prevent illness or injury to your body?
Many of the same things that make your body vulnerable to illness or distress make you vulnerable to unpleasant moods and negative thoughts. Think about it. What is your mood like when you are overtired? Sick? In pain? Do you tend to see the positive in things when you are sick, tired or in pain? Right after my daughter was born I was tired and in pain. The nurse kept coming in to do her job, but I found everything she did to be irritating. I just wanted to sleep.
You will learn how important it is to prevent these vulnerabilities in staying happy.
Physical Prevention Strategies
You need sunlight to help set your circadian rhythms which, in part, helps your body know when to sleep and eat. Poor quality sleep causes imbalances in all hormones, including neurotransmitters, thyroid hormones, sex hormones and the hormones that help you know when you are hungry and satiated. this is why Seasonal Affective Disorder can be such a problem. Poor sleep quality is caused by many things besides insufficient sunlight including pain and poor sleep habits.
Even with plenty of sleep, your body depends on you to provide it with the building blocks to repair, regenerate and make all of those hormones. Proper nutrition is not hard. Try having a dairy, grain, protein and vegetable or fruit at each meal. If you are vegetarian or vegan, or gluten intolerant you will obviously need to make some modifications.
Here is a new concept, You cannot be miserable and happy at the same time. What makes you feel happy? Accomplished? Contented? Loved? All of these are positive emotions. Did you know a 20 second hug causes the body to release your bonding hormone, oxytocin? A belly laugh causes the release of dopamine and opioids in the brain making you feel happy and may even lessen pain.
Identify at least one thing you will do each day to feel happy, contented, loved or accomplished?
Prevention and Happiness
You cannot be happy and miserable at the same time. By the same token, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you are depressed, angry, anxious or impatient, you can still prevent further problems. If you are generally content, well, great! However, it is important that you are mindful of what you are doing which is helping you feel happy and content, and you keep doing it. In American culture, it is easy to let those things that keep us happy take a back seat to what may feel more urgent (or fun). Sure, occasionally staying out late is good for your mood and relationships. Foregoing adequate quality sleep as a habit it not.
Prevention helps you focus on those foundational activities that keep you happy and healthy. Lack of sleep and poor nutrition can, in themselves, eventually cause increased anxiety, irritability and/or depressive symptoms. When your body doesn't get what it needs, it sees a potential weakness… a threat…It activates the stress response which creates a cascade of potentially negative events if left unchecked. Again, splurging on junk food, or even not eating healthy for an entire weekend is not the end of the world. However, it is important to try to eat reasonably healthy and get quality sleep each day so your brain can ensure you have the right balance of “happy” chemicals.
What do people (in general) need to be able to be happy?
- Relaxation and recreation. Things that make them smile, laugh and love.
- Sleep. Good, quality sleep.
- Reasonable nutrition. I am not going to insist on a fanatical diet, but staying hydrated and eating a colorful diet is important.
- Positive social support. One of the greatest buffers against stress is our social support. Someone outside of ourselves that can serve as a sounding board, an anchor and a bolster in times of stress. The key is ensuring these relationships are characterized by healthy boundaries, a give and take, acceptance, compassion and effective communication.
- Positive self -esteem so you are not relying on others to tell you you are okay or you did a good job, and you are not constantly living in fear of rejection.
- Mindfulness of what you need and want at any given moment. You may not get it, but if you know you need more sleep because your kid kept you up all night, then you can approach the day differently than you would if you were fully rested.
- An alert thought police force. Much of your unhappiness probably comes from negative messages you internalized, unhelpful or rigid ways of thinking and a very loud heckler in your gallery telling you that you are not worthy. The thought police will identify the suspect thoughts and messages and bring them to trial…over which you are the judge and jury.
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