#1. Asking the BIG question. When you're feeling down, there's one important question you need to ask yourself. And that is why? Guilt and shame can make your brain seem like it doesn't want to be happy. Even though they're all different, pride, guilt, and shame activate similar neural circuits in the brain. It can seem very appealing to heap guilt and shame upon ourselves because they activate the brain's reward center. And along with the guilt and shame, many of us worry a lot. In the short-term, worry can make the brain feel a little better. After all, you are doing something about your problem. it's a scientific fact that worrying increases the brain's limbic system "by increasing activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and decreasing activity in the amygdala. This may seem counter-intuitive but it just goes to show that if you're feeling anxiety, doing something about it...even worrying...is better than doing nothing." But guilt, shame, and worry are awful long-term solutions. Neuroscientists say that the better way is to ask yourself, "What am I grateful for?" By now we know that gratitude is awesome but did you know that it actually affects your brain at the biological level? It does! Antidepressants boost the brain's level of dopamine and serotonin. So does gratitude. I know which one I'd rather have. In addition to making us happier, gratitude makes our social interacts better, too! The most interesting thing about gratitude is that it's not important how many things you find to be grateful for, but it's the fact that you are looking for them. remembering to be grateful is a form of emotional intelligence. With higher emotional intelligence, it takes less effort to be grateful.
# 2. Label negative feelings. When you feel down, label the feelings that come up; anger, sadness, worry, etc. This may sound kind of silly, but your brain will disagree. Suppressing emotions can backfire, so it's important to consciously recognize what you feel. Don't just slough it off and tell yourself you feel bad. Your brain knows this. take a few minutes and list the emotions that are coming up for you. When you suppress your emotions, looking just fine on the outside, recent studies have shown that your limbic system is just as aroused (and maybe more so) than if you let yourself feel these negative feelings. Taking the time to label your emotions can have a positive impact on your mood. To reduce your arousal, you only need a few words to describe your emotions. "In fact, labeling affects the brain so powerfully it works with other people too. Labeling emotions is one of the primary tools used by FBI hostage negotiators."
#3. Make that decision. Most of the time when we finally make up our minds what we're going to do, our brain quickly begins to mess with us and we start doubting our decision. But every once in a while, when we make a decision, our brain feels instantly at rest. That's not a random occurrence! Brain science has shown that making a decision reduces our anxiety and worry, as well as solve the problem we faced. But making a decision can sometimes be very difficult, with lots of choices and option. Research has shown that making a good decision is best. But, what, you already do that, right? Perhaps, but science shows it's more important to make a good decision than it is to struggle with trying to make the absolute best decision. Strive to make good, solid decisions. Don't sweat it if it's not 100% perfect. Perfectionism has its own set of drawbacks. trying to be perfect overwhelms the brain and can leave you feeling out of control. "Recognizing that good enough is good enough relieves a lot of pressure which allows you to feel more in control.
As Swarthmore College professor, Barry Schwartz, has said, "Good enough is almost always good enough." Actively making a decision causes changes in the attention circuits and how the person feels about the action which, in turn, increases the dopamine reward activity. When you make a decision on a goal and achieve it, you feel better than if good things just happen by chance!
# 4. Touch others. No, please don't do this randomly! That could cause you much unhappiness, for sure. But it is a proven fact that we need to feel love and acceptance from others. When we don't, it becomes painful...not just emotionally upsetting but actually physically painful! Rejection doesn't just heart like a heartache; the brain actually feels the pain more like it's a broken leg. Social exclusion activates the same circuitry as physical pain. Relationships are very important to your brain's feeling of happiness. One of the primary ways to release oxytocin is by touching others. Obviously, we can't go around randomly groping others, but small touches like a pat on the back or a handshake are generally thought to be acceptable and help with that important touching factor. According to neuroscientists, touching is extremely important and its power is underestimated. Touching can do all kinds of good things, including increasing your math skills. Touching someone you love actually can reduce physical pain. And the stronger the bond, the greater the effect of touching. "It's been found that holding hands with someone can comfort you and your brain through painful situations," says Alex Korb. And let's not forget the power of a hug. Not just one of those quick ones; neuroscientists recommend longer hugs for maximum effect. We've heard this before but research has proven that getting five hugs a day for four weeks will increase your happiness, big time! If you don't have someone to hug you, then go get a massage. getting a massage increases serotonin levels by as much as 30%. Too, massage decreases stress hormones and raises dopamine levels. Massage reduces pain by activating painkilling endorphins. And did you know that massage can improve sleep and reduce fatigue? Spending time with others is very important...and texting/emailing doesn't count.
These four important rituals can help everybody feel better and happier...even we frogs! Worth a try, eh?
Have a wonderful week. Peace.