In stressful moments we have no control over our racing heart, our surge in blood sugar, or the levels of stress hormones in our body. However, there are two things which can counteract the levels of anxiety which we do have control over. Firstly, taking slow, deep, ‘belly’ breaths can slow our body’s anxious state. The second thing we have control over is our smile.
Do you recognise the phrase, ‘Put some elbow grease into it’. It generally implies that your efforts are a bit lacklustre and you need to apply a more oomph.
Now, as a psychologist, I wonder whether we need to apply some ‘elbow grease’ in our life. Do we expect the good things in life to be delivered on a plate? Do we give up too easily? Does modern life make us too soft?
Can you get through a whole day without complaining? I don’t mean the justifiable protest at getting shoddy service or goods. Instead, I mean the more day-to-day moaning and whinging about other people or the world in general.
In fact, we all regularly complain about modern life, our boss, the government, the youth of today, and so on. In fact, the list is endless. Sometimes, complaining acts as a kind of social glue – it gives us a common purpose and sometimes identifies a common enemy.
Have you noticed the big increase in articles in the media telling us “how to be happy”? It’s a great idea but there are some problems to consider. Firstly, aiming for short term pleasures can bring happiness, but this can soon fall flat and often brings a heap of unwanted long term side effects.
Whichever way you look at it, getting older in years is a process involving an inevitable steady decline. That’s the bad news. Is there any good news? One good thing is that many large scale studies would suggest that, on average, levels of happiness and contentment can rise as we get older. We tend to savour and appreciate life’s precious moments.
Every one of us is a ‘work in progress’. We move slowly but surely through our lives and change is inevitable. Without doubt some people seem to have a better handle on the direction they are going in, and their life changes for the better. However, others get stuck in the daily grind and their life stutters and stalls. Unfortunately, the life these people have is probably not the one they would have hoped for.
The brain is a truly wonderful organ. However, sometimes it can over-do things. Due to the need to survive it can be a little over-zealous in predicting possible dangers. This is what happens when we worry too much.
Another aspect of our brain is its ability to weigh up things and make judgements. However, this automatic functioning of the brain is both a blessing and a curse. To see it in action look around the things around you right now. Is there one thing that your brain can’t criticise in some way and think of a way it could be improved?
Life is a journey with ups and downs. But our brains tend to focus on the downs. That’s because we have evolved to spot potential danger. So we see the downs more quickly and think longer and harder about them.
Interestingly, psychological research tells us that we can develop some habits that train our brains to become better at noticing the positives in our life. Here are three two-minute exercises to practice, as described by Harvard psychologist, Shawn Achor.