BE OPTIMISTIC & IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH

Outlook has a larger impact on your health than you probably know

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1. Reconnect with nature:

If you are feeling utterly overwhelmed, all you have to do is walk out your front door, step out of your office, or stop driving and step out of your car.  To reconnect with nature is to reconnect with the bigger picture and instantly release pent up frustration, tension, anger, anxiety and fear, restoring hope.

Whether it’s just a few deep breaths as you sit on a patch of grass, taking a walk through a local park, or standing outside at night looking up at the stars… reconnecting with the wonder of being a human being standing on a rock that spirals through space and seeing the earth for the vast support network it is can’t help but lift your spirits for the better.

Taking even one minute to surround yourself with the power of nature has a way of creating a perspective in life that is real, is powerful, is strong.

The power of nature can hold even your worst of days and remain an immovable source of strength.

Don’t believe me?

The next time you are having a panic attack, or a pounding headache, or a knot of worry grow in your stomach, just go outside.  Get out there.  Don’t force anything, just start walking and let nature work its magic.

2.  Focus on feelings instead of thoughts:

I typically can not find a positive thought when I’m worrying about something, so I consciously switch over to reaching for a more positive feeling.  Sometimes all I can find is a way to make me feel just a little less angry. Sometimes it’s all I can do to find a way to feel just a little less impatient.

What I am reaching for, every time though, is a slightly improved feeling.  That’s it.  I don’t even like the idea of *positive thinking* anyway, because positive thinking is usually fake… something you try to convince yourself of when what you are really feeling is crappy.

Authentic feelings… authentic crappy feelings, are infinitely more powerful to me than fake happy ones.  I don’t mind mucking around in a dismal funk for long stretches of time.  I don’t mind letting it show.  I don’t feel the need to apologize for being human and even being snippy or impatient or rude at times.  If I’m feeling it, I’m going to show it.

No… what I have learned and taught myself to reach for isn’t positive thoughts… it’s positive feelings. There will always be a thought that knocks you down… we can’t control those, they come, that’s life… but we can stop believing in them all the time and instead of focusing on our thoughts, focus on our feelings.  I don’t try to put fake happy chipper thoughts into my head and try to cheer myself up — that is instant disaster. Positive thinking just makes me feel like one more thing I’m not doing right, when I’m not feeling well and I try to cover it up with positive thoughts.

Instead, I try and come up with a million different alternative thoughts or actions I can genuinely believe in, and then I feel around for which one makes me feel better.  Usually, I try to move towards  sense of relief.

Often, I can’t find a thought that helps me feel better, so I reach for a better feeling through action — taking a bath… laying on the earth… texting a friend to vent… going on a brisk walk… drinking a big glass of water… all of these actions, at one point or another, have helped me choose a better *feeling*.

Eventually, selecting your next step based on how you FEEL will be so easy it will be second nature.  Even though I don’t always choose a positive thought… I do usually do the work of reaching for a more positive feeling.  I’m no longer okay with letting my thoughts run away with me and me doing nothing to clean up my act.

And what I have found is that it has gotten easier and easier.

  • What used to take me an entire day to turn around, now takes an hour.
  • What used to really push my buttons before, doesn’t even have the power to push them any more.
  • What used to bring me down into the doldrums for a week might give me an hour or two of wanting space instead.

Very rarely do I ever reach the depths of the darkness I used to be taken by over and over in the past.  Even in those darkest moments, I  now know that a negative thought or feeling is just that — a temporary experience.

And I can reach for a slightly improved feeling even when I can’t find a slightly improved thought.  Focusing on feelings instead of thoughts helps.  Any little bit helps.

3. Focus on Spirit:

This is something shown over and over again in the medical literature — the power of prayer to  improve clinical outcome (like reducing pain, enhancing recovery after cardiac surgery, even helping substance abuse recovery) and the power of spirituality to support general wellness (like boosting physical well being, increasing functional well being, and decreasing physical symptoms in cancer patients) is well documented.

The surest way I know to alleviate stress and suffering is to find a deeper spiritual meaning in it.

Whether it’s through mediation or mantra (read my blog post here on how to do this — it’s so easy!) personal prayer, asking friends and family to pray for you, joining online or in person spiritual groups, downloading spirituality apps that will send reminders to your phone, or reading books that align with and strengthen your sense of spiritual presence… cultivating a deeper sense of spirit surrounding and supporting you is such an important way to alleviate stress.

The divine support system is around you, whether you are able to feel it or not.

 4.Get sunlight daily:

Medical studies back me up on this one… it’s important to get sunlight every single day.Sunlight actually prolongs life span, in a dose dependent way (meaning more time in the sun = longer life span.).

To more safely get that sun exposure daily, aim for at least 10 minutes during non-peak hours — that’s before 10 AM or after 4 PM.  Wearing a hat to protect your face and sunglasses to protect your eyes is also a good idea.

Some routines you might consider, to get those ten minutes in at the start or end of your day, is: sitting on a porch, balcony or front door stoop every morning and every evening, eating picnic lunches outside mid-day, observing which of the windows in your home are sunny and at what time of the day there is a sunbeam and sitting in those precious light rays while drinking your morning coffee, your evening tea, while working on your computer like I am doing right now, or while reading a good book, etc…  even going for a drive counts — be sure to roll the windows down and enjoy!

5.Increase Gratitude & Compassion:

This is a no-brainer — one of the gifts of going through suffering is that you can witness and hold other people’s suffering so much more fully.  Compassion and gratitude for the journey and knowing that others have made it through similar, and even worse, ordeals can really help instill hope to your own journey.

As contrary as it sounds, topics that would have felt dark or depressing during easier times can somehow feel powerful and empowering now. For example, during our own harsh life changes, the kids and I dove deeply into WWI and WWII studies, reading Anne Frank’s diary and having long, meaningful discussions about suffering and triumph… those felt incredibly moving and fortifying to us.

Knowing the darker side, leaning into it, persevering through it, witnessing with compassion what others have gone through… all of these things make traveling your own dark night feel less lonely.

If you feel inspired to reach out and help others you witness going through a hard time, you are actually boosting your own health, regardless of if you are getting any support in return.  It turns out that it is the giving of social support, not the receiving of social support, that really benefits your health, at least as far as your brain is concerned, according to this medical study, published in 2019.

And compassion for yourself is just as important as compassion for others.  One recent medical study, published in 2021, found that greater self compassion is actually heart healthy, with folk who have higher self compassion having significantly lower rates of subclinical heart disease.

One of the simplest ways to increase compassion for yourself and gratitude for your journey is also one of my favorites, and as a bonus it helps me fall asleep (the topic that’s coming up next!)  All you do is, as you close your eyes to fall asleep for the night, run through the day in your mind’s eye.  Specifically look for moments you had — even if it’s just one — that you were glad happened.  And when you find that moment in the day, pause mentally and just say to yourself  “I’m grateful for that.”

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