We all faced challenges in 2020 that were significant and widespread, and virtually everyone's mental health has been affected in some way. With good news on the way in the form of the vaccine, we can hopefully find healing and progress in 2021, even as we continue to face external challenges.
We can bolster our moods and positively impact our days with simple brain-based exercises that will gradually and permanently shift our outlooks. We have a lot more control than we may believe over how we perceive the world around us. Simple shifts of thought and daily affirmations are two keys to unlocking a more energized and optimistic state of mind.
It's all chemistry
Suggesting that personal affirmations will solve your woes is typically met with anything from skepticism to sarcasm. But genuine science backs the idea. When dealing with the unknown, negativity is the default setting of our brains—a holdover from the prehistoric past, when the daily threats our ancestors faced were almost universally existential.
This negativity is driven by brain chemistry, and it helped people survive: an exceptional focus on small clues and an abiding sense of danger was valuable when a saber-toothed tiger might be waiting outside of the cave. Today, however, it's easy to get stuck in a rut of negative thoughts when that's the default for our brains,
Reinforcing hope, positivity, and happiness in your thoughts creates the opposite reaction, causing your brain to release chemicals that drive good emotional and physical well-being. The challenge lies in not switching to the default setting when tackling very real problems.
You can influence your own happiness
Finding authentic positivity and hope often requires active effort. But switching your default to positive brain chemistry can make a surprising difference in your daily activity. Here are a few ideas to try:
- Focus on yourself - Whether you practice mindfulness, meditation, or prayer, taking the time each day to concentrate on your thoughts without judgment will help you feel calm and present.
- Look for the good side - When you find your thoughts dwelling on the negative parts of your day, try deliberately shifting your focus to the positive aspects. Consider what you enjoy about staying at home, for example, like having more time with family or pets. Perhaps you have more opportunity to practice hobbies or complete chores around the house. You may relish not dealing with a commute or having more flexible working environments.
- Be kind to yourself - More than just saying nice things to inflate our egos, affirmations can reinforce our strengths, help us address challenges with gusto, and keep our brain churning out the positive neurochemicals. Speaking affirmations aloud to ourselves can strengthen our resolves and legitimize our ambitions.
- Remember your values - Daniel Henderson, LCSW at Huntsman Mental Health Institute, reminds us to also focus on values. He uses the definition of values as "your heart's deepest desires for how you want to behave as a human being." Focusing on your values as you practice mindfulness is a good way to re-orient yourself to what you find important and reconnect with positive, supportive thoughts and emotions that drive your values.
Help is always available
Although these exercises can boost your mood, a medical professional is always available to help if you have long bouts of depression or symptoms you just can't shake.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org.
- If you are feeling depressed, anxious, lonely, or having a personal struggle and need someone to listen, call the Utah Warm Line at 801-587-1055.
- If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, call the statewide Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255.