Dec 23, 2021 3:30 PM

Author: Jerilyn Stowe, Huntsman Mental Health Institute


We all faced challenges in 2020 that were significant and widespread, and 2021 brought its own unique challenges to center stage. Virtually everyone’s mental health has been affected in some way throughout these last couple of years. With the vaccine bringing us together again in a safer way, we can all hopefully find some healing and brighter days in 2022.  

As we look into the new year and prepare how we want to tackle the next 365 days, the simplest changes are the way to boost our moods, like 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 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 is easy to get stuck in a rut of negative thoughts when that is 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 (negativity) when tackling very real problems. 

You Have the Power to 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 your life situation, whether you work from home, or go into the office a couple times a week- find the parts of this new normal that excite you. Perhaps you now have more opportunities to practice hobbies or finally get the chance to tackle your next home improvement project.  
  • Be kind to yourself – More than just saying nice things to inflate our egos, affirmationscan reinforce our strengths, help us address challenges with gusto, and keep our brain churning out positive neurochemicals. Speaking affirmations aloud to ourselves can strengthen our resolve 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 an effective 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 cannot shake. Contact Huntsman Mental Health Institute to get help or learn more, or reach out to these resources: 

  • If you are feeling depressed, anxious, lonely, or having a personal struggle and need someone to listen, call the Utah Warm Line at801-587-1055.  
  • If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, call the statewide Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255.

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