When you awakened this morning, what were the first thoughts percolating in your mind? “It’s going to be a great day and I’m in a fantastic mood!” C’mon ‘fess up. It is more likely you started dwelling about being in quarantine or needing to go into work when you don’t feel safe. Perhaps you ruminated about your sagging finances or your uncertain future. If you caved into those pessimistic thoughts, it’s because your mind is hard-wired with a psychological process called “negativity bias.” Your auto-pilot thinking focuses more on your problems and what bothers you than what brings you joy.
Unfortunately, it does make sense from a survival point of view. Wouldn’t you want to know about potential dangers lurking ‘out there” or perceived threats to your or your family’s safety? The problem arises when negativity bias starts ruling your life. Instead of it serving as a short-term warning system urging you to become proactive, it becomes a bad habit and health-compromising personality trait. You can literally worry yourself sick. Focusing primarily on the negatives robs you of joy and the positive feelings associated with well-being.
The immune system thrives when the body is balanced and healthy. Numerous studies have found that happiness and positive emotions have impressive medical benefits. For example, in one study participants were exposed to a virus. One set had their happiness boosted. The other set did not. Consistently, those with a boosted happiness were less likely to get the infection or, if they did, the cold/flu was much less severe. Conclusion: decrease the amount of time you spend worrying and increase the amount of time you focus on what brings happy feelings.
To help you de-stress and hopefully boost your immune system, here are 10 Instant Stressbusters.
- BREATHE, BREATHE, BREATHE: The amazing power of feeling more relaxed begins by taking three deep breaths and slowly exhaling. Stop stressed-out shallow breathing that over-activates your sympathetic nervous system. Instead, slow deep breathing activates your vagus nerve and your parasympathetic nervous system to engage the rest and relaxation mode.
- FOCUS ON NOW: Fear and worry focus on an unpredictable and potentially scary future. Instead immerse yourself in the present moment. Become aware of all the wonderful things around you. Mindfulness steers a worried mind into peace, stillness, and comforting quiet.
- SAY CALMING PHRASES: Develop a toolkit of helpful phrases that can be pulled out in a flash such as: “This, too, shall pass!” “I’ll handle it, always have, always will!” “I am the leader of my thoughts, not the follower of my fears.” Imagine you are speaking to a friend or family member. What would you say to help them?
- FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN DO, NOT WHAT YOU CAN’T: This is a biggie. So many things are not controllable. All that you can do is to focus your mind and attention on being pro-active and solution-oriented. Instead of terribilizing and assuming the worst will happen, instead ‘possibilize’ and find positive possibilities that are just as likely. Visualize things getting better and better and feeling happy about it. But, when you can’t do that, embrace acceptance for things you cannot control.
- MOVE, WIGGLE, STRETCH: A tight and anxious body swims in stress hormones that dampens the immune system. Movement releases calming endorphins and helps dissipate anxious, stressed feelings. Loosen up taut muscles and move around. Try exercising, yoga, qigong or other means of allowing your body to move and flow.
- EMBARGO JUNK FOOD: Occasionally ingesting a little junk food doesn’t usually harm. But especially during times of high stress, it’s better to eat ‘smart carbs’ such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. Food can affect your mood, so choose those that also provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Foods such a turkey and banana have higher levels of the amino acid tryptophan that may serve as a relaxant. Good news for chocolate lovers: dark chocolate can provide beneficial anti-oxidants and decreases cortisol.
- EMBRACE MOTHER NATURE: Nature demands nothing from you, yet offers comfort, connection, and beauty. A large body of scientific evidence verified what many already knew: spending time in Mother Nature has many healing benefits. In Japan, a practice called “forest bathing” or “shinrin-yoku” has been shown to reduce cortisol levels and enhance feelings of well-being. Another study found walks through forests enhanced the numbers and activity of infection-fighting immune cells (natural killer cells). Walk barefoot, enjoy the sounds of birds, and hug a tree.
- DO SOMETHING ENJOYABLE: Whether stamp collecting, gardening, sewing quilts, or learning something new, becoming occupied with a fun activity reduces stress and enhances endorphins.
- SELF-NURTURE: Especially during challenging times when responsibilities for others may be soaring and self-time plummeting, it is important to set boundaries and demand time out devoted only to you and your needs. It’s important to replenish your own spiritual and emotional fuel. Find a way!
- SMILE: Studies show that smiling releases mood-enhancing endorphins. Find something to smile about: watch comedies, remember fun times, and just loosen up that furrowed brow and smile!
For more about the author, Kathryn Tristan, please visit https://whyworrybook.com/.
Kathryn Tristan email and biography: [email protected]
Kathryn Tristan is a Research Scientist and Assistant Professor of Medicine on the faculty of Washington University School of Medicine. She studies our biological immune system and its diseases. She also is interested in the “psychological immune system” that represents our constellation of thoughts and feelings meant to protect us. She is a prolific writer with more than 300 articles in leading scientific or lay publications and has written two self-help books. The most recent is, “Why Worry? Stop Coping and Start Living.” Kathryn has appeared on television and spoken on numerous radio and Zoom broadcasts. She also has been a presenter at international conferences. Her passion is speaking and writing about how to focus our minds to overcome worry and anxiety using simple and easy tools of the mind, body and spirit