The stress of feeling unable to protect my kids, destroyed me- physically and mentally.
A sudden drop in blood pressure, nerve cells misfiring, then dark. For a year, I felt like I was on a boat, tossed around by a violent sea. A whirlwind of brain scans, and heart monitors. Off balanced, I leaned on walls for support.
They said there was no cure, for Vestibular Migraines, and I believed them.
Hiding my tears under blankets in the dark, I drafted my will, wishing I could have given my kids a happy life.
Then everything changed. I heard my daughters sweet little voice say: “Mommy you can choose to be happy”.
It reminded me so much of what Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search of Meaning, “how everything can be taken from us but the last of human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
I wondered if it could be that simple, but realized I had nothing to lose and would never know, unless I chose to try.
So, with every little bit of strength I had, I picked myself up and dove into the research on happiness, and here is how I was able to push myself from darkness to light.
- I CHOSE TO LOWER MY STRESS
First I cut back on the stressful content I was allowing into my life. Starting with the News. I realized even my Facebook and Instagram feeds were packed with upsetting updates about everything going on in the world, so I made the choice to disconnect from all emotionally triggering sources.
2. I CHOSE TO CHANGE MY THOUGHTS
We can train ourselves to think differently. The words we are surrounded by often influence our thoughts and minds. Even on a subconscious level. I replaced the time I used to spend filling my mind with bad news and Facebook groups, with uplifting happy songs, inspiring podcasts, and reading stories and self help books about personal growth to try to keep my thoughts more positive.
Studies have shown that positive affirmations, and other practices such as mindfulness and meditation can actually re-wire and restructure the brain. It sounds impossible, but this is scientifically confirmed with fMRI or EEG technology. So as cheesy as this sounds, I started saying “I am happy, I feel amazing, life is good” (even when I did not believe any of it to be true).
3. I CHOSE TO SMILE
I realized it would upset me when people would ask me what was wrong, and it dawned on me that they were asking me this because my emotions were written all over my face. So I wondered if this would all change if I started to SMILE. But smiling felt impossible. I was anxious and depressed and in the moment had no desire to smile, I honestly could not even understand how to smile anymore. I actually did a google search on “how to smile more” and the first thing it said was “just to start smiling.” At first, I felt like a fraud, I thought people would notice that my smile was fake, I felt so stupid doing this… but scientifically, facial expressions are linked to biochemical feedback which has an impact on our feelings. So at first I was faking a smile, but then after a couple days of doing this, and my cheeks getting sore, I noticed I was beginning to smile naturally! And they are contagious! I noticed the more I smiled, the more my kids smiled!
4. I CHOSE TO BETTER MANAGE MY TIME
I decided I needed to manage my time better so I could have some time to myself. But how would that be possible when I was woken up every day by my crying son, and I’d fall asleep reading stories to my daughter who refused to go to bed. There was never a moment in the day that I could even be alone with my thoughts, I was being climbed on when trying to use the bathroom! I was spread thin and overwhelmed. I felt like I needed help, but with the Pandemic, we were completely on our own. And so, I started working with a parenting coach (over Zoom) who helped me realize that my kids could go to bed a lot earlier.
And so, I hired a sleep consultant. That was a game changer. All of a sudden, my kids were in bed and asleep by 7:30pm, which meant I had time for me!
5. I CHOSE TO GET MORE SLEEP
In their research, Alan Krueger and Daniel Kahneman found a connection between sleep and happiness. Neuroscientists found a link between negative mood and sleep deprivation, and a recent Gallup poll showed that people who got enough sleep were more likely to rate their lives as happier. Scientists at the University of Warwick in the UK discovered that better sleep quality can make people feel as happy as winning the lottery! I noticed a major decrease in tantrums after I got my kids to bed by 7:30pm every night. I also noticed I felt so much more alive on the days I got at least 7 hours of sleep.
And once I had time to myself, I realized, I needed to spend more time doing things that light me up.
6. I CHOSE TO DO THINGS I ENJOY
I thought hard- trying to remember what it was throughout my life that ever brought me joy. And I remembered I used to LOVE being around horses, and roller skating. Two things I had not done in years. I found a local farm where I could take my kids to go feed horses carrots, and even though I was still so dizzy, I went into my closet and got out my old pair of rollerskates. I put on the movie Whip It, (about a girl who joins a Roller Derby team), and I laid on the bed with my skates on, remembering all the times I used to skate! I didn’t even stand up in my skates, but the mere act of just lacing them up on my feet, made me start to feel like myself again.
And then something crazy happened. This might have been the biggest shift for me.
You know how Olympic athletes use visualization to imagine themselves running their race because it’s known to actually improve their performance? Well I started doing that. While I could barely even walk or stand without holding on to the walls for support, every day, I put my skates on, and imagined myself skating. I envisioned myself going off ramps, and down hills and doing all kinds of crazy jumps and turns, feeling alive. Eventually I mustered up the courage to stand up and skate across the room. And I realized while I can’t stop the waves of dizziness, I could learn to skate through them. And I did the same thing for dancing. I put on uplifting pop music and sang and danced it out with my kids like we were on stage at a karaoke dive bar. And like a miracle, the dizziness was gone!
Giggling, we paraded around with kazoos, throwing paint and glitter, celebrating life. I laughed hard as I fell in the moon-bounce, realizing I would no longer let my fear of falling keep me from living my life.
Whatever it is that you enjoy, do it. Even if it’s 5 minutes a day, or you think it’s really silly. Do it. Doing what you love can transform you into feeling like yourself again.
7. I CHOSE TO EAT NUTRIENT RICH FOODS
In an effort to boost my own joy, I decided to be a little more mindful about what I was putting into my body because I realized that the food we eat, affects how we think and feel. I replaced my morning bagel with a fresh green juice and wow did I feel more alive and focused throughout the day. I did my best to limit sugar, fried and processed foods and try to focus on consuming nutrient rich organic food. The Journal of World Psychiatry revealed an Antidepressant Food Scale which showed which foods have the most dense sources of nutrients and are known to play a role in the prevention and recovery from depressive disorders. Watercress topped the list scoring 127% so I planted a bunch of it and I make it a point to eat a handful of watercress every day.
8. I CHOSE TO DRINK MORE WATER
Studies have also shown that the greater the water consumption, the better the mood. On the flip side, low water intake leads to worse moods, headaches, confusion, weakness, and tiredness. So I did my best to make sure I am drinking enough water every day. Something I surely was not doing before.
9. I CHOSE TO EXERCISE
When you exercise, your body releases endorphins which increase positive mood. According to research, people who work out even once a week, or for as little as 10 minutes a day, tend to be more cheerful than those who never exercise. I absolutely feel less cranky, more relaxed, and sometimes really happy after even 10 minutes of exercise. So I started making it a point to dance and skate and I even got myself a bike and started going on walks.
10. I CHOSE TO PRACTICE GRATITUDE
In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. And so, every night when I’m putting my kids to bed, we make up songs about all the things were thankful for. I also write about what I’m grateful for in my gratitude journal.
11. I CHOSE TO SPEND MORE TIME OUTSIDE
I decided to spend more time in nature, barefoot in the grass, running through the waves, connecting with the surface of the earth, soaking in the sunshine (vitamin D) and getting fresh air.
12. I CHOSE TO DO IT NOW
Life is short, use the good stuff! I know were all home and the world is closed, but wear that dress you’ve been saving, put on that expensive jewelry! Get dressed up and have a dance party in your bedroom.
I never used our fancy dishes. Wrapped and stored away, I was saving them. I was worried they would break. My daughter saw them once when we were unpacking them, and she so badly wanted to touch the delicate little flower covered porcelain cups, but I would not let her, because I was so worried, they would break.
She loves tea parties, so one night I had this crazy idea that if I let her drink out of them, she’d really be so happy.
And so that night, I told her I had a surprise for her in the kitchen.
We sat on the floor with her dolls, and I poured her a little chocolate milk in our fancy china tea cups.
She couldn’t believe it. With the biggest smile in the world, she asked me if she was dreaming. And that’s how our good night tea party tradition started.
Turns out, my daughter was right. I could choose to be happy. It’s now a choice I make every single day. And the most incredible part is that I noticed that as I found my joy, my kids also boosted theirs. Even while we are surrounded by so much darkness, these choices enable us to be happy.
Before the pandemic, The World Happiness report said, over 220 million children, and 1 billion adults suffered from anxiety and depression.
I felt compelled to share my story because I want people to know they’re not alone, and that there is hope.
It feels wrong to strive for joy, in dark times, but we need to, if not for ourselves, then for those who need us.
Go to www.YouCanChooseToBeHappy.com to grab my FREE step-by-step framework to naturally lower stress, overcome anxiety and depression, and learn how to create lasting fulfilment and a meaningful life. It is for anyone, but I made it so simple that even a burnt-out mom with zero time to herself could to it.