Choose happiness

I choose happiness almost every day. I say almost because, sometimes, reality is too much to bear. Some days the crushing weight of all the bad news in the world combined with bad news closer to home make ear-to-ear grinning happiness impossible.

Day-to-day irritations don’t matter

But most days I can let the day-to-day irritations fade into the background and choose to be happy. Yes, the dog ate something in the yard that didn’t agree with him – all over the rug. And gas went up another dime a gallon. And we had to deal with another unhappy customer wondering why the supply chain issues affected her order.

But those things aren’t enough to make me choose anything other than happiness. 

Think of your happiness as a muscle

Happiness is like a muscle. Use it or lose it. Now, I don’t mean the chocolate cake type of happiness. I mean the deep-down, central to my soul kind of happiness. Yes, chocolate cake will make my taste buds very happy while I’m eating it, but a half hour later it’s a memory. But the happiness I feel when I think of my family, my dogs, my health, the little plants starting to grow outside – that doesn’t go away.

You’re probably laughing to yourself, thinking, “This Fran is a nut. I can’t choose happiness like I would choose a pair of shoes!”

To which I say, “Why not?”

Take responsibility for your own happiness

Deepak Chopra, one of the leading voices in well-being, says that we should take responsibility for our own happiness. It is in our power to be happy. If we leave it to others to make us happy, we can never be happy if we’re alone. That is unacceptable to me. I’m an introvert and I like being by myself much of the time. I like to be happy, so I choose happiness for myself.

I choose happiness.
Work your happiness!

I’ve written about how that happiness comes about in the past. And many times it’s not simply, “OK. I’m happy now.” Sometimes that works, but not very often. What usually does work for me is just closing my eyes and thinking about all the great stuff I have now in my life. I disregard the not-great stuff, because some of that will always be there and there’s not a whole lot I can do about it. 

Or I put on my workout clothes and move. Exercise is a great mood-lifter. After exercise I always feel better than I did before. I not only feel happier but I feel less stressed. And after a shower I feel better still.

If you’re feeling blue, you can do something about it. Choose happiness.

Friends can help us navigate tough times

Sometimes watching the news or scrolling through our social media feeds it seems like we’re alone. Bad news everywhere, rising prices, rising interest rates, long lines, supply shortages (still!) It’s easy to get frightened, anxious and stressed and keep ruminating about all the bad things that might happen. That’s the moment you take a deep breath and call your best friend! Our friends can help us deal with the stress as well as lift us up and make us feel better. We know that friends can help us through tough workouts, but friends can help us navigate tough times too.

Friends lift us up

Our best friends lift us up by being near, and friends can help us navigate tough times.
Our best friends lift us up just by being near.

We all have a friend, or if we’re lucky more than one, friend who lights up a room and just makes us feel better by being near. That’s the friend to count on when we’re thinking those dark thoughts. That friend lifts us up emotionally just by being herself. And spending more time with that friend can help us get healthier too.

Dr. Vanessa Chang at Aurora Behavior Health Center says that friends can help us live longer. It’s been shown that people with strong relationships tend to be healthier than people without those relationships. 

Friends help us deal with stress

Friends help us deal with stress. Turning to best friends during tough times can make it easier to cope with life’s knuckleballs. “Knowing people we can count on during difficult times can lessen the burden and even make some events seem not stressful at all,” says Dr. Chang.

And having a friend we can count on can also help keep our mind sharp. A study found that lonely people are 40% more likely to develop dementia than those with solid friendships.

Time to reconnect

So, now is the time to reconnect with friends. During the pandemic you may have grown apart from friends, but now is the time to get back in touch. And despite how in-depth some conversations may seem on social media, the people you’ve “friended” on Facebook may not be the ones who will stick by you through thick and thin. If you still don’t feel comfortable meeting in person with friends, Zoom is still a great way to meet “face to face” without masks. And a free account gives you 45 minutes of uninterrupted chatting. I still “get together” with a few good friends every week over Zoom. Friends can help us navigate tough times, and these days we need all the friends we can get.

Coping with anxiety in the real world

Like it or not, these are anxious times. We’re all dealing with anxiety. From millennials to Gen-Xers to us Baby Boomers. We all have to develop our own ways of coping with anxiety in the real world – our world. Your world is different than mine, so you have to find your own way of coping with your stress and anxiety.

Techniques for coping with anxiety

But, there are techniques that we can all use to cope with our separate anxieties. 

Experts tell us to be more mindful and that will help us cope with stress. But, what does that really mean?

Be mindful

Coping with anxiety in the real world means being mindful of the things around you.
Be mindful of the things around you.

Being mindful to me is to pay attention to the things around me. Inside – to my work, my family, my dogs. And outside – to traffic and sounds, of course, but also to the trees, the birds, the people walking.

Experts will tell you about meditation, breathing exercises and other techniques as they relate to mindfulness. But, for me, if I just take a breath, and try to remember all the joy in my own life, the anxieties of the real world kind of fade. They don’t go away altogether, which is OK – after all, we do live in the real world so it has to have a presence in my life – but the stress is manageable. I’ve also talked about how exercise helps me conquer my anxiety.

What can I really do

If I’m stressing about the situation in Ukraine, then taking a moment to focus on what’s really going around me will make me realize that I can’t stop the Russian forces on my own. That moment allows me to take a step back and focus on the steps I can actually take to help the Ukrainian people.

Coping with anxiety in my real world

If I’m stressing about something closer to home, then taking that moment lets me focus on the steps I can take to solve the problem. And if I can’t solve the problem myself, that moment lets me figure out who to ask to help me.

If you’re anxious and stressed, and if you can’t tune out the world for a moment, definitely try those techniques the experts recommend. But try to just … be … for a little while.

Use your fitness routine to conquer your anxiety

I spent much of Wednesday driving to and from various errands. Driving itself is not fun these days, what with the price of gas and having more people on the streets with the better weather. I had the NewsRadio station on in between stops because there wasn’t enough time to become engrossed in a podcast or audiobook. And the news is not good. Anywhere. Rising prices, escalating war, politicians increasing the nasty factor. My anxiety certainly rose yesterday afternoon with all of that. When you’re feeling more anxious, how do you deal with it? My answer: use your fitness routine to conquer your anxiety.

Calming techniques and beyond

I’ve written about various calming techniques for stress and anxiety, and exercise has always been one method. But, let’s go a little deeper into what exactly happens when you use your fitness routine to conquer your anxiety.

Increasing my endorphins with aerobic exercise. I use my fitness routine to conquer anxiety.

Exercise, especially aerobic exercise, increases your endorphins. I am always in a better mood after my workout, and my family thanks me for that! (These days, with my anxiety soaring, if I don’t exercise I can be particularly moody and snappish.) You don’t have to run to get that “runner’s high.” 

Exercise as a stress-reliever

Experts at the Mayo Clinic also promote exercise as a stress-reliever: “Regular exercise can increase self-confidence, improve your mood, help you relax, and lower symptoms of mild depression and anxiety. Exercise can also improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression and anxiety.” Exercise can not only ease your current stress but give you a feeling of command over your body and your life. Note that It’s not a “one-and-done” thing for exercise. “Regular exercise” is key. Those experts at the Mayo agree that any form of movement will do you good – by increasing your fitness level while decreasing your stress level. But they also agree that scheduling your workouts help. I wrote about the importance of making “dates” with yourself a while ago.

Simulating “fight or flight”

When you feel stress, you may feel that “fight or flight” syndrome occurring in your own body. Exercise simulates that effect. If you’re walking or running, that’s the “flight” part. If you’re doing strength training, that simulates the “fight” part by putting your muscles under tension.

Walking meditation

Many people walk for their exercise and that’s great. Walking alone is a good form of physical exercise, but combining walking with meditation can really lower your stress. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you close your eyes and chant while you’re walking. Just be mindful of what’s happening with your body as well as being aware of your surroundings. “Practicing walking meditation regularly can help one be more connected to their body and surroundings while simultaneously making them happier and healthier,” said Dr. Jennifer Dragonette, Executive Director at Newport Institute.

You can be less stressed and anxious, if you use your fitness routine to conquer your anxiety.