Opinion and Editorial

Simple pleasures can help you best stress

Susan Biali Haas
Filed on June 25, 2020

These are tough times for us all. We've been dealing with the reality of the coronavirus for months now. Every time I look at the news headlines and accompanying photos, I feel like we're moving through some bizarre, apocalyptic sci-fi dream. Yet it's all much too real.
I've been through some pretty tough times in the past, including seasons of depression and anxiety that occurred during my intense medical training. For a long time, I've been fascinated (obsessed?) with understanding how we can support and even heal our brains, our hearts and ourselves during difficult times.
Those times when you don't know how you're going to keep going. Times when your mood and thoughts become downcast and excessively negative. Those times when it's hard to believe that things could ever get better.
One thing I've found to be really helpful, which I use often in my clinical work in mental health, is to encourage people to have a go-to list of simple things that give them life. Anything that makes you feel better. Know what those things are.
There's a catch though: these have to be things that you won't regret. The last thing you want is to heap guilt or shame on yourself, when you're already struggling. Fundamentally, the best choices in tough times are the ones that give you life. That leave you better off, not worse.
What is on that list for you?
Unfortunately, you probably have some constraints on your life right now. These may be because of physical distancing mandates, or your current living situation, or your current financial situation. Don't make a list of things that you love but can't do, right now. Your list must have things that are easily accessible, at this very moment in your life.
A sampling of guilt-free mood boosting strategies I've heard from patients and clients in recent days:
. Sitting outside (on a balcony or patio, or in a park; alone, or with someone you enjoy, with appropriate safety measures if they apply)
. Reading a good book or e-book
. Cuddling with a cat or cats (I'm not a cat person but I hear this one so often, it had to make the list!)
. Praying
. Playing an instrument
. Writing in a journal
. Listening to a great podcast or audiobook while walking, doing chores or relaxing
. Enjoying your favourite music
. Playing a fun video game (with boundaries around time spent)
Again, what would be on your list? Write them down. At least five things.
Know how to support your mood and brain through simple measures that really work for you. It's important.
With the constant stress of the pandemic swirling around us, piled onto the other challenges of life, our brains really need this type of positive input. Doing pleasurable, healthy things can give us a much-needed boost of positive neurotransmitters. We need this positive stimulation when there is so much around that's so negative and upsetting.
Of course, if you're really struggling, I always recommend that you make use of any counseling support that may be available to you.
If you can't access a professional counselor, know who the wise, kind or fun people in your life are. The ones that listen to you and almost always make you feel better.
They should probably be on your list, too!

Susan Biali Haas is a physician who speaks and writes about stress reduction, burnout prevention, mental health, wellness, and resilience. -Psychology Today

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