Despite the ideal that this time of the year is happy and joyful, the reality is that the holidays can be incredibly stressful for many of us. If you also pay attention to current events in the U.S. and around the world, the constant exposure to tragedies and negativity can make it even more difficult to be in the holiday spirit. Watching the news can leave you thinking, “What the hell is wrong with people?!” You might find yourself depressed, focusing on the negative, and walking around with a cranky disposition like this guy. Maybe you will start to think people are so awful that you will even be tempted to retreat from civilization like this other guy.
Lately, I have noticed a trend towards negativity in myself as well as some of the people I know. Because of what I have learned about neuroscience, this concerns me, so I’m switching into personal trainer mode for this post to give you a reminder to take care of yourself and your brain.
Nobody likes being stressed out and bummed out, but on top of that it doesn’t help anything. Whether you are stressing about all the bad things happening in the world or something going on in your own life, you probably know that excessive stress is bad for you, and if it is making you cranky and irritable your stress is bad for everyone around you too! What you may not realize is that the brain already has a negativity bias and by constantly focusing on negative things you can actually exacerbate this bias, wiring your brain to be more negative and anxious, even changing your DNA. It’s called experience-dependent neuroplasticity, and it works in reverse as well. Positive images, experiences, and thoughts can rewire your brain for the better. If you are going to fight for liberty and a better world, you can’t let yourself be dragged down.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist, best-selling author, and a Senior Fellow at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkely. He claims that rewiring your brain for the better requires positive experiences, and enriching and absorbing those experiences. If you are feeling tense, anxious, or irritable, it’s time to take a break, take care of yourself, and give your brain some positive experiences. Even though you might never be quite as positive and joyful as this guy, you can reduce stress and improve your life and the lives of those around you by balancing the negativity you encounter with these tips.
Take time to laugh – After too much time spent watching the news and being reminded of all the hate and ignorance in the world that hit a little too close to home, I found myself in a very unpleasant mood. My sister added a little humor to my day by playfully making fun of me, causing me to laugh out loud. I instantly felt less depressed and irritable. Laughing is good for you and fortunately, it’s contagious.
Notice and seek out the good– Personally, I like to watch The Ellen Show to remind myself of the positivity in the world. Sometimes I also like to check out some of the stories of cases won by the Institute for Justice. Whatever it is that warms your heart and keeps you calm while reminding you that the world is not all bad, take time to notice it and even seek it out in your daily life.
Do a workout – I know many people don’t consider exercise a “positive experience.” However, we all know that exercise is good for us. Being active even reduces stress. Exercise doesn’t have to be a thing of dread for you. If you want to increase your chances of sticking with regular exercise and make it a more positive experience, find something you enjoy. There are lots of options. Check out these unique gyms and unusual fitness classes. If budget or time constraints prevent you from trying some of these options, check out some of the workout plans at Shape.com, try some of the workout options on YouTube, or just jump rope or dance to your favorite music! If your version of enjoyable exercise is twerking to a Taylor Swift song, go for it! I’m laughing with you not at you! Laughing is good for you, remember? The point is to move and have fun. Even if you don’t have much time, just a little bit of exercise can help reset your mood.
Do something nice for someone else – If you get stressed about bad things in the world that are outside of your control, it can be tempting to become apathetic. However, There is always something you can do to improve someone’s life. Donating to a great organization, helping someone you know, leaving a bigger tip than necessary, or just giving a compliment can go a long way to improving the lives of people around you. Here’s an idea I like to use. If you see a customer being rude to service personnel, stick up for that person. Even if you don’t confront the person who is being an ass-hole directly, you can quietly say a word of encouragement to the person who took the brunt of the rudeness and even leave that person an extra tip. If we all just pay more attention to the people around us, there are many opportunities to make a difference.
Go outside – Spending time outside is another great way to reduce your stress. If you live in a place that is cold during this time of the year, it can be harder to spend time outdoors. However, due to the risk of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), this is the most important time to make sure you get sunlight. Take your workout outside, go hiking, or if you have snow, go play in it!
Listen to music and sing – Whether you like to get up and belt it out at karaoke, sing in the care or the shower, or crank up your favorite music while you cook dinner or exercise, music can help you manage stress and improve your mood.
Spend time with people you love – Social support is important for combating stress. Be sure you take time for family, friends, and romantic partners. Even better, you can do any of the activities on this list with someone else to increase the benefits!
I hope this will remind you of the importance of taking time to focus on the good, HAVE FUN, take care of yourself, and enjoy time with the people you love! Have a wonderful holiday season, and a fabulous 2015!