While quite chilly and a bit grey outside, the promise of warm spring days is in the air – Finally! We had thirteen snowfalls ranking winter 2014 as the third most intensive winter on record in the Philadelphia area.
It was a hard winter for most of us – Difficult to endure. Many people were exhausted, negative minded, irritable, short tempered – impatient, and just not motivated to do much of anything. It is interesting, however, that when nature’s clock ticks to mid to late March that, despite the continued cold, that attitudes change and moods brighten as something deep within shifts making way for a new season. Crocus bloom through snow, daffodils sprout, tuffs of green from underground perennials start to surface, the ground thaws and the smell of soil more poignant. Somehow, although chilly the feel of a thick wool sweater may not feel so comfortable anymore, either. An inner feeling of lightness and energy ignites from inside of ourselves.
Being that we were through the proverbial mill last season, maybe it is even more important to embrace this spring season as fully as possible in the interest of health and well-being – To come out from hibernation, into the fresh air and sunshine and take that big stretch. Essentially, to come to our senses- our five senses in order to reconnect with ourselves and the world around us after being internal for the past months.
There are many things we can do to improve our energy, health and sense of well-being. This starts with helping our bodies and minds ease into the spring season and be soothed and cared for after a long winter we just endured. Opportunities to create more positive emotions are right in front of us – and include what is readily available in our environment.
Our Environment as a Source of Soothing and Calm
It is so easy to be distracted, disconnected and anxious – not being aware of the moment and what is going on – To miss the beauty around us – The hint of spring green on the countryside, the smell of the earth, the flower that just bloomed outside the front door. We can miss these events as we rush out the door with coffee in hand or overthinking about what needs to be done or what will be said. Being in the moment and connected to “what is” is so important to our health and mental health. This is our connection to reality and our source of energy. Being in the moment is the platform of everything we think, feel, do and experience.
Have you noticed?
- What has changed in the past week; day;
- The smell and feel of the air;
- The plants that may have sprouted;
- How you feel in response to more sunlight; and
- Change in your energy, and outlook?
If the answer is “no” to some, most or all of these questions, it is time to build awareness and the skill of focus. Without being aware of the moment and how one moment unfolds into the next moment; it is impossible to think positive, well and in true control of ourselves and our lives.
Lack of awareness and the ability to focus invites confusion and overwhelm. Overwhelm sets the stage for anxiety. Prolonged anxiety is draining and can lead to depression and negativity. All of this can lead to becoming more vulnerable to overwhelming and negative emotions.
Learning to be at the moment and to notice the beauty around us can serve as a bit of a mini-vacation. That is to make sure that the simple pleasures and beauty available to us is taken in.
Imagine a little vacation every day!
Notice where you are and what is going on around you. Take time to “smell the roses.” Notice the rhythm of nature and how each small event is connected to the next -Everything being perfectly aligned and precise. We are part of it!
“Just in time” Ways to Increase Awareness and Positive Emotions
Some of the things that my clients have done for themselves to help anchor themselves in the moment and to enjoy those moments in the warmer weather, include:
- Getting up 15 minutes earlier to make time to go outside in the morning and check out the weather, the sights and sounds – birds singing, breathe, meditate and enjoy breakfast or morning coffee outside.
- Buy themselves a bouquet of spring flowers and arrange them and putting them where they can enjoy them, whether in their office or at home.
- Change the candles in their house, replacing the winter candles for those with spring color and or scent. Build in a bit of aromatherapy.
- Put a spring wreath on the door signifying the change of the season.
- Open the windows and air out the house for a while – Even if it is cold.
- Start taking time during the work day to get outside, even for a few minutes to get some air and reorient.
- Tend to the garden. Plant a few herbs or plants of your choosing. Nurture them.
- Changing up food choices and building more fresh vegetables and fruits in their daily diet.
- Making time for a walk each day.
These quick and timely rituals can help us get out of our heads and into our lives. To introduce, color, smell, freshness, taste, vitality and sound to help the mind calm and focus in a natural and healthy way, bringing pleasure and contentment to the day. Also, at the end of the day to reflect back and feel these experiences once again before going to sleep each night.
Setting the Stage for Positive Feelings in the Future
It is easy to live our lives based on short term planning and just getting through immediate challenges and obligations. However, when it comes to having more fulfillment, contentment and being more positive minded, that requires a bit of longer term planning. Essentially, thinking through “How do I want to feel about myself after…?”
In this early phase of spring, perhaps there are some experiences that you want to have over the months to come and things that you would like to complete or achieve that can benefit from some reflection and planning to make sure that time does not pass you by.
- a trip that you would like to take or a place that you would like to see;
- routine or ritual that you want to build into your warm weather schedule;
- health goal that you have to exercise, eat better or see friends more routinely; or
- something else that is important to you that you would like to get to?
The thoughts and decisions we are making in each moment are impacting our future. All of these decisions is adding up to hope we feel about ourselves, too. Taking a bit of time to think through how we are setting things up (or leaving them to “fate”) is directly connected to outcomes and the emotions that we are going to experience in the future. Doing something (preferably small) each day in the interest of our future feelings and self-esteem is as important as brushing our teeth. It is good hygiene.
So, committing to walking with a friend twice per week, food shopping on Sundays, joining that produce co-op, booking the hiking trip, joining the bird-watching group, taking that writing class, etc., are all a product of longer-term planning that organizes a life and reinforces positive emotions that support mental health and well-being!
Enjoy! Also, again, happy spring!
Tips and Tools
Creating Positive Emotions
Most of us want to be happy and contented and often marvel at people who are and wonder why things don’t seem to bother them as much.
In the article above we looked at ways to bring in the season of spring and to build in rituals to aid us in transitions and celebrate to goodness that has arrived.
Follow these steps to start to get on the path to becoming more positive minded and to feel better. Develop new daily habits to feel better every day:
- Take the positivity ratio test at http://www.positivityratio.com/single.php to see how you average in terms of having positive emotions. To identify the sources of both your positive and negative emotions track yourself for two to three weeks.
- Increase your positive emotions:
- Stay in the present moment – remain mindful (http://mindfulnet.org/page2.htm).
- Savor the good things that happen in your day. Reflect on them and take them in deeply.
- Veer towards being more kind to others; be of help and smile.
- Be a gracious receiver of the kindness’ of others.
- Listen more closely to others – pay attention.
- Focus on your person strengths and the choose people and activities which highlight and make use of them.
- Decrease your negativity:
- Identify and eliminate negative thinking that is not appropriate or useful.
- Dispute negative thinking. “Is this really true?”
- Avoid situations (people, environments, etc.) which bring you down and trigger negative thinking.
In behavior therapy we aim to build skills to counter unwarranted negativity and build more competence and positive emotions. Negative emotions are part of life and have a purpose. They inform us of things that may not be right for us or present a form of danger. However, sometimes negativity can be like a runaway train. They can erode at our health and well- being.
Barbara Fredrickson suggests that positive emotions make us more resilient to setbacks, improve our relationships, and may even change our biological makeup.
Watch her video on the biological basis of positivity. Learn how our thoughts really do shape our health and quality of life.
Dr. Fredrickson’s website is http://www.positivityratio.com/.
West Chester University will be holding their annual health conference April 11-12, 2014. The topic is Innovations and Strategies in Pain Management.
The conference is for both patients/ consumers and healthcare providers.
Guest speaker Dr. David Patterson from the University of Washington School of Medicine, will kick off the conference with a keynote address that examines the “Power of the Brain Over Pain.” Dr. Patterson will discuss his extensive work in the area of chronic pain management and a “biopsychosocial” approach.
Contact Amanda Blue – ABlue@wcupa.edu with questions.