What a challenging year it has been so far – and it’s not over yet as the future still appears uncertain. As we go deeper into the Winter months, the days are shorter, and we have less sunshine and warmth to elevate our mood. This is a time when self-care is not a luxury but a priority as we can so easily find ourselves sinking into low energy and mood unless we make conscious choices that enable us to stay well and optimistic.
Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, physiologist and sleep expert, explores how everyone can maximise their wellbeing and mental health by looking at all aspects of their lifestyle. By taking charge of lifestyle choices and noticing the good in life we can all enjoy a positive mindset as we enter 2021.
But how do we do this? Dr Nerina Ramlakhan would like to recommend a toolkit that is based on her own personal practice as well as the advice that she has been giving to thousands of people throughout the pandemic.
In her first book Tired but Wired (Souvenir Press Ltd, 2010) I refer to an ARC of change:
Firstly, we must hone our self-awareness. Take time every morning before you start your day to check in before moving out into your day. Ask yourself ‘How am I feeling right now? ‘
Doing this first thing in the day , rather than reaching for your phone and getting caught up in the news, social media or your inbox, enables you to stand in the centre of your life, to take responsibility for yourself. This gives you response-ability, the ability to respond and to make choices based on how you are feeling in the present moment.
As a result of checking in with yourself in this way, you may choose to eat something nourishing rather than reaching for a cup of coffee. You might choose to go for a brisk walk to lift your spirits before diving into your inbox. You might choose to listen to a motivational podcast instead of the news.
Let’s use these challenging times to evolve, to become more conscious human beings so that we can go into 2021 thriving rather than limping along in survival mode. One really powerful way in which we can move towards thriving is by choosing to notice and be grateful for what is good about our lives right now. Yes, there is a lot of difficult and fear-provoking stuff going on right now but there’s also so much good – if we choose to notice it. The problem is our brains aren’t so efficiently wired to notice what is positive – the negativity bias of the brain means that we preferentially notice and retain memories of negative events. This is a primitive survival mechanism that keeps us stuck in a cave of fear and anxiety. However, we can challenge ourselves to develop a positivity bias by regularly choosing to notice what’s going well in our world. The unexpected and non-forecasted rays of sunshine, the smile from a passing stranger, the unconditional love of a pet, a moment to sit and savour a delicious cup of tea, being in the safety and comfort of our homes. When we grow and develop the positivity bias of our brain, we start to produce more of the hormones that enable us to feel well – serotonin, the mood hormone, and oxytocin, the love and trust hormone.
Finally, in these lonely times of virtual interaction, let us take the time to slow down and truly relate to each other. Take a risk and smile at passers-by in the street – even if we’re wearing masks we don’t have to hide behind them. Slow down and take the time to connect – truly connect – with others. Ask them how they are and listen to their answers. Be open to sharing in ways you haven’t before and be prepared to be pleasantly surprised by the depth of the ensuing connection.
This is when we are on the path to thriving.