Don’t worry be happy, seems to be the apt mantra right now
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Taking joy in the little things is the way to get through each day, says Christine Webber
The other day, a very capable and intelligent woman I know posted a distressed Tweet saying that she felt she was living in a world she could no longer understand.
Yesterday, a friend told me that she was reading a novel set after the complete collapse of civilisation as we know it. She said: 'This feels far too close for comfort now.'
At the hairdresser the other morning, everyone was talking about Covid-19, and you could feel an uneasy tension in the room.
It's natural to be anxious about the changes that are happening around us - Brexit negotiations, global warming, population movement, viruses, public services under unprecedented pressure, to name just a few. If you're anything like me, you probably look back at the buoyant nation we appeared to be at the London Olympics in 2012 and wonder why things are so different now.
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So, these are tough times, and much of what is going on is beyond our control. But what we need to remember is that we have more control than we think over our own well-being and our own moods. Perhaps then, this is a good time to prioritise our physical and mental health.
We're being bombarded by advice on handwashing, which obviously we should follow. Also, many of us keep meaning to get more exercise, or to eat more healthily. So why not make a start on that now? Tackling a task that we've been putting off, but which we know is good for us, is remarkably cheering!
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But my best suggestion is that we put effort into feeling more content and optimistic.
Now, you might ask what there is to be optimistic about. But anyone who has had a serious illness, or lost a close friend or partner, knows that in the midst of sorrow and turmoil there are always lighter moments that help us feel better about the situation. If we're wise, we focus on them. We hold onto them. They remind us that life goes on.
The fact is that people who are optimistic get through life easier. They tend not to succumb to so many illnesses, they respond to life's challenges with energy rather than hopelessness, they have more friends, and they feel grateful about the good things in their lives and refuse to dwell on what goes wrong.
Now, I'd be the first to agree that some of us are born more sunny-natured than others. You have only to look at a family of several children, to see that siblings who are of a similar age, and who have the same parents, can differ wildly in their moods and behaviour.
Unfortunately, some individuals seem to have a default setting of pessimism. If this applies to you, then I'm sorry to say that you have a bigger hurdle to jump than someone who is a 'glass half-full' sort of person. But, from my 20-year experience as a psychotherapist, I can assure you that everyone can learn to elevate their natural mood to some extent. It may not be by much. But every little helps.
Research has shown that just as you can train your body to walk or run faster, or to learn a dance routine, or to play a better game of tennis, you can also train your thoughts and your emotions to be more positive.
A good way to start is by establishing a routine where, every evening, you reflect on what has gone right with the previous 24 hours, rather than what went badly. Even better, write down five good moments from your day - this makes those moments stick in your mind more effectively and gives you a record, as the weeks go by, of everything that has lightened your heart or brought a smile to your lips.
A typical list might be:
I had a good laugh on the phone with a friend
I was pleased we had a sunny morning
My granddaughter sent a card saying 'I love you, Granny'
I took the dog for a long walk
My neighbour baked a cake and invited me to share it.
Recognising when you're happy and contented is the first step to becoming a more optimistic person.
The next stage is to consciously build more mood-boosters into your week, and to notice the positive thoughts and feelings that you experience when you do so.
I know that I feel more optimistic if I listen to music, have a meal with friends, walk by the sea, watch a comedy like Miranda or Black Books, or have a phone chat with my stepsons.
So, have a think about what your own guaranteed feel-good activities are, do more of them, and make sure you notice the joy that they bring you.
By caring for yourself, and building awareness of your own happiness, you'll feel less anxious about whatever life throws at you - and be better able to cope with it.