By Carla Peacock, Markham Stouffville Hospital senior corporate communications specialist

Tips and resources from the mental health team at Markham Stouffville Hospital

At this time of year, people may struggle with unhappiness and loneliness which can lead to increased stress, anxiety or depression. What can we do to live a happier life? The simple answer is be more positive.

Studies have shown you can train your brain to be able to become more positive and as a result, feel happier. Sean Achor’s TED Talk called The Happy Secret to Better Work suggests that if we can raise our level of positivity, our brains experience a happiness advantage.

He recommends the following five tips to help your brain work more optimistically and successfully. Write down three new things you are grateful for each day, for 21 days in a row, and your brain will start to retain a pattern of scanning the world for the positive. Journalling about one positive experience you’ve had over the past 24 hours (no matter how small) allows your brain to relive it. Exercise regularly. Meditate to allow your brain to work through the pressure to constantly multitask and focus on the task at hand to be in the present moment. Perform acts of kindness. Even something as small as sending a positive email or text message to someone in your support network can have the effect of making you feel more positive and happy.

How can we nurture healthy relationships?

Needing other people in our lives is part of what makes us human and studies show healthy relationships keep us happier and healthier throughout our lifespan. Developing and nurturing healthy relationships are important life skills. Consider the following suggestions:

  1. When you’re putting yourself out there and meeting new people, it can help to remember that the people you’re meeting may feel nervous too.
  2. While it’s important to work out the big problems in our relationships when they come up, it’s even more important to take good care of our relationships on an ongoing basis – like regular tune-ups!
  3. Balance in relationships is also important, trying to have a balance of enjoyable activities as well as tasks and responsibilities.
  4. Be aware of your communication style – there are many challenges in relationships when we are not communicating in a helpful way. Work on expressing your thoughts, feelings and opinions in a clear, honest and respectful way.
  5. People notice when we’re more present and engaged with them. So pay attention and listen to what your friend has to say, making sure you’re not also checking your phone or looking at the TV which may send messages to your friend that you’re not paying attention or don’t really care about what they have to say. Try to bring mindfulness to your interactions with loved ones and new acquaintances as often as you can.

How can we improve and maintain emotional health?

It’s just as important to maintain your emotional health as your physical health.  In Guy Winch’s Why we all need to practice emotional first aid TED Talk, he suggests that people can heal emotional wounds and build emotional resilience with the following tips:

  1. Take action when you’re lonely – connect with someone.
  2. Change responses to failure – do not believe you can’t succeed.
  3. Protect your self-esteem – after a rejection, the first thing you need to do is revive your self-esteem.
  4. Battle negative thinking – a two-minute distraction can stop you from ruminating over a negative thought.

With a little effort, positive thinking and a bit more focus on nurturing healthy relationships, it is possible to train your brain to cultivate happiness. If you feel overwhelmed and need help, ask for it from your support network or your doctor.