Pamela D. Garcy Ph.D.

Fearless You

10 Ways to Lighten Up When You Face a Chronic Problem

Lightening up can help your perspective improve during times of serious stress.

Posted Apr 03, 2018

Morning meditation– stock image/purchased from Deposit Photos
Nature's best medicine, laughter, can come unexpectedly or deliberately--learn to foster this happy way of lightening up!
Source: Morning meditation– stock image/purchased from Deposit Photos

If you've been facing a chronic challenge, you may feel like you're losing your perspective.  It might be hard to feel hopeful, and the more you come into contact with the challenge, the worse things can feel.

In the wrong context, being told to "lighten up" can feel invalidating.  At other times, in contrast, you might intuitively know that a shift in perspective will help you cope.  

Here are ten ideas to help you to take a break from the heaviness of your problems:

1. Tell yourself to stop taking it so seriously. If you can’t tell yourself, imagine a wise and loving family member, friend, or mentor who might gently offer this advice to you.  Just the reminder can help you find a bit of respite and ease.
2. Focus on the temporary nature of life. Remember that, as Gandhi said, the one true constant is change.  There are at least aspects of this problem that are going to change, and that suggests that at least some elements of it may change for the better.
3. Optimistically visualize a time after the problem. Think about other problems that you’ve survived and times when you’ve found an unexpected solution.  Adopt an optimistic attitude that you’ll find a way to cope with or improve the current situation.
4. Meditatively, recall a pleasant time before the problem. Spend some time breathing with your eyes closed, remembering a time of peace, tranquility and joy.  Recollecting such times may have beneficial effects on your mood, even if only for the short term.
5. Don’t try to fix or solve it. If you’re preoccupied constantly with the problem, sometimes refraining from trying to solve or fix it will give your brain a much needed rest from the stress hormones which flood it (like cortisol), leading you to settle yourself, and ultimately find greater clarity. Creative ideas tend to occur to us when we're relaxed.  Remember to also take a break from your cell phone--such breaks have benefits to your overall productivity.
6. Laugh at something. Anything. Your sense of humor can not only help you retain perspective, but it  might also stimulate your brain to feel happier (through your vagus and through the release of happy neurotransmitters).  From comedy to laughter yoga, there's no restriction on what you can do to invoke what's been called nature's "best medicine." What's led to laughter in the past?  Do that now!
7. Notice the beneficial skills you’re developing due to the problem. While it's no fun to face adversity, when you use the difficulty as an opportunity to grow, you will find that you develop skills and awareness that weren’t there before.  Perhaps you’re becoming more present, more mindful, more compassionate to others, or kinder to yourself.
8. Spend time with friends who set your mind free. Friends and supportive others can help you to retain a sense of perspective during times of chronic stress, acting as a stress buffer between you and the harsh realities you might be facing.  Even getting a hug can help you reduce stress and lighten up!
9. Have some fun. Take a walk through nature, see a film, cook a new recipe, listen to happy music, or do something playful!  This is especially nice if you engage in something pleasurable that you've not done for a while.   This is also partly employed by Cognitive Behavioral Therapists, who often recommend increasing activities which promote mastery (a sense of accomplishment) and pleasure (a sense of joy) in order to improve mood.
10. Take care of yourself even more. Meditate, nap, get a massage, take a bubble bath, exercise, stretch or spend some time reading something inspiring. 

References

University of Turku. (2017, June 1). Social laughter releases endorphins in the brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 3, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170601124121.htm

Carnegie Mellon University. (2014, December 17). Hugs help protect against stress, infection, say researchers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 2, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/12/141217101316.htm

Kansas State University. "Taking a short smartphone break improves employee well-being, research finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 July 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140707121343.htm>.