Prior to 2020, life was plenty challenging enough, but after? As soon as we entered this new and momentous decade, 2020 took the reins, told us to reach for the sky, and it doesn’t look like its going to stop terrorizing us anytime soon.
After months of isolation and contemplation, as well as witnessing what’s been going on, I wanted to share six things that have helped me change my mood and take control of my feelings in this crazy world.
[Grab a cuppa tea and settle in to read and watch. This is your homework today.]
Turn off the news
I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP) which means I’ve had to learn to live in The Age of Information and Whole Lotta Noise. I’ve had to create boundaries around mass media consumption.
But I’ve also had arguments on why you should stay informed versus why you shouldn’t. This moves us into personal values territory, so it bears taking a moment to reflect on why we watch the news.
There have been periods of my life where I’ve done research around current events and times when I had no idea what was going on. Just recently, I was reading everything it seemed on COVID-19 and honestly, looking back, a once a week update would have been enough. If anything, I could make the argument that more damage has been done between us and science and governments because of the news’ constant barrage of insignificant, contradictory, and redundant information.
[This short video is great. He has some zingers like “news is to the brain what sugar is to the body”, “news gives you the illusion that you are understanding and that illusion is dangerous”, and “the more news you consume, the less you understand the world”.]
But that TED talk was years ago, right? so here’s a article from this year, where Rolf Dobelli throws in even more delicious zingers and talks in-depth about the value of rethinking how you stay informed. [Read to the end about what journalist have to do these days. I had no idea.]
What do you value?
I wrote about my values back in 2018, and I’ve written a more specific post about this, but I wanted to publish this first. Plus, you don’t need me to share mine to start thinking about this question because it can help prioritize your time and energy.
Because if you value kindness, courage, adventure that’s going to help you decide what’s important.
Here’s a Lifehack article to get you started. “Values are what you believe matter most in life. Everyone’s values are different. Some common values are love, success, friendship, intelligence, and respect.”
[And these days, the news often (unconsciously?) tells you what their values are and assumes you hold the same. It’s what couples unknowingly fight about, what causes conflict between parents and children. It’s this invisible set of assumptions that are worth exploring.]
Listen to music
This is the one I use all the time, and it has the quickest effect. It’s part of my morning routine, my meditation, when I’m at my desk (which is often), when I’m exercising, cooking, and part of my evening routine too. Don’t get me wrong, I love silence and quiet, but when I’m “doing other stuff” I like instrumentals to give me strength, focus, and lift my mood.
A friend of mine posted on FB that she was depressed and needed a song to help her. I don’t know what everyone shared, but I told her to listen to Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees. How could anyone stay sad during such awesomeness is beyond me, but her post is actually a great excuse to get a fun song list together for when you need it.
Consider some of the scientific benefits of listening to music:
- it improves your mood and reduces stress
- boosts brain chemicals
- can make you more productive and creative
- can alleviate symptoms of mental disorders
- and help you to be a more prosocial person
Get metaphysical, get smart
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the decline of organized religion and their related communities coincides with the great rise of extremism and conspiracy “theories”. Humans, it seems, need something to believe in, a framework or system to help them navigate life.
I was raised Christian and Buddhist and took a World Religion class in order to find one. Seriously. I’m not ashamed to admit that I need help, guidance, some answers, damn it, and I don’t mind reading around for something that works. I think this is why I’m attracted to philosophy.
Besides being ideal, I’m also practical, and that’s why I like stoicism so much.
The understanding that there are things in my control and outside of it seems so obvious, and yet how many times have I gotten upset over things that are not in my control? Living in Thailand, especially after all this time, can be really challenging because Thai culture is so different than American. But if I can remember the dichotomy of control, then I can greet traffic, lack of personal space, and so on with much more sanity.
Go dark (or get out of your head)
Another strategy that I have employed is to read material that highlights the horrors of humanity: war, abuse, genocide, etc. The idea is not to get depressed, but to use it as a tool to remind you to be grateful. It can also serve as a reminder that we live, believe it or not, in the least violent time in history. [I know, 2020, I know.]
But this is not for everyone. As I mentioned in my newsletter, I was getting into WWII documentaries a while ago and this interestingly enough made our COVID pandemic pale in comparison; this wasn’t my intent at all. I guess you can look at the darker side of history as a perspective pusher.
Similarly, I remember when I was going through a hard time in Cambodia, and I reached for a book called Written by Herself: Autobiographies on American Women. I had started off with the first chapter by Black women, and then I decided to skip around and read whoever struck my fancy.
Margaret Sanger’s work on birth control was particularly memorable. I had no idea, because I really never thought about it, like really thought about how horrible it would be for women to be in constant poverty because they couldn’t control (their husbands or their bodies) how many children they had. Sanger is so bad ass, too. She actually slugged a guy so she could rescue this woman from her apt.
Trust me, any problems I was having about work drained away as I read about extraordinary women doing extraordinary things.
Hug a crocodile
We have a large plush crocodile toy that’s maybe three to four feet long? I don’t know but she gives the best hugs.
Psychologists consider stuffed toys to be “transitional objects which is self-chosen by a child to provide comfort, solace, predictability, and constancy — representational of a stable and predictable world”. I’m not sure about you, but that sounds like a perfectly legitimate thing for an adult to want as well.
Like I get it, seeing a grown man hug a teddy bear might give the impression that he needs the furniture bolted down and the walls to be padded. However, it’s more common than you might think. No, not the padded room bit but, sleeping with stuffed animals and having them be your most prized possession. Crazy, right? Nah, this Guardian article is great and heart-warming (pictures of adults with teddies!).
As a lifelong fan of these little guys, I can say, they do provide such comfort and joy.
How do you improve your mood?