This is the eighth week of a 12-week program where we are adapting and applying the principles outlined in Dr. Kelly Traver’s life-changing book, The Program. Those of you who are learning about this program are welcome to join. As a participant in this 12-week program, you will be expected to contribute as follows:
- Show up and comment weekly.
- Undertake the weekly exercises and report on your efforts.
- Playfully and enthusiastically encourage others who comment.
This week’s chapter on health, happiness, anxiety and depression is jam-packed with coping strategies. Here are the highlights of week 8:
Happiness and Your Health: Coping with Anxiety and Depression
Although depression and anxiety can keep all of us from enjoying life, twice as many women as men are affected by these conditions. In contrast, manic-depressive disorders are strongly linked to genes and strike both men and women equally. By explaining how the brain works, Dr. Traver reminds us that even though these conditions are “in our head,” they trigger a very real increase in the risk of diabetes, hypertension, heart attacks, strokes, immune dysfunction and obesity.
Individuals who suffer from anxiety and depression may benefit from counseling or prescription drugs or some combination of both. In addition, Dr. Traver recommends moderately intense physical exercise to treat anxiety. Besides boosting the calming, feel-good chemicals in the brain, exercise promotes a physical restructuring of the brain. Brainpower and neural patterns for coping are developed.
The most encouraging insight provided by Dr. Traver is that we can practice the following happiness strategies to cope with anxiety, depression and chronic pain:
- Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Count your blessings and appreciate what you have.
- Practice optimism. Expect positive outcomes. See the best in people, situations and circumstances.
- Focus on being the best you can be. Comparing yourself to others can trigger jealousy and resentment. But if you are happy and fulfilled with your own life, others’ achievements won’t matter.
- Surround yourself with support. We humans are social animals who need each other. Make sure the people around you are positive and supportive.
- Learn coping skills to deal with stress. Find healthful ways to relieve stress, such as exercise or relaxation routines.
- Live in the present. Enjoy the moment. Savor the little moments in life.
- Become a part of something bigger than yourself and volunteer. Work toward a goal that contributes to the larger community. We give meaning to our lives by contributing to others.
- Learn to accept what you can’t change. Let go of anything over which you have no control. Life is never ideal, but it can be good.
- Exercise daily. Of all the strategies, this one is the most essential in maintaining a positive outlook. And if you can, make your exercise green—that is, spend part of your day outdoors.
The concluding parts of chapter 8 focus on how to attend social events and how to eat out at restaurants without overindulging (pages 237-254). Dr. Traver also includes the healthiest options for the different ethnic cuisines and fast-food chains. Lastly, she provides guidance for sustaining high-level performance by providing tips on nutrition for athletes.
Exercise 1: Keep Track of Your Mood
Create a mood index and track your mood daily. Notice if exercise enhances your mood or if you are depressed or more anxious on days when you don’t exercise. Note if alcohol depresses your mood. Note the role fatigue plays. Note the impact of food on your mood. Do some foods make you energetic and others lethargic? Do you feel better after you walk outdoors?
Exercise 2: Create a Happiness and Gratitude Journal
Add a section to your food journal (or begin a diary) where you note daily a minimum of three items for which you are grateful. The events need not be earthshaking or global. Indeed, they may be small gifts that you note in the course of your day, such as an unexpected phone call from a friend or a beautiful robin that showed up in your front yard. As part of this assignment, write down what brought you happiness today and what future events, however large or small, you look forward to.
Exercise 3: Do Your Homework and Show Up
Review last week’s goals and decide on this week’s short-term goals. Leave a comment with your long-term and short-term goals in response to this blog post.
I look forward to reading this week’s comments from readers who are participating in this 12-week program.