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Positive notes for a happier life

Before starting this blog, I do not want to minimize the very real pain of having been or still being seriously ill, having lost loved ones or facing really difficult life challenges like financial problems. These are issues where reaching out for help or trying to just make it from one day to the next is already a huge achievement. Well done if this is you – keep on going.

However, for those of us who sometimes just feel a little down and are struggling to cope, but who are not clinically depressed, here are some practical positive notes to keep us going if we are feeling down and are otherwise doing ok. Before you read them also think of some music or a tune that makes you happy. Put it on and think about it as you read these positive ideas so you can associate that song or tune with seeing life in a brighter shade and learning to live.

Positive note one – Tea not booze to beat the blues

Often a strong shot of vodka, a smooth glass of wine or another helpful alcoholic concoction can feel like an easy remedy to immediate relaxation and stress busting. Sadly, the positive effects of alcohol are short-lived… in addition to being addictive and dehydrating our bodies, most worryingly alcohol is a nervous system depressant. It reduces the body’s responses and promotes fluid loss. This means when you wake up after drinking, even if you don’t have a hangover, you’re likely to feel low and have dehydrated skin and your whole body will be in need of water. Tea is also a diuretic (i.e. promotes water loss), but it won’t leave you feeling sad and low after drinking a cup or two, and there are so many wonderful variations to discover from all over the world that becoming a tea connoisseur will really lead the way to a newfound respect for the drink. From Lapsang Souchong to Pu Erh tea to white tea to black teas – a world of discovery lies ahead and why not explore the locations in the world tea comes from. Obviously for now from the comfort of your home computer or phone via images or reports.

Positive note two – Captain Tom Time

Feeling low about hitting thirty, or forty, or fifty, or sixty, or seventy or eighty or ninety? … Think again. Life expectancy is much higher nowadays and unless bad luck strikes we can really enjoy our lives beyond 25 if we take care ourselves and have a positive mindset. The advertising lobby groups stack the odds against anyone over 25 who isn’t white and svelte, BUT most people don’t fit into that range. The world is wonderfully diverse and that’s part of its magic. Those lobby groups have a strategy: if you feel old and far from perfect, you are more likely to buy their creams, potions and miracle pills. You will spend money and help make their CEOs rich: most of whom are far from the category of ideal they are promoting…

The fact is there is no miracle cure to anything and getting old is a blessing. You can remember lovely experiences, grow from bad moments and see new ways ahead that your younger self couldn’t fully appreciate. You can even remember fondly your younger self. Being happy and having a healthy lifestyle are the best remedies for stress busting. Thinking young and staying positive are what count. And listening to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” – Liverpool Football Club’s anthem for very good reasons – with dear Captain Tom joining in and Michael Ball leading the vocals, reminds us that humanity is more than a lobby group trying to make you feel low. It is made up of a majority of wonderful individuals of all different ages and backgrounds. We are accompanied on this planet. Enjoy that community spirit.

Positive note three – Be Kind

“Be Kind” is VITAL. “Being kind” means being kind to yourself and also being kind to others. It means caring that somebody is struggling and seeing how you can help them. It means trying to spread happiness and light. It means being generous even with our enemies: “Turn the other cheek”. When we are overwhelmed by feelings of anger and vengeance rather than responding to that emotion, being kind to oneself means we do our own bodies a favour and pity people’s mean-spirited behaviour and try and ignore the injustices, unless they are criminal of course. It’s wise to minimize contact with toxic people and to remember that being kind to those dear to us and those we want to help is what matters. Being kind also means not judging ourselves by harbouring unrealistic expectations, but rather just remembering that being happy and healthy are the most important measures of success. Material wealth is not as much of a gift as being happy and enjoying that.

Positive note four – Don’t over-achieve or set those bars unrealistically high

In 2013, I founded a new incarnation of an initiative designed to improve the condition of women across the audiovisual sector (the European Women’s Audiovisual Network). It was and still is a beautiful project and was backed up by research, training courses and events. It had (and still has) relatively limited financial backing although I’m immensely grateful to those who did sponsor it. I was also flanked by a loyal army of largely unpaid volunteers. I worked night and day, and night and day, and night and day, and night and day for a number of years to try and solve the problems of gender inequality and make the whole audiovisual sector a better and safer place for those working in it, whilst fund-raising and pursuing a punishing travel schedule. My work undoubtedly has made a difference and that makes me extremely proud, BUT I didn’t remember positive notes three or four! I wasn’t kind to myself and I kept trying to personally over-achieve in my goal to transform the whole landscape as quickly as possible. And what was the result of that…? Well, my body showed me how I could be stopped and in August 2015 after a transatlantic flight I had a mini-stroke linked to a burnout, owing to non-stop commitments and stress and strain for a number of years. It was the cumulative effect that got to me and essentially my body stopped working.

Fortunately, it was more a warning shot rather than a paralysing occurrence. I was lucky and made a good recovery. BUT I can no longer work the hours I used to, I sometimes have to say NO to requests on my time and even refuse those who would prefer me to keep on over-achieving in my work. But my goal is simply to be kind to myself and make sure I never have a burnout again or another stroke, which I’m now more susceptible to. Meeting realistic goals and targets is great, but not pushing yourself to a level where you are willing to risk your health and well-being. I now value my relaxation time as much as work and activity time and I always factor in moments to be with friends, family and loved ones. This matters more than any superficial goals. I am happy just being and doing good. I recommend that you adopt this attitude sooner rather than later.

Positive note five – Appreciate what you have

This links in with my Captain Tom paragraph to some extent. BUT if we have relatively good health, friends and family, food to eat and a roof over our heads we are already blessed. It doesn’t matter that we aren’t constantly eating gourmet food in Michelin-starred restaurants, even if that can be an aspirational treat, or wearing the latest designer clothes, or displaying our flashy watches. All that really matters is that we value those around us and appreciate the good things we have. Recently I added a filter system to my water tap; after over twenty years of having my own home this was a real first. This means that every sip of water I drink is a luxury. I’m grateful. But even before my water was filtered, I was lucky as I had access to water. So many people are not in that position. We are the lucky ones. It’s important to remind ourselves of that regularly.

Positive note six – Routines matter

Our bodies respond well to healthy routines. This means getting up well before 9am, having a healthy breakfast to start EVERY day, taking exercise in the morning, even if it is only a brisk walk, having a wholesome lunch at lunchtime and then a very light dinner early evening. It means going to bed early and getting at least seven hours’ sleep. And then starting that all over again peppered with regular daily exercise and enough fibre in our diets so we are regular. This pattern of routines is how we organize children’s times so they can grow up to be strong. But this is just as important for us as adults. And on those days where our bodies need a rest then, as is feasible, we should listen to those messages and get the rest and relaxation required to face the next day with fresh energy.

Positive note seven – Sleep matters

For some, sleeping a full night is a challenge. There are some people who wake up during the night; I often have. But all that happens when you miss sleep is that you have a bad day the next day and so on and so forth. YOU don’t benefit from this. DO AVOID any substances that are too strong which look like they’ll help you sleep but don’t give you good quality sleep: tranquillizers, anti-histamines, shots of whisky, they are not your friends. RATHER OPT FOR healthy options like melatonin spray, having a bath before bedtime, making sure your body is relaxed, watching a comedy show, sharing jokes, doing a karaoke, and then switching off your phone and placing it a long way from your bed. Have a good book to hand, preferably one that requires some concentration as this will help you drop off and go back to sleep if you wake up again. Banish TV, videos, Netflix and Amazon Prime. They will steal your sleep and give you nothing in return. Rather think about the world around us, nature, new-born puppies, whatever it is that can make you relax. For those who practice Pilates, the “Rolling like a Ball” exercise can help combat insomnia and nurse you into sleep, but also applications like Calm will help you unwind, and did anyone mention Chris Hemsworth’s meditation app? I’m sleeping already…

Positive note eight – Work for change if you’re not happy

Some situations require change. This covers many topics ranging from impossible working conditions, difficult relationships, strife-filled contacts. For many years I lived in a beautiful flat with a terrible neighbour. She was simply mean. This transposed itself into bags of rubbish being regularly left outside my front door to encourage vermin to come into my home, shouting out insults regularly at me and ultimately vandalizing my car in an attempt to, well let’s face it, do away with me! It took me a long time to realize the best plan I could adopt was simply to move home. In some ways this might be considered a defeat – why make such a choice when I wasn’t in the wrong? But actually it was the best decision of my life. My new home is great and offers other comforts. I no longer wake up worrying about what will happen next because of that neighbour. I’m saving my energies and I’ve moved on from that situation. This applies to jobs, to relationships, to any situation that needs you to take a decision to opt for change. I’m not minimizing how difficult this can be and taking advice, retraining or working part-time and gradually moving to a better place may have to be the path to follow, but ultimately when you take the decision to make your life a happier one in a better situation you will be grateful, PLUS you have just combined positive notes two, three and eight.

Positive note nine – crank up the volume and dance

You don’t have to be Carlos Acosta or Darcey Bussell or any other star dancer to enjoy a boogie. Dancing is relaxing, it’s a form of exercise, it’s a stress buster and it’s a great social mixer. No one will hold up a card like Craig Revel Horwood in the UK edition of “Strictly Come Dancing” unless you are participating in that show or a competition. Practise wild dancing to Zumba videos, shake your arms out to any music that makes you feel good or listen to some jazz and sway. Whatever form of dancing makes you feel happy and releases those endorphins is good news. No one cares what you look like. Dad dancing – it doesn’t matter. Relax, shake out those arms and move to the music.

Positive note ten – remember the child you were

One thing everyone has in common is that we were all children once. When children start to explore the world around them, they are mainly carefree (unless they are raised in difficult circumstances), they usually don’t have societal restrictions imposed on them until they go to school, and they move freely. They roll over, do somersaults, laugh and cry freely, they are uninhibited. They do handstands, enjoy hula hooping, run around gardens or parks, take off their shoes, appreciate the love of their parents or grandparents or those looking after them, are grateful for any food and drink they receive and find the world a fascinating playground. Remember you were a child once too.  That child still lives within you but you have probably forgotten them like most of us. Cherish the child that is still in your soul, and remember to embrace the world as they once did. Even throw in a handstand if it won’t do you any undue damage. Try and see the world around you through their eyes. Your value scales will change dramatically and you’ll reconsider what really matters.

Now press repeat on that chosen positive piece of music I mentioned at the start and keep it close in your heart for trying times.

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