Six things you must do to be happy

Before you start reading this article, think for a few moments and ask yourself if you constantly feel anxious. 

Meditation (photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)

From an interesting study on animals in mourning to an American star's Twitter dedicated to just one purpose, these six steps taught brain researcher Dr. Wendy Suzuki how to reduce anxiety, improve brain health and productively handle strong emotions.

Before you start reading this article, think for a few moments and ask yourself if you constantly feel anxious. 

Dr. Wendy Suzuki is a neuroscientist and lecturer in neuroscience and psychology at New York University. Her training is supposed to give her a very deep understanding of the human mind, and especially of her own mind. Yet  in an article published on CNBC, she admitted that for years she didn’t perceive herself as suffering from anxiety.

She says when she started researching anxiety in her lab, she suddenly realized she was connecting to most of the feelings that characterize those who live with the common disorder. These are feelings like difficulty concentrating, worry that disrupts sleep and constant stress, nervousness and a feeling of being 'on the edge' and almost giving up. 

"But as I deepened my research into anxiety," she writes, "I have also found over the years some effective methods that have helped me fight it, build resilience and strengthen my mental strength."

Suzuki, like many others in the field, now knows that our brain is a flexible and influential organ, like our muscles and just as we develop muscles with physical training, the brain can certainly be developed to better handle negative emotions and not get carried away over and over again. These are the exercises she uses every day to do just that.

1. Set aside time to imagine

People who suffer from anxiety have a tendency to imagine the worst case scenario, and be sure it’s really going to come true. Therefore, Suzuki suggests starting and ending each day by thinking about all the problems that are most bothering us right now and then doing the exact opposite, picturing the best outcome that can happen."Don’t imagine only 'reasonable' and 'good' scenarios," she emphasizes, "but the best, unexpected and amazing thing that can happen." According to her, people are afraid to think positive because they’re afraid of being disappointed. "But this is exactly what helps us develop the muscles of anticipation for positive and optimistic experiences," she added. She believes the mind will also open up to positive and creative ideas that can influence future decisions and help us strive to achieve our goals.

2. Use anxiety as a barbell

No one likes to lift weights in the gym. It’s painful, hard and strains our muscles. This is what anxiety does to our brain so it too, like muscles, can develop and improve its coping mechanism. To do this, Suzuki recommends that whenever you feel anxiety rise, try to find the strongest emotion that fuels it, and then think about how to turn it into a positive force. Write down what bothers you the most right now.

What exactly are you feeling other than anxiety, what can you do to feel better and what’s not in your control now. Such a list helps to "wire" the mind and turn abstract and unpleasant emotions into helpful work guidelines.

3. Keep learning

As the brain receives new stimuli, it repairs itself and becomes stronger. When it doesn’t this can cause degeneration and increase feelings of depression and anxiety. Today it’s easier than ever to learn new things through the internet and find fun ways to stimulate the brain.

Suzuki states that she recently joined the online training on Instagram of Olympic tennis player Venus Williams, who showed how to turn bottles of wine into weights and do a whole workout with their help. Suzuki said it was a fantastic experience. My point is that there are many free or low-cost options for learning to push the mind and body into experiences that we wouldn’t discover ourselves. It doesn’t have to be hard or complex training, just something brand new.

4. Set times daily to chat

In an interesting study conducted on different types of animals, it was found that when mammals mourn loss they tend to detach from the environment and not form social bonds. You might identify with this. Not only grief, but also anxiety, depression and helplessness, make us want to be alone and disconnected. This creates a vicious circle that only intensifies these negative emotions over and over again. 

Get used to picking to calling people you love at least once every few days.

This will help you feel better.  You’ll see that people care about you, you care about others and this will be more beneficial than you think. Of course the best thing you can do is get together with family and friends.

5. Use social media a little differently

We tend to think of social networks as tools that amplify anxiety, depression and loneliness. Studies show they do this but weapons are also protective tools until used to harm.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the American actor who created the successful musical "Hamilton," found an original way to use Twitter to improve his mental resilience - he begins and ends each day with a tweet with a positive and empowering message to himself.

"Most of us, automatically, tend to beat ourselves up for every bad thing we do. Instead, we should stop at least once a day and think about what the most supportive and positive people in our lives would tell us and then send it to ourselves," Suzuki suggests. This doesn’t need followers. It’s a small reminder that you write in a notebook or other private place that no one will find. If possible, do it twice a day. For example, think of the short message when you brush your teeth.

6. Get out every day

It’s well known that nature improves mental health and brain function. A long line of studies have found that a short walk will improve mental resilience and emotional stability. It's easier for those who live near a park or beach, but it’s also possible in a city to go to a park or quiet areas around you. Put away your phone, disconnect, take a deep breath and pay attention to the smells, sounds and the way your body feels and moves in those moments.