My social media has been riddled with many recent research reports on the topic of happiness. Not just the state of happiness, how to achieve it and keep it, but also the impact of happiness on our minds and our bodies.
Happiness is essential, not optional and there are proven ways to attain this state in just 30 days for mind, body health and longevity.
The good news is that from this research we have confirmation of what many already knew – we can change our brains to be happy.
We can build neural pathways with specific practices including types of counselling and psychotherapy that over time help us feel happier, and make it easier for us to maintain that state.
Beyond just feeling happy, the research adds to the importance of people achieving and maintain optimism and a state of happiness showing the connection between our emotions and the molecular function of our bodies.
This directly supports the neuroscience used in Self Regulation Therapy about the nervous system being influential in disease process – not just in the mind but also in the body. It’s why those of us who work in a neurobiological way do so and see multiple benefits of health in our clients – including improvement in previous diagnoses physical illness but also in emotional and mental health as well.
What Steven Cole of University of California, Los Angeles found was that PTSD, depression, low socioeconomic status, and recent diagnosis of major illness show an increased level of inflammation. Inflammation is a powerful precursor to many disease processes. He also found that negative experiences and emotions impact cells on a molecular level and influence the molecular composition of your body for the next 80 days.
This means that to counteract the effects of negative emotions and experiences you need to be actively working on the pursuit of happiness and positivity concurrently. Not just riding out those 80 days but actively creating positive neural pathways in your brain to support optimal health on all levels.
Research out of University of North Carolina corroborates the same – happiness modulates the immune system.
Understanding the physical longevity and overall immunity can be impacted directly adds extra scientific weight to the recommended practices of meditation and gratitude practices, and many of the tools we use in therapy.
Happiness isn’t just the absence of symptoms of depression either. It refers to an overall state of optimism, contentment, the ability to experience joy. These are missing in dysregulated nervous systems impacted by trauma and overwhelming experiences that compromise our resiliency. That’s why therapy can be so integral in healing not just the mind, but also the body. Everything is connected.
Out of this research comes happiness-enhancing practices that they have measured that help to build new neural pathways to support happiness in the brain.
These practices recommended out of emerging research have been part of the 30 day prescription I give my clients as their foundational treatment plan in my private practice.
After 30 days you’ll feel happier, and getting happy won’t take as much effort. The brain becomes more predisposed to it, like a habit.
My program includes their top recommendations – exercise, gratitude practices, and meditation/mindfulness and adds targeted lifestyle specific practices that address sleep, nutrition, supplementation, as well as weekly Self Regulation Therapy sessions to build new neural pathways.
What we want is to change the brain, not simply manage symptoms.
All work together to change the brain. Because happiness isn’t just from forcing your thoughts to think happy thoughts – it’s about neuroscience-based principles of creating new neural pathways to actually change the brain. This makes happiness easier, this increases resiliency and overall health.
What we also need is more education of key referring professionals – doctors, school counsellors, front line people to be aware of the long term efficacy of these approaches. With that would come more buy-in – compliance and diligence from patients and clients that this is the best initial treatment. That drug therapy is not an option until the 30 day program is completed in most cases. What we need is support for each individual patient to provide the resources in this direction for them to start building success. They can own their own healing, they can change their brains for the best, without side effects or long term complications to their body and mind.
Here’s the basic 30 Day Happiness Program.
These are non-negotiables. If you really want to be happy – really – these are non-negotiables. You will make them priority, schedule them in, not allow excuses. These have the potental to revolutionize you physical health and your mental health. They have the potential to increase your lifespan and quality of life. If this is important to you – living a long, healthy, happy life, you won’t budge on these.
- Daily exercise. The best thing you can do for overall brain health and integrity. Also one of the most important things you can do for your body. Exercise outperforms most pharmaceuticals for depression, anxiety, and sleep issues in clinical research. This is a non-negotiable. If you want to be happy, you must move your body. As vigorously as you can. I have many clients that have managed their previously medicated depression and anxiety from daily exercise.
- Nutrition. So much research recently from neurologists and other high end health professionals about the impact of our diet on our mental and emotional health. Following a Mediterranean diet provides benefits for cardiovascular health and provides an anti-inflammatory diet foundation that is preferred for reduction of cancer risk and inflammatory disorders. What inflames the body inflames the brain and compromises our emotional and mental stability. No sugar, reduction of dairy, red meat, and grains, plenty of healthy fats, tons of vegetables. I have clients again here that have radically decreased their anxiety levels with diet modification alone – particularly eliminating sugar and gluten.
- Meditation or Mindfulness practice. For those with anxiety or in high modes of activation, meditation can not only be difficult, but can actually increase symptoms. Counselling can help reduce sympathetic arousal and over time bring a person to a place where they can start learning to meditate for short periods of time. In the meantime mindfulness practices, psychophysiological work that connects body to brain, and grounding techniques can provide similar benefits. Consider yoga, mindful walking, time in nature, grounding practices as part of this and alternatives to purest meditation.
- Gratitude practice. I know this one seems hokey. It seems passive. But the research supports that bringing awareness to the positive factors in your life does help this practice of creating new neural pathways opposite to the ones already existing around depression or anxiety. In session, we use a process called “mining for resources” which is really a strength-based approach to sifting through your successes, bringing focus to your history of victories. When we connect that to physical sensation, we’ve created a new neural pathways in that moment. The more we do it, the stronger those pathways become.
- Supplements. I’m not a naturopath so I can’t prescribe. But I do direct clients to the research and I give them a list of current well-researched supplements that can help support mood stability. My basic plan comes from the functional medical doctors that speak and teach at trainings I’ve attended from the Centre for Mind Body Medicine in San Francisco. Keep in mind that most of the research on these measured optimal results after 8 weeks. The basic plan I recommend includes:
- Probiotics. 20 billion IU minimum a day (I actually take up to 70billion). Studies showed a decrease of symptoms of depression by more than 50% in 2 weeks with probiotics at this dose. The majority of serotonin in your body is made in your gut -not in your brain. Overall gut health and maximizing the gut/brain axis shows overwhelming improvements in mental health conditions because of this. Rule out any interfering gut issues/absorption problems with a naturopath or functional medical doctor as well as a good place to start.
- Omega 3s/high quality fish oils. 3,000-5000mg a day with food. Excellent for supporting brain health and helping with focus/concentration as well as anxiety and depression.
- Turmeric– 500 mg twice a day showed improvements in several symptom markers associated with depression after 8 weeks of supplementation. Similar has been reported for Saffron.
- Vitamin D supplementation. Get your levels checked and consult a qualified naturopath or functional medical doctor. I take between 5,000 IU – 10,000 IU of D3 a day in the winter and my levels are optimal.Sunshine is the best place to get Vitamin D though – 15 min a day of direct sunlight without sunscreen to block it can give you adequate amounts of vitamin D typically also. Research on exercise outside in nature yielded superior impacts on mood related symptoms than exercising indoors so you’ll get more bang for your buck here. Vitamin D supplements is being shown to improve outcomes for depression, anxiety, Alzheimers, cancer, fibromyalgia and more.One recent study a single dose of 50,000 IU of vitamin D weekly for 8 weeks provided significant benefits to patients suffering from drug-resistant major depression disorder.
- B vitamins particularly B6. Look for a supplement that has at least 50 mg of B6. B6 helps your body make serotonin and GABA – two neurotransmitters that increase calm, content, regulated states. Make sure your iron, B12 and thyroid levels have been checked and are in optimal range as well as deficiency in any of these can mimic symptoms of anxiety and depression including panic attacks.Address your sleep. It’s almost impossible to feel happy if your sleep deprived.Address your past. It’s almost impossible to feel happy if you have an overflowing container and are constantly overwhelmed by previous trauma
After 30 days on the happiness protocol, you will feel better. Physically and emotionally you will notice improvements. It won’t be as hard to focus on the positive, to manage your thoughts and emotions, to feel optimistic.
You will notice more energy during the day and that you sleep better at night. You will notice improvements. And the more you commit to this the more improvements you’ll notice. You will feel better, healthier and happier every 30 days.
It does take effort. It takes making your health – mind and body, given the research, non-negotiable. That means that nothing is more important than your being well – in all ways – and this is the mindset you need to insist on for yourself.
Take a 30 day challenge. You could change your health and happiness, and your brain, forever.
Talk to me directly for more on this. firstname.lastname@example.org
Tara Miller is a registered clinical counselor in West Kelowna and Kelowna. westkelownacounselling.com