It’s true: Science shows that we can make choices to feel happier. That’s great news because happiness actually benefits our immunity, which is more important than ever amid COVID-19. We can laugh, move, and breathe to boost our everyday enjoyment of life and help protect ourselves from illness.
Where to begin? Here are a few scientifically-sound activities to cheer your spirit.
Don’t feel guilty about sneaking a peek at funny videos. Watching clumsy puppies or a toddler collapse in hysterics at her dad making silly faces is actually good for you!
The Mayo Clinic studied laughter and found it improves the immune system’s ability to ward off disease. Research shows it may stimulate the production of immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies. It also increases oxygen-rich blood to both the heart and brain, potentially lowering blood pressure and helping you access more clear-headed thinking.
Researchers have found that even the anticipation of laughter is a powerful mood enhancer. Laughing activates the endorphins that make us feel euphoric and reduce cortisol, the stress hormone that makes us irritable or anxious. Incredibly, even fake laughter can increase feel-good hormones.
Exercise for Confidence and Joy
Even though the spectacular benefits of regular exercise are well-known (increased mental clarity, a heightened sense of well-being, improved strength), many of us need reminders to be more consistent or to add intensity.
Because many gyms are closed during the pandemic, consider a run or brisk walk. If weather permits, power walk for an increased BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) boost, which makes us feel happier. This is important as we age, because BDNF decreases.
Endocannabinoid receptors are sprinkled throughout the body, and experts believe exercise increases the levels of endocannabinoids in the bloodstream.
Unlike endorphins, which produce a temporary runner’s high, endocannabinoids travel through the blood-brain barrier, producing calm, reducing anxiety, and helping us feel happier.
Bliss Out with Breathwork
Slowing down your breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, lowering your heart rate and quickly calming your emotions. For a free, easy route to a happier frame of mind, sit down and breathe slowly for several minutes, exhaling twice as long as you inhale. Many mindfulness experts recommend breathing in through the nose, then slowly out through the mouth.
For more formal instruction, take an online guided breathwork class, or work with a certified coach. Certain expert breathing techniques can raise heart rate variability (HRV), which increases your resilience. Lower HRV levels indicate you’re in fight-or-flight mode. But with regular breathwork, you can thank a tiny cluster of neurons deep in your brainstem for helping uplift your mood.
Stay Emotionally Strong
Because the global challenges we’re facing are so open-ended, they can create feelings of uncertainty. Take this opportunity to get as much social support as you can. Grab a few buddies and make a pledge to keep each other uplifted on a weekly call.
Go out of your way to giggle, work out, and settle down your breathing. You’ll feel happier and capable of powering through hard times with a lighter heart and greatly enhanced immunity.