The new science of gratitude and well-being suggests that including a number of things in each day can have positive health and well-being effects. Having a positive attitude in the midst of a health challenge has helped me along the way. I've created a Daily Journal to help me stay on track (see the links at the end of this posting or on the Resources page). The ideas I've picked up along the way are set out below, and find their way into the structure of the Daily Journal.
Daily Practices Explained
Cultivating a chosen attitude of gratitude gives life meaning (something formal spiritual traditions have long expressed). Gratitude improves emotional and physical health, and can strengthen relationships and communities. “Without gratitude, life can be lonely, depressing and impoverished,” according to Robert Emmons. “Gratitude enriches human life. It elevates, energizes, inspires and transforms. People are moved, opened and humbled through expressions of gratitude.” http://gratitudepower.net/science.htm. He also found that those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events. See also: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good.
Stressed? Back to the Frontal Cortex:
“Next time you notice your stress levels rising, pause and take 3 slow breaths, next think of three (specific) things you are grateful for. This will shift you out of the amygdala and return you to the frontal cortex and allow you to think “I have enough time” and then be able to plan your next steps. See www.slaw.ca/2014/07/30/up-your-resilience-and-effectiveness-with-this-time-scarcity-thinking-reboot.
Self-compassion and Kindness:
Don’t be so hard on yourself! Cut the negative, harsh self-talk! Instead be kind, gentle and understanding of yourself, realize that you’re not alone in your struggles and observe life as it is without being judgmental. Rather than negative self-talk, give yourself unconditional support, love and encouragement. It is a far better motivator and allows you to enjoy, explore and learn in the moment. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/28/go-easy-on-yourself-a-new-wave-of-research-urges/?_r=0
Meditation improves your focus, clarity and attention span, and it helps to keep you calm. Studies have shown that meditation boosts the immune system, reduces cravings and eases pain symptoms. It strengthens brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, sense of self, empathy and stress. No wonder it’s been called ‘scheduled brain maintenance’. I take a simple, secular approach: sit quietly in a pleasing space with good posture. Breathe in for 6 seconds, hold gently for 6 seconds and breathe out for 6 seconds. Let thoughts come. And go. Refocus on your breath. Continue for 10 minutes or longer. For an overview on the effectiveness of meditation, see: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm
Drinking water helps maintain the balance of body fluids. Our bodies are about 60% water. All that fluid functions to maintain our digestion, absorption, circulation, creation of saliva, transports nutrients, and maintains body temperature. Water also helps to energize muscles, keeps skin looking good, and helps your kidneys to clear body toxins out. http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/6-reasons-to-drink-water
Exercise has a profound effect on our happiness and well-being. It has been shown to be an effective strategy to overcome depression, feel better about body image and lower stress levels (bless those endorphins). About 150 minutes a week or half an hour a day makes a difference! Get medical confirmation: Doc Evans on 23.5 hours at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUaInS6HIGo. Exercise is very positive in recovery from breast cancer and avoiding recurrence. See http://www.breastcancer.org/tips/exercise.
Three Good Things (and Why):
I learned about it practice a long time ago - and I love it. It can remove the dust and grit from the lens of (even a very trying) day. Thinking of three good things that happened and why they were good is a recognized stress management technique that helps to develop resiliency and build happiness. See Marty Seligman, author of Flourish explain it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOGAp9dw8Ac. Apparently the few minutes spent each day on this exercise alone can increase your happiness by 10% over a 6-month period! http://happierhuman.com/gratitude/.
During treatment, I found that my days were blurring together and drifting away in my memory. I decided to create a section in my Daily Journal where I could log what I did during each day. Initially I thought I would use this section to plan the day or to note things during the day, I found myself using it at the end of the day to recall and list what had happened. I used the Journal section to explore my thoughts or feelings related to events or moments in the day. I found these notes useful when writing The Letters. They also reassured me that I wasn't simply letting the days drift away.
It's useful to have a place to note insights or reflections. Perhaps from the day's unfolding, but not necessarily. A good way to track evolving feelings or learning.
At the beginning of my cancer journey, I was pretty focused on myself. However, as time passed, I found the capacity to notice and care for others. There is a science-based reason why this was a good development: relationships and how we help others are important factors in living long, happy lives - with a twist. The Terman study, discussed in The Longevity Project, found that beyond social network size, the clearest benefit of social relationships came from helping others. Those who helped their friends and neighbors, advising and caring for others, tended to live to old age. The Grant Study which followed Harvard graduates for 72 years also found this: “the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.” See “10 Things You Can Do Today that Will Make You Happier”: https://blog.bufferapp.com/10-scientifically-proven-ways-to-make-yourself-happier#more-6137
Get the Files:
To download the Daily Pages that help you integrate these good ideas into every day, click on the following links to get the PDF files: Daily File and Cover.
[Hint: Print 'double-sided, landscape mode, flip on short edge': 6 day log pages for a week. Print the cover once. Keep your Journal in a folder or binder.]
Using the System
I hope you find the pages and ideas useful. Feel free to adapt them to suit your own style. Create a template in Word or an online note-taking app. Another system that picks up the themes of gratitude and attitude is the Five Minute Journal which is available as an iOS app or online through https://www.intelligentchange.com/products/the-five-minute-journal.