Shift Your Mood, Literally One Step at a Time

Which comes first? A smile or feeling happy? A hop in your step or feeling lighthearted? Unlike the long-debated “chicken and egg” question, the answer is not based on speculation. It’s based on research. 

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Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/sandrakavas

It seems only natural to think that you smile because you are happy.

But since the late 1980s, studies began suggesting that you can change your emotional state by choosing to allow the corners of your mouth to curve upward into a smile. That the emotions can also follow the action.

Even though I knew about this research on smiling, I hadn’t applied it to other activities in my daily life. Like walking. Yes, walking.

I walk every day, even if that’s just around my house. It seems logical that you walk with more bounce when you feel good. But have you considered taking a more buoyant stride in order to feel good?

I’m here to report that a research group in Canada actually has!

Self-Care Practices for Life Beyond Loss (Video Interview)

When Alysha St. Germain asked to interview me about self-care and loss, I paused before I said yes. Self-care? Do I even practice self-care? Am I a good candidate for this topic? My answers surprised me.

After reflecting, I realized that I actually practice self-care every single day. For me the foundation of self-care comes down to one thing: Choice. What am I choosing in any moment? How am I feeling based on this choice? Do I want to choose something else or not? How does this affect my experience of loss? My experience of life?

Letting Go of the Scary Stories We Tell Ourselves

As humans, we seem to enjoy freaking ourselves out. We wear gory masks and fake blood on Halloween. We willingly enter haunted houses and watch horror films to get our adrenaline pumping. But we don’t need fake limbs or rubber spiders to scare us on a daily basis. Instead, we have a built-in accessory. It’s called the mind.

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Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/Arangan_A

A story that a friend shared with me highlights what I’m talking about. As the tale goes, a young child asks his mother to imagine she is in the jungle, completely surrounded by tigers, with no weapon available and nowhere to hide.

“What would you do?” the boy asks eagerly.

The mother pauses. She imagines the scenario. Would she run? Play dead? Accept her fate as the tigers’ dinner? After pondering the question, she replies that she has no idea what she would do. Then she asks the child what he would do.

He replies, “I would stop imagining it.”

Yes, of course. I laughed at the punch line, nodding my head in agreement. But is it really that simple?

Coming Out of a Different Kind of Closet

I’m usually quite comfortable talking about my life-partner Kate. But sometimes, especially when I meet new people, I find myself hoping the conversation doesn’t bring me to mention her name. My hesitation doesn’t come because she’s a woman. My hesitation comes because . . . she’s dead.

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Photo credit: istockphoto.com/zentilia

Even if I share this news in a softer way, people are often caught off-guard, which isn’t my intention. Whether I’m coming out as a lesbian, or coming out as someone who experienced the death of a soul mate, my intention is to be honest about my life.

Similar to my experience of coming out in the 1990s, talking about death means anticipating people’s potential discomfort. Sometimes people don’t know what to say or do. Or I can feel their pity and the assumptions they make about what it’s been like for me. This often shifts the energy of the conversation.

I don’t want to feel awkward about withholding a significant part of my life. And I don’t want to make other people feel awkward either. Rather than being self-conscious when I speak about Kate, I do my best to be conscious and real.