Everyone has times when they feel down- sometimes there is a specific reason like a traumatic event, job loss, loss of a loved one, a breakup, etc. However, even if nothing like that has happened, the smaller stresses of everyday life can also build up and become overwhelming. Trying to balance work, school, and family and still have time to take care of yourself is difficult for anyone. Also, as librarians we always encourage everyone to follow the news and be aware of world events, but the news can cause anxiety (see this Washington Post article about therapists who have seen clients with anxiety about a certain presidential candidate).
Us young adults usually have a vision in our minds of where we should be at this point in life, but thanks to the flood of social media, we often have a skewed and unrealistic vision of what is normal, where we should be, and what we should have achieved by now. There is even an official term for this pressure and anxiety caused by social media- FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. Read this Huffington Post article, this New York Times article, or this book by sociologist Sherry Turkle at the McAllen Public Library to learn more about FOMO. This imagined anxiety that we are falling behind our peers adds to the real anxiety of trying to balance our already busy lives.
However, there are some simple steps you can take that studies suggest can actually change your brain activity and make you happier. Of course there are the obvious ones like exercise, eat healthier, and get more sleep, but there are several mental and behavioral practices that you can easily incorporate into your daily life.
A lot has been written lately about the mental health benefits of expressing gratitude. Besides making others feel good, studies suggest that expressing gratitude will improve your state of mind, even if it’s just mentally or in a journal. Check out these articles from Psychology Today or this article from New York Magazine to learn more about the mental health benefits of expressing gratitude.
Another big one is the simple act of smiling. Studies suggest that the physical act of smiling, even if you are not happy, can change your brain patterns and eventually make you feel happier. Most women, myself included, hate being told to smile. However, if you make the decision to smile for your own sake rather than because it is expected of you, studies suggest that it can have real benefits for your mental health. Read this Scientific American article or Psychology Today article to learn more.
Finally, another very important suggestion to improve your happiness is to surround yourself with happy people. After all, people are naturally empathetic and will begin to feel whatever those around them are feeling. If you are around people who are always negative, you will begin to feel negative. If you surround yourself with people who have a positive outlook on life, that will spread to you as well. There is a very serious scholarly journal article here that discusses it, and an article from the Mayo Clinic with more general advice.
You can also check out these books from the McAllen Public Library: