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Life Lines: Optimism Is An App

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Victoria Sarne

By VICTORIA SARNE

Sounds silly? Really it’s not. And perhaps if you think about it in terms of tech, just like the ones on your phone and that this particular app could help you be happier or less stressed, wouldn’t you want to instal it in that computer in your head, your brain?

It’s a challenge in these days of the coronavirus pandemic to remain calm and emotionally stable; when there are still no clear-cut answers as to when this will end and how things will have changed from the familiar. If you have been reading my column over the past couple of months you will know my opinion on the panic propagated by the media which affects everyone’s mental health - the vital part of our human system in this particular equation that is mostly ignored - and yet the fear is as destructive as the virus itself. Just today I saw a headline: “The deadly coronavirus”. More people are surviving than dying. Why use such an evocative and provocative word as “deadly” when we have never said “deadly pneumonia”, although it is; “deadly heart disease”, although it is and will kill more people this year than the virus; “deadly obesity” or “deadly diabetes”. These are the things worth panicking about because if our underlying health is poor or weakened by any of these diseases – which are not rare, but rampant and frequently fatal – then we have put ourselves at risk for maximum damage from this or any other virus or opportunistic infection.

For lots of people, the brain’s default mechanism is a negative response, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be changed, and wouldn’t you want to learn how to change it? Being optimistic or pessimistic is not a personality characteristic that you have to accept because you think that’s just the way you are. Being optimistic is a positive action or response to situations we encounter in our lives, it’s not some happy-go-lucky, innocent way of looking at life. It’s a method of processing information and thoughts. If you anticipate your natural response to a challenge to be harmful, then it will be but if you can figure out how to adapt to stress it will cause less mental and physical harm.

We can learn how to deal with stressful situations, to manage our reactions better. Wouldn’t you want to know how to feel more comfortable, more optimistic? Wouldn’t you like to feel clear, focussed and able to make sensible or appropriate decisions in any given situation? Then you have to learn how to think and create a new pathway in your brain so that when confronted with something negative your reaction is not also an immediate negative: “I’m never going to get through this’ but an optimistic and determined attitude: “I know I can find a way through this.” Being optimistic is believing that with the right emotional tools and the will to do so, you can find a way to deal with most scenarios and anticipate a positive outcome.

Too much stress is not what makes us sick, tired, panicky, angry, fearful or depressed; it is our response to stress that determines the outcome for us. It’s not just external or unforeseen stressors that cause our anxiety because often we are the creators of our own misfortune: we try to do too much, hurry too much, waste time, fail to do things we know we should - all of which generate anxieties which we may then try to ameliorate by getting on social media, texting, lying around doing nothing, drinking, gambling or hurting our friends or family because these are not positive solutions and none of this solves the problem.

There are lots of ways to help ourselves which are more positive. Most of us are familiar with ideas or techniques we are told will help us feel healthier and happier but are so used to hearing about them that we often take no notice. The point is most of them do work and work well. There are all manner of ways to adopt these without leaving home: deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, dance, listening to music. Or you can exercise outdoors, start walking or jogging, go to the gym, swimming when the beaches open and so on. Breathing exercises, meditation and more physical activity as noted, all have a real effect on the brain releasing Serotonin which regulates anxiety, happiness, and mood. First though you have to ask yourself the questions; how are my normal current reactions making me feel - better or worse? Are they changing the situation for the better for me? Is there another way I can learn to cope? But you have to be determined and persistent in practising whichever method works for you. Don’t let outside influences affect you unnecessarily: other people’s perception or panic belongs to them – don’t take it on. Learn to think for yourself, ask yourself the questions – then do the work, it pays off.

• Victoria Sarne is an entrepreneur and writer. She headed a team to establish a shelter for abused women and children in Canada and was its first chairwoman. You can reach her at victoria.conversations@gmail.com, visit lifelineswritingservice.com, or call 467-1178.

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