The clock strikes the midnight hour and we cheer, "Happy New Years!" with raised glasses and hearts filled with hope for a better year, a better life, a better us. We laugh as confetti floats down in a glittered rain. Then we hold our friends and loved ones tight pledging to be mindful of what it is that really makes life important. We pledge to be happy, making resolution we hope will lead to a life of change. "Happy New Year!" we call as we depart, returning to homes with deadlines and ridged schedules, only to wake the next morning to the same routine and wonder why our resolutions are so hard to keep.
Yes, it's easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life and let days, weeks and even months slip by. We are distracted by the fast and furious world of penciled in schedules, the lists of errands to run, the appointments to catch, each of us locked in routines that keep us from fostering a fulfilling existence. So stop. Don't allow life to rule you, instead shake off your blasé attitude and reclaim your life.
The night before, we were so hopeful as we call out, "This year I will lose ten pounds!" or "I resolve to start an exercise program!" Why then do our pledges look so daunting in the cold morning light? Often it's because we strive for things that are too extreme. So make it simple.
Let's begin with diet. Now when I say the word diet, I don't mean counting calories. The diet I am referring to is the act of looking at what you eat and substituting good choices for the not-so-good ones. So next time you are thinking about a breakfast of French toast dripping with butter and syrup, rethink your choice and substitute it with a hot bowl of oats topped with fresh fruit and low fat milk. Instead of fast food for lunch, have a salad. The small changes you make in your food intake will not only improve your nourishment, it will improve your mood and make you feel much better.
Oh, And when you are reaching for those fresh fruits and veggies, why not go one step further and pay a little more for the organic choices? A study published by Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific, Nov 2009 states that Roundup, or Glyphosate-based herbicides, deplete Serotonin and Dopamine levels. Let's face it we are all slaves to our internal workings. Our feelings, emotions, the ability to focus, even our compulsive thought processes and behaviors are all products of our brain chemistry. When certain chemicals in the brain become unbalanced, it can cause a variety of negative conditions and two of these culprits are serotonin and dopamine.
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter involved in the brain's regulation of emotion and movement. In the April 2007 American Journal of Psychiatry article, Can’t Get Enough of That Dopamine, Bruce Cohen MD, PhD and William Carlezon PhD state, "through their many connections, dopamine neurons participate in the modulation of expectation, reward, memory, activity, attention, drives, and mood - the very substrates of psychiatric illness." So what does it mean when our dopamine levels are depleted? Low levels of dopamine cause us to face life with indifference and life becomes flat and boring. A diet that includes almonds, avocados, bananas, dairy products, lima beans, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds is a natural way to boost dopamine levels. Eating fruits and vegetables and other foods that are rich in antioxidants, also protect dopamine-using neurons from free radical damage. So change your diet and make the organic choice!
Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that affects sleep cycles, moods and memory. Low levels of serotonin are linked to aggression, anxiety and depression. A study in the Neuroscience Journal from 2007 found that exposure to the bacteria found in dirt boosts Serotonin levels in the brain. Many gardeners already know that running their naked finger through the soil not only makes their spirits soar but grounds them in the shifting of the seasons. So get outside, plant a garden. Take walk through the park. Yes, even the simple act of walking can cheer you up. Dr. Michael C. Miller, member of the Department of Psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center says, "a modest exercise program - even just taking regular walks - can improve your mood significantly." And it doesn't take much. A study published in the December 2005 issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise reported that people with major depressive disorders who walked on a treadmill for 30 minutes experienced positive feelings of well-being and vigor.
It really is simple. Eat better and get some exercise. Both will improve your mood and your health and make your New Year's resolutions easier to keep. Oh, and while you're at it, why not spend some time doing something that makes you happy? Watch the child stomping through the puddles. Face lit with wonder as laughter accompanies each squish of her boots. What makes you happy and why aren't you doing it? Are you a writer, a gardener, a quilter or a cook? Embrace your passion and allow the act of creation to transform your life from dull to inspired. Today, steal some time for yourself and do what you love! Not only is it good for your mood it is also good for your health.
Can't remember what it is that you like to do? Then try something new. Do that thing you've always dreamed of doing. Dr. Gene D. Cohen M.D., Ph.D. co-founded the Creativity Discovery Corps, states that, "as the brain masters new, mentally challenging skills, it actually boosts the immune system by spurring the production of T-cells, which ward off bacterial infections, as well as NK (or “natural killer”) cells, which attack cancer cells.” Delving into an artistic endeavor not only benefits your health and mood, it is also a salve for your spirit. The act of creation connects us to our Divine spark, the god within us, the inner voice that is our direct link to the vast well that is: knowledge, wisdom, love and inner peace. By engaging in the creative process, we shift from a passive existence to an active one providing a true experience that allows satisfaction at the completion of something created, something formed, a goal attained. It is in this completion we find fulfillment. So take control of your day. Next time you have a free hour, instead collapsing before a glowing screen, seize the time to have some fun. Love yourself and your life. Make the most of your time here. No one can do it for you. Only you can choose to live.