Your morning shapes the rest of your day. So wake up earlier than your usual time, ideally snatch 20 minutes to half an hour extra. Do not keep your alarm clock on the bedside table. Keep it a bit away from the bed, so that you have to stretch to reach it. This will make sure your body beats morning grogginess, and will also stimulate the waking part of the brain. So you won’t feel listless.
Next up – a big hug. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have found that the gentle pressure of a hug can stimulate nerve endings under the skin that send calming messages to the brain. This sets the endorphins (happy hormones) running and prime you for bliss right away. But, even before you hug others, hug yourself – both in form as well as spirit. Embrace everything that is good about yourself, give yourself a pat on the back, and whisper words of encouragement. Now you can embark on the day happy and motivated.
Get a head start
Once you are up, instead of tea or coffee, opt for a rehydrating drink. A cup of hot water with a touch of lemon and honey is a better way to start the day than a forced wake-up with caffeine.
Then, sit someplace calm and meditate. You’ll be amazed at how just a few minutes can help clear your mind and give you high returns on the time invested. “I have been meditating for 10 years,” says Lisa Ray, actor and social activist. “The 10 minutes early in the morning help me start my day well. This is the time when I focus my energies to doing things well and list things that I should be grateful for in my life.” Or your morning ritual can be like Divya Vibha Sharma. A contemporary dancer based in Mumbai, Sharma starts her day by watering her two plants while singing or listening to songs. “This puts me in high spirits right away,” she says. Or, you could cuddle your pet, or take them for a walk.
And whatever else you do or not do, don’t miss your early morning date with the sun god. It’s proven that exposure to direct sunlight early in the morning helps boost the mood on two counts: one, it produces vitamin D in the body, which is a sure-fire mood-lifter, and second, when the body is exposed to sunlight, the secretion of serotonin (a neurotransmitter that boosts happiness) increases. The sages who advocated surya namaskar sure knew what they were doing.
A bit of morning exercise always helps. “You don’t have to go for a long run, even stretches and brisk walking around your building compound will get your metabolism going. That will kick in the endorphins that give you a natural high. And as far as possible, do it outdoors,” advises Nisha Varma, a Reebok master trainer. “Fresh air imparts an enhanced sense of well-being, boosts physical, spiritual and emotional health; and helps garner the benefits of exposure to sunlight.” Niharika Khan, national award winner for styling The Dirty Picture, agrees. “My challenging CrossFit workout in the morning readies me to take on the day on an optimistic note.”
And when you mix exercise with music, the effect is even more potent. “I go for my morning walk with my earphones plugged in and by the time I am back, I am happy as a bee,” shares Delhi based Jasleen Royal, a musician, composer and singer of Panchi Hojavan. Also sneak in a few stretches in the shower. The warm water will loosen up your muscles, and stretching will help to release stored tension.
Nibble on joy
Eat a decent breakfast. It is essential for replacing your liver glycogen, which helps you stay switched-on throughout the day. Skip high-sugary breakfast cereals since they give you instant energy, that wear off soon. Opt for foods that give slow, sustained energy to keep your blood sugar stable. Eat some good quality protein (eggs, dairy) and a source of complex carbohydrates (wholegrain breads, oats, barley). Make sure you chew some nuts or seeds (sesame, flax etc) for good quality fats.
And before you step out, look in the mirror and smile.
Cruise to work
Smelling peppermint and cinnamon during a commute has been known to decrease fatigue. Also listen to upbeat music while driving. “Music boosts brain power because it makes listeners feel relaxed and stimulated at the same time,” explains Dr Ashima Puri, a consultant psychologist. Or you can sing in your car. And sing loudly (with the windows shut, please). It can be very uplifting. When stuck in traffic, plan your day, think of that killer opening line for your next presentation, or do some stretching. Do anything but fuss and cuss.
Happy at work
The workplace can be a stress zone but you can combat it easily. “Alter the energy of your surroundings – display photos of friends, family, and places you love, your favourite artwork and meaningful mementos,” suggests Puri. Make sure you stay hydrated. Both air-conditioning and central heating systems can make you dehydrated, and no one is happy when they’re dehydrated. Keep a bottle (one litre preferably) filled with water on your table, with an aim to finish at least two. And don’t grab a cup of coffee and a pastry and call it a meal. Everyone gets a lunch hour. So take the break – you’ll come back more energised and in a better mood.
If you know that the day’s going to be tough, plug in some cedar wood aroma. Its exhilarating scent will calm frazzled nerves. And do this stress-reducing stretch: “Lock hands behind head, then gently push head down towards your chest and hold for 15 seconds,” shares Varma. “When stress hits you, take a break: log on to a website and spend five to 10 minutes calming yourself,” advises Dr Sujata Sharma, clinical psychologist at Delhi’s Parivartan Centre for Mental Health.
Leave your work area tidy. It’ll help you switch off mentally from work. Varma has good advice: “Try to fit in a short walk before you begin your car/train/rickshaw journey home. Otherwise, you are simply going from one seat to another.” Once home, quickly change out of work clothes into something comfortable. It will help you transition to ‘me time’. “Eat something to replenish your body like warm soup,” says Kavita Ashok, a model and etiquette consultant. And never go to bed without a proper shower. It will cleanse you physically and mentally. Finally, crawl into a nice warm bed and drift into deep sleep.
Gobble green beans: Magnesium levels are lower in those suffering from unhappiness. Green beans can boost its levels and ensure you stay on the right side of happiness.
Squash sesame seeds: They are loaded with the amino acid threonine, which is an essential nutrient to keep depression away. So munch on.
Chomp baby carrots: Deficiency of vitamin biotin induces both depression and fatigue. Carrots can help avoid that effectively.
Have some salmon: Loaded with omega-3s, this fatty fish helps brain cells and mood-lifting neurotransmitters to function properly.
This always works
Help someone: Mark Twain once said “the best way to cheer yourself is to try and cheer somebody else up”. By helping someone, we actually help ourselves too. Research shows that altruism spills out a lot of feel good hormones in the body, which translate into happiness that stays with you for a while. Think happy thoughts: Thoughts become things. “I consciously think about things I want in my life and not about those that I don’t want. Practicing Buddhism and chanting has taught me this,” says Kavita Ashok.
Keep a diary: “Writing a journal before bed can clear your mind, solve problems, mentally prepare for the next day, make plans, and get your thoughts out of your head and on the page,” points out Dr Ashima Puri.
Practice gratitude: Lisa Ray believes in it. “I think that practicing gratitude (saying Thank You loud and clear) instead of worrying about what is or could be wrong, is the way to go,” she says. Try this: write one thank-you note to someone daily.
Smell the flowers
Surround yourself with beautiful blooms. “Whether or not I am surrounded by fresh flowers is a sign of how happy I am feeling. The days I manage to go to the flower market in the morning, my day starts and stays happy. That morning jaunt simply takes me through the day,” says Niharika Khan.
This makes us happy
Having chai and chatting with an old friend
Sniffing a really good cup of French-roasted coffee
Browsing for hours in a bookshop
Flirting with an intelligent person with a good sense of humour
Fitting into pants we bought five years ago
Loving the work we do
Giving away some of our old stuff
Sitting out in the sun on a cheery winter morning
Laughing so hard, our stomach hurts
Singing along when an old favourite plays on the radio
Running into an old friend
Having a second helping of dessert
Being totally and utterly alone just admiring the night sky
From HT Brunch, November 25
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