How to be happier and calmer in a stressful world

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  • As research suggests we're heading towards a new pandemic of complex mental health problems, psychotherapist and best-selling author Owen O'Kane explains how to live in the now and let go of future-based living

    How to be happy in a stressful world? How to find joy and look after your mental wellbeing? We’re in tough times at the moment with coronavirus. The world and how we exist has changed. Yes, there is uncertainty, fear and there has probably never been a more challenging time to ‘live in the now.’ The prospect of accepting this might seem daunting or foolish. But the opposite is true!

    I wholeheartedly believe that when we can’t change actual circumstances in life, we CAN change our response to it. Living in the moment will steady you. It will create an anchor and place of safety in turbulent times. It will create a sense of strength that reminds you that you can and will get through this.

    What we know from the research in the worlds of psychology and neuroscience is that when we learn to accept life as it is, we function better. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t hope for better times, but when we resist life, as it is, then we become internally conflicted, and our anxiety increases.

    how to be happy

    Psychotherapist and best-selling author Owen O’Kane (Photographer: Nicky Johnston)

    For example if you focus on your breathing for a few moments each day, you help quieten your mind and over time increase its plasticity (flexibility).  Ten minutes per day meditating or simply stopping to ‘notice’ changes how neuropathways in the brain function (for the better). Likewise the brain’s anxiety response reduces, and this can be captured on MRI scans.

    So in short, living ‘in the now’ or as many of us know it – mindfulness – leads to a calmer mind and you learn how to be happy in your life. On a broader level mindfulness is about showing up – mentally as well as physically – in your everyday life.

    As simplistic as it sounds, this is where your power will be found – in the now. Much of the energy spent focusing on the future is wasted time. Most of what you need is right in front of you at this moment in time. The challenge is giving yourself permission to come out of the future (and the past) and step into what you have in this very moment. It’s no more complicated than that.

    Living this way will bring you more peace and happiness than you can imagine. I know this, not just as a therapist, but also as someone who wasted many years living in the future; nothing I sought was there.

    Letting go of future-based living will have significant positive impact on your life. Learn how to be happy and calmer with these improvements. Based on my own experience, you will discover:

    1. A sense of having fewer burdens

    As you focus on managing what is happening in the here and now, rather than trying to manage events in both the present and the future.

    2. A reduction in anxiety

    Future-based worries lead to overthinking, and so reducing this will in turn reduce worry.

    3. Your mood will improve 

    Taking your focus off the future will allow you to experience more of the here and now, which, studies show, has a positive impact on mood.

    4. Improvements in concentration

    Plus improvements in creativity, productivity, and memory from freeing up space in your brain.

    5. A renewed appreciation 

    And gratitude for what you have in your life at the moment.

    6. Enhanced awareness of what’s important

    Developing an enhanced awareness of what is going on in your life right now will allow you to make better decisions when it comes to making helpful changes in your life.

    Remember, your mind is the epicentre of all your experiences, and even in these dark times, you can take control of how you manage your mind. This creates possibilities. It opens the way for hope. Happiness then becomes possible.

    This isn’t a fairy dust approach to how to be happy. It is a way of life. It is a mindset. It is a choice. I believe making this choice could help you bounce back at a time when you might be feeling a little flattened.

    That time is now.

    how to be happy

    * Ten Times Happier: How to let go of what’s holding you back by psychotherapist Owen O’Kane is out now (HQ, HarperCollins)

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