Planning for laughter?!
Last time we had a closer look at the role of the neurotransmitters Oxytocin and Serotonin in experiences that lead to happiness. This time we will focus on how dopamine and the endorphins are produced and what we can do to stimulate their production.
Dopamine produces a sense of excitement about an event that rewards us more than we expected. It can motivate us to take action toward goals, desires, and needs, and gives a surge of reinforcing pleasure when we achieve them. Many of the goals we had before lockdown have had to be postponed indefinitely, like celebratory events, or holidays we planned. So to produce more dopamine, we can focus on goals that are possible given our current circumstances. Is there something that challenges you, maybe something you always wanted to do? It could be learning a new skill, finishing something you previously started, tidying up a specific area, writing a journal, recording memories for your grandchildren. Breaking the task into bite-size pieces, maybe making a start of just a few minutes, makes success easier to reach. Crucial to the process is that we celebrate the achievements in some way – giving yourself a “gold star” obviously won’t work, but doing something you really enjoy after meeting your goal may do the trick.
When last did you hug someone?
Although I am all for understanding our challenging emotions and growing through them, we need some happiness to keep us creative in the way we address our challenges. Happiness is associated with some of the experiences we cannot currently enjoy given current restrictions, like going to a party, a night out with friends or a long awaited holiday. If we break it down to brain chemistry, this is when neurotransmitters like oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine and endorphins are released. It may feel reductionistic, but maybe there is something useful to learn here. I have been reading about these neurotransmitters and practical ways (not medical) that stimulate our “happy chemicals”. It is a vast and complicated subject, and in writing briefly about it, I will no-doubt oversimplify. Perhaps it encourages you to find out more detail…
When we are isolated, our oxytocin levels fall. It is related to our sense of belonging. How can we increase our connection with others while keeping our spatial distance in one-to-one conversations? We have grown so accustomed to interacting with whatsapp messages and they definitely have their value, but hearing a human voice in a phone conversation connects us more. A video call where we can see a face without a mask has an even more positive effect. Could we aIso create more group experiences? Our extended family regularly meets up in group video calls, but there are many other options. Uniting towards a common goal is part of belonging. One of the classic ways we usually do this is in supporting a sports team, or belonging to a club with a common interest, or joining a support group around a common challenge. Many of these are now happening online or – in the case of sports – before cameras without live audiences.
This is not my battle…
I was chatting to a friend last week about the effect that the lockdown has had on us. We had hoped that we would have had time to assess what was really important to us, to learn to focus on what needs to change so that our lives display our values, to be grateful for what we have. Despite my friend being one of the most selfless people I know, she confessed that she had realised to her horror that she had become more selfish, rather than more outward looking. She had realised what important things she did not have, and what securities she wanted in the future. These things involve access to the private health sector and the required financial stability that gives access to it.
I could certainly identify. In terms of these longings, we are all on common ground. We don’t want to get sick. We want to be able to earn well enough to meet our needs for nutrition, shelter and health. The two are closely connected.
Taking a bird’s eye view of where we are as a country going into level 3, we also have these two common goals:
Limit the spread of covid 19 – don’t get infected, and don’t infect others.
Get the economy going – get to work, make an income, get others to work, so many of us can make a living.
These two are also interdependent. It feels too obvious to state, but I will any way: keeping infections low is key to keeping the economy open. I may feel I have little influence on getting the economy going, but I actually do have an important part to play:
Preparing for the next work chapter…
Some of us are going to be returning to out-of-home work on level 3. After 2 months at home living with uncertainty, some of us may be surprised by our mixed feelings about this next step, with rising anxiety about going back to a daily workplace routine. Given the current circumstances, this is a fairly normal response. What can we do to make this transition as low-stress as possible?
What is the first thing that comes to mind – our biggest concern? If we can address that concern in a practical way, we will have come a long way in alleviating our anxiety. If your friend was telling you about this issue, what advice would you give him/her? I don’t know what your biggest worry is, but hopefully one of the possibilities below will spark some ideas that work for you.
Let’s think this through in a very practical way – what do we know about the circumstances we are going back to…and what changes to daily life can we make now that bring us closer to the daily work experience?
We know what work clothes we will be wearing. If practical, we could start wearing them during the day even now. Those of us who use make-up might want to start doing that again.
If we know what time we need to leave the house to get to work on time, we can set our alarms and practice our wake-up and go routine. This also means getting to bed on time. This may involve our children if they are in grades 12 or 7 (if they are willing to play along!) If we have children of other age groups, what will be happening to them while we are at work? This may land up being a difficult question to navigate – we need to know they are safe.
Living in Limbo
In a coaching conversation this week, I was told “life is a series of limbo situations”. If this is your experience, it means you know that you have survived previous episodes of limbo. What did you lean on to get through then? How could that be useful now?
In the midst of this limbo we find ourselves in, where so much is uncertain, it may be helpful to focus on the truths we do know.
We do not know when the corona epidemic will be under control, but we know that this too shall pass. Uncertainty in whatever form is an unavoidable part of our lived experience. It is uncomfortable, but it ends eventually. Knowledge is given, wars and pandemics end, and we move on, all be it as changed people.
Worrying feels like you have some control but actually often reduces the energy you have to improve the situation. What is the likelihood that the worst outcome will happen? We’re not all statisticians but often we overestimate the worst scenario and underestimate the many other possibilities, and as a result spend a lot of energy imagining and preparing for the unlikely. If we focus on making good choices in the areas that we have some control over, it can increase our energy to broaden our circle of influence. What are your uncertainty triggers? Sometimes we find ourselves on an ever tightening thought spiral of worst-case what-if scenarios, but sometimes we are influenced by what we expose ourselves to – social media, negative focus of news stories, rumours, speculations, fake news, only communicating with anxious friends. Emotions are just as infectious as viruses! What triggers can you limit?
Let’s explore our emotions a little. We know that suppressing our emotions long-term can make the situation worse. Internalising anxiety and stress can make you physically and mentally ill. It may feel uncomfortable, but it is wiser to allow yourself to experience those difficult emotions and investigate what is going on beneath them. This is where you will find the clues to what it is you need to change. These may be uncomfortable growth points, but they have the potential of bringing you to a place of blossoming joy. But give yourself grace – it may feel quite overwhelming. Don’t isolate yourself in response, we are already distant enough from each other. Reach out to someone you trust to walk this road with you.
We know that when we are in the thick of the problem, we have a limited view of the situation. We cannot see all the possibilities there are, because our vision has become narrowed by uncertainty. A bird’s eye view can reveal a more hopeful perspective, but sometimes we need someone else to listen to us and help us zoom out. What would we think about our own situation if we were watching it on a screen happening to someone else?
Usizi ngesikhathi sokuvaleleka (IsiZulu translation of Grieving during lockdown)
Kulelisonto umngani wami wezwa ngokudlula emhlabeni kuka nina wakhe. Kunzima ukuba ahlanganyele nomndeni wakhe kulesikhathi sokuzila. Ibanga lokufinyelela khona likude kakhulu. Lokhu kubonakala sengathi kuzoba yinkinga kubantu abaningi kulamaviki ambalwa alandelayo. Abantu abangaphezu noma ngaphansi kuka 1500 bayashona malanga wonke eNingizimu Afrika kulesisikhathi sokuvaleleka. Singazila kanjani ngokufanele ngesikhathi salokuvaleleka na? Kulabo abalahlekelwe izihlobo eziseduze ukuthi bathole usizo lokulibala okubavelele uma singeke sikhone ukuba siduduzane, sibambane, sisekelane? Kunzima ukukhuluma ngaloludaba. Isimo esinzima futhi esingakhulumeki esingafuni nokucabanga ngaso. Kodwa uma singazinikela sibhekisise lesihloko, ukuze singayeki ukuthola izindlela zokusisiza kanye nalabo esibathandayo.
Nayi imibono evumelekile engenziwa futhi engeke ivimbe ukuthi sihlanganyele ndawonye, kodwa sikwazi ukusekela noma ukududuza abashonelwe:
- Asivumelekanga ukuhamba nomndeni ukuyohlola isidumbu kodwa singabazisa sibatshele ukuthi sinabo siyabacabanga futhi siyabathandazela.
- Asikwazi ukukhombisa uzwelano namalunga womndeni aseduze ekhaya ngokuba kanye nabo kodwa singathumela imiyalezo.
- Kungenziwa imikhuleko malanga wonke andulela umngcwabo kulomndeni oshonelwe (Lokhu kungaba isibophezelo ukuthi kwenziwe ngesikhathi esibekiwe ngaphandle kokusebezisa noma sisebenzise i-app or social media.
- Asikwazi ukuthi sibekhona ukusiza umndeni ngokulungiselela ukudla, kodwa njengasemadolobheni singa kwazi ukuthenga ukudla bese kuhanjiswa khona. Imindeni ekude bangafakelwa imali emabhange.
- Umzimba womufi awukwazi ukulethwa ekhaya ngaphambi kwelanga lomngcwabo ukuzovaleliswa kodwa omakhelwane bangakhombisa ukuzwelana nabo ngokucula basemakhaya wabo.
- Asikwazi futhi nokubakhona ngomlindelo kodwa singakwazi ukusebenzisa i on-line app engakwazi ukwenza lomsebenzi womlindelo. Abomndeni banganikezelwa nge data ne airtime ukuze bakwazi ukuxhumana nawo wonke umphakathi.
- Angeke sikwazi ukuba yingxenye yalabo abangu 50 abakhethiwe ukuba khona emngcwabeni kodwa singakwazi ukwenza inkonzo yesikhumbuzo ngaphambi komngcwabo ngokusebenzisa i-app ekwazi ukuthi abantu bahlanganyele, kungabuye kwenziwe ne video yomngcwabo engakhonjiswa abanye emwa komngcwabo.
- Kungaqalwa neqembu lokududuzana le whatsapp lapho kungaboniswana noma kukhonjiswane izinto ezimbalwa njenge zithombe, ukukhumbulana, izindaba ezihlekisayo, imkhuba exakile, uhlu lwamaculo athandwayo. Kungabuye kukhunjulwe nama akhawunti we Facebook.
- Abantu ngokuhlukahlukana bangenza indawo yesikhumbuzo ezindlini zabo ngesithombe salowo ongasekho, kanye nezinye izinto ezingasikhumbuza yena zikhonjiswe nabanye abantu.
- Angeke sikwazi ukuhlanganyela nomndeni emathuneni ukuze sisize ukugqiba umgodi. Kungaba kuhle ukunikeza umndeni oshonelwe imbali kube yisikhumbuzo sothandiweyo wabo. Imbali ingathathwa engadini uma unayo, singaqala loluhlelo ukuze sikwazi ukunikezela ngalembali uma uvaleleko seluphelile/seludlulile.
Singakwazi ukuxhumana nalomndeni ngezingcingo, nangemilayezo kuze kuphele isikhathi sokuzila nangasemuva kwalokho.
Ngokuhamba kwesikhathi singeza nezindlela eziningi zamasiko amasha angasisiza okwamanje, kuze kufike isikhathi sokuthi sibuye sikwazi ukuhlanganyela ndawonye. Yini ongayifaka/ongayiphonsa esivivaneni?
Thanks to Happy Mthimunye and Dudu Mkhize for their work on the translation!
Grieving during lockdown
This week a friend of mine heard that her mother had died. There is no way that she can be physically present to mourn with her family. The physical distance is too far. This is going to be a problem for numerous people over the next few weeks. (Approximately 1500 people died every average day in SA pre lockdown) How can one grieve well under lockdown circumstances? How can we, who have lost a close companion, experience some closure when we cannot reach out to comfort each other, to hold, to hug, to weep on each other’s shoulders? It is a difficult conversation to have. An unspeakable reality we do not want to even imagine. But let us dare to explore this topic now, so that we are not immobilised when some of us need to find a way for our own sake, and for the sake of those we love.
Here are some ideas, that admittedly cannot replace physical presence, but are a way in which we can still support the grieving:
Easter, weekends, public holidays…
- Sleep late.
- Listen to a prayer app.
- Dress in the way we feel is fitting to the occasion.
- Eat differently to the average week day – have hot cross buns and tea, make unleavened bread, eat boiled eggs that we have decorated (with food colouring), make some special Easter dishes.
- We will probably change the position of the furniture in one of our rooms.
- We will not work or school, in fact, I am not going to even sit at my desk.
- Join up to a church service on-line. (If you have never physically attended a church service, now is a great opportunity to visit one incognito.)
- Connect with the broader family on a whatsapp group call (this might even be during the meal-time we usually spend together at Easter).
- Have an Easter egg hunt, inside and outside the house.
- Eat supper by candle-light, use a special tablecloth.
- Make memories with our lockdown family: re-enacting old Easter traditions and maybe adding some new ones, reading a book together, looking at photos, playing games, trying some of the newly free on-line activities e.g. visiting an on-line museum together, having a look into the Kruger park game drives, downloading an audiobook from Audible. There are so many other fun ideas for free family activities (physical & virtual) if you do a quick Google search…
What will you be doing this weekend?