Updated: Apr 14, 2021
Your Go-To mental health toolkit
Happiness is a complex issue I feel. We often say of our children “As long as they’re happy and healthy…” and I wonder what that means. Or if it is a realistic expectation. How often are we truly happy - as in euphoric - in our lives? It tends to be incredible moments or special days rather than all day, every day.
Maybe it would be helpful to reframe it if by ‘happy’ we mean that we want to feel fulfilled, purposeful, balanced and positive more of the time? To feel good about ourselves, to feel like we belong, to have the resilience to overcome life’s inevitable challenges along with flashes of joy?
Is there a way to hack your mental health?
Well it’s good news if this is your dream because there are many tools and skills that we can develop and learn that can make this your reality.
Boosting your brain health is the best place to start.
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that carry signals in the brain. Dopamine and serotonin are two that you may be familiar with and are so important for mental health. If you have an imbalance it can contribute feeling emotionally numb, losing the joy for life, anxiety, burn out, depression, sleep problems, digestion problems, eating too little or too much, memory issues, and attention difficulties.
So we need to think about the serotonin and dopamine levels in our brain to help us live a happy, healthy life.
We have seen a big increase in medications for serotonin and dopamine imbalances in recent times. These prescriptions can treat symptoms of many mental health conditions, yet their effectiveness varies, they can take a long time to work and they have a long list of potential side effects.
There are lots of non-drug tools that you can explore before committing to medication or to supplement the medication that you may already be on.
So I thought I would put together a box of quick go-to happiness tools that boost your serotonin and dopamine naturally.
Your GO-TO Happy Toolbox
Here are some 10 minute brain micro-boosters + micro-chillers:
1. Get Mindful
Be still and know what your happy place is. Knowing yourself is the one of the keys to happiness.
Then doing the next thing that nudges you towards what helps you feel happy.
Living with this knowing helps you align every choice and minute with your emotional wellbeing.
Spend 10 minutes of your precious time to just stop. Pause, breathe, be in this very moment, get to a calm + quiet pace in yourself. Focus on what helps you to feel happy? Is it being alone, doing what makes you feel confident, a long walk?
Then do more of this.
Here are 2 quick and powerful micro-chillers to help you get to your knowing.
This can be done wherever you like - while at your desk, when you boil the kettle, at a red light or pacing as you walk, run or climb steps.
Breathe in deeply
Hold your breath
Stop + notice where you are in this moment
Close your eyes + when you open them find:
things you can SEE
things you can HEAR
Things you can SMELL
Things that you can TOUCH
Thing that you can TASTE
Keep your attention on the here + now
As Glennon Doyle says in her new book “Untamed”:
How to know:
A moment of uncertainty arises
Breathe, turn inward, sink
Feel around for the Knowing
Do the next thing that nudges you toward
Let it stand (Don’t explain)
GO-TO TOOL: get to know what makes you happy better
2. Find your grateful
Sometimes we can get stuck in a negative pattern where we see everything in our lives through a pessimistic filter. It can be difficult to see the joy and find a way out.
One way to shift this mindset is to practice looking for the things in your life that you are grateful for. They can be small things, like clean sheets, or massive things, like for being born.
Here is a 5 minute nightly check-in - as you go to sleep or make a note in a journal - of 3 things that you have be thankful for in the day (or in your life).
Trio of Gratitudes
Think: people, lessons, privileges, epochs, planets, opportunities, nature, the small things.
The thing or person you would be lost without
A chapter in your life you are pleased to be far away from
The gift you are most thankful for
The thanks that got away
A blessed moment
Joy in the small things
How many languages can you say thank you in?
GO-TO TOOL: say your thank yous
3. Smell the roses
Make a note of your favourite scents and focus on the ones that bring a smile to your face. It’s fantastic how perfumes are super highway connections to your happy places and memories.
One of your powerful happy tools is to know your smells: the one that feels safe, the one that helps to calm you, the one that gives you a lift and put them in your go-to happy toolbox.
Candles, perfumes, essential oils, shampoo, clothes conditioner, flowers, plants
If you like a bottle of smells like Clean Car, Petrichor, Mown Grass have a little look in the Library of Fragrance
GO-TO TOOL: have your happy smell
4. Chase your dreams
One of the things that most people feel undermines their happiness in life is the feeling that we are stuck, hopeless, helpless and with no real purpose or meaning.
The big Why?
Achievement and forward movement release loads of dopamine in our brains and can be the big moments of pure joy that we are searching for so it’s a great plan to work out what your dreams are. Once we have a sense of direction it makes choosing which path so much easier.
So think about your dream destination and then using the satnav analogy. Put in the destination, but you might have to change course due to traffic, dead-ends, or roadworks - or you might just decide you want to go somewhere completely different.
“When the plan goes wrong the adventure begins”
Keeping a positive mindset, being flexible in approach, staying aligned to your values are all vital to get where you want to go.
Why is goal setting important? Visualise yourself older and looking back. What’s the pain from not achieving, and what is the pleasure from having reached for your dreams?
Chasing dreams and goals doesn’t have to be slow, hesitant process. Ever heard of analysis paralysis?
Listen to your gut.
Take 10 minutes to listen and then take the first step.
The M+E DO IT© way of dream setting goes a bit like this:
D : do a deep dive into your dream
O : one step at a time, break it down
I : initiate - just start: take action - do the first thing
T : take the time to be thankful + celebrate each + every win
GO-TO TOOL: make a plan
5. Know your happy place
Do you have a go-to list of times when you have been your most happy?
This is a wonderful go-to tool to hack to give you the power to lift your mood. A great idea is to link your Cloud 9 with an anchor - like pinching your ear lobe or touching a necklace. All you do is touch your anchor every time you are in your happy place and then over time your brain links the anchor to the feeling.
So whenever you want the feeling you can just touch your anchor.
CLOUD 9 VISUALISATION
Take a breath
and think about all the happy moments, memories and achievements in your life
All the things and people that make you laugh?
All the things you dream of doing
The place where you have felt happiest
Your Cloud 9
GO-TO TOOL: What’s your anchor?
6. Explore + discover
Do one new thing
What new experience can you have today? Do you know the experiences and places that help you feel content, lifted and happy?
Can you discover more of them?
Novelty doesn’t have to be big things - it can be changing your routine, trying a new food, learning a new word, meeting a new person, take on a challenge, discovering a new beach, explore a different town.
Your brain can grow and develop new patterns (neuroplasticity).
An open mind, a growth mindset and an enquiring mind releases dopamine and changes your brain.
GO-TO TOOL: do one new thing
7. Connect + communicate
Have you got a clear idea of the people that lift your mood, boost your energy and leave you feeling recharged? You now know the people to connect to first and bring them more into your life.
Decide on the people in your life that help you feel happy (make sure you are one of them)
And invest in them.
There are radiators and drains.
Surround your self with radiators.
Open up, have deeper conversations, contact them more, talk more, spend more time together. Laugh.
GO-TO TOOL: know your people
8. Go outside for 10
Go for a walk in the woods, have your lunch on a park bench, work by an open window, sit under a tree.
If you find yourself living and working inside a small change to your day can really help your mood. Researchers have found as little as five minutes outdoors in a natural setting boosts serotonin and dopamine levels which can improve mood, increase motivation, and boost self-esteem. Going for a brief walk in the park, having your lunch on a park bench, working by an open window, sitting under a tree.
GO-TO TOOL: go outside
9. Get moving for 10
Dance to your favourite song, do some Yoga stretches, jumping jacks - anything you love
Moving your body has been shown to be great for your brain. Research has revealed that energetic exercise boosts serotonin levels and lifting weights helps dopamine so find something you love to do for 10 minutes a day.
GO-TO TOOL: get moving
10. Get nutritious
One great big salad with 10 ingredients or a big bowl of vegetable soup every day are one quick way to boost your nutrition and give your brain the fuel it needs to make your happy chemicals.
Eating high quality proteins + plenty of the freshest vegetables + fruit + good fats is the best way to fuel + balance the neurotransmitters in your brain.
So knowing your favourite way to eat healthily is an incredible way to naturally micro-boost your happiness.
GO-TO TOOL: eat your veg
11. Take your vitamins
Making these concentrated micro-boosters part of your daily ritual, part of your quotidian, is your health and happiness insurance.
The key is to make it part of your routine. Your self-care ritual. Clean your teeth, have a shower, have a glass of water in the morning, take your vitamins.
Here are the 10 best nutrients for your brain:
Omega 3 (fish oil, flaxseed, algae)
Amino acids (tyrptophan, tyrosine, glutamine, carnitine)
Vitamin B complex (methylated)
Vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin)
Check that you take high quality, high dosages, active ingredients that you can trust
Here is some HAPPY ME
GO-TO TOOL: take your vits
Our brain needs…
(like Tryptophan + Tyrosine + Glutamine + Carnitine)
VITAMINS + MINERALS + OMEGA OILS + PROBIOTICS
(serotonin + dopamine + GABA + acetylcholine)
To feel happy + calm + energised
To feel our best selves.
While these tools can boost your neurotransmitters, they are not a substitute for medical care. If you have mental health concerns, you should always seek a doctor’s or therapist’s advice. A mental health professional can tell you which approaches are best for your unique situation. There is no shame in taking medication or attending counselling.