Magic tonic works wonders

I’m going to let you in on a little secret that serves me so well.

As a nurse, I have to be careful about prescribing, but this is one prescription I’m licensed to provide.

I’ve needed it more than ever this past year. I see so many people who could benefit from even a small dose, so I’ve decided to share it with you.

I use it liberally as a magic tonic for what ails me, especially when my spirits are low. It works every single time, and has no negative side effects.

I caution you, it does give me a high when I use it, but it doesn’t cause impairment. It just feels good, like a warm glow or buzz.

It’s most often free, but at times there’s a wee cost involved, but the dividends it returns are magnified. It’s not a snake oil, as myriad research supports my claims.

This magic elixir is proven to:

  • Reduce stress
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Reduce depression
  • Reduce body pain
  • Decrease loneliness
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve heart health
  • Increase happiness
  • Enhance healing
  • Improve energy and confidence
  • Increase life-span

Interestingly, this is one thing that, when used, doubles when you share it; it actually multiples when you give it away. This only adds to its magical properties.

The ingredients are readily available to all of us. There’re many recipes available, and you can tweak the recipe to suit yourself and your taste, but the results are the same.

What is this magic tonic you ask?

The simple act of performing random acts of kindness (RAK).

Today, Feb. 17 is random acts of kindness (RAK) day, placed smack-dab in the centre of a week dedicated to random acts of kindness. It’s celebrated twice a year, but it’s genius placement in February is the perfect antidote to the winter blahs and our year of isolation and uncertainty.

Performing RAK benefits our lives in so many ways. Isn’t that amazing?

RAK activates our own internal pharmacies. It causes the secretion of beneficial hormones serotonin and oxytocin, as well as endorphins, while reducing the stress hormone, cortisol.

Serotonin is a natural antidepressant that increases happiness, a sense of calm, and also supports healing of wounds. Oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, reduces blood pressure, enhances heart health, and promotes feelings of love and connection.

Endorphins reduce stress and pain, and act like natural opioids in our bodies, and they increase feelings of well-being.

The high experienced is called a helper’s high, which results from the activation of the brain’s pleasure and reward centres, and the flood of beneficial body chemicals.

Performing RAK can rewire our brains and reset our body chemistry for the better, as acts of kindness find their way into our brains and bodies. Successful people are found to incorporate kindness into their lives.

Even planning future acts, or recalling past acts of kindness, causes a positive shift inside us.

While no one else even needs to know about the kindness we’ve extended, benefits are experienced by people who merely witness such acts being performed.

The positive effects of kindness are reflected in the brains of everyone privy to kind acts, due to the activation of mirror neurons. We’re wired that way.

When we witness acts of kindness, we’re uplifted and more likely to extend kindness to others, compounding the effects. RAK are contagious, and this is one virus I’m delighted to spread.

As research into the benefits of RAK continues, encouraging such acts is being considered as an intervention to support mental well-being. That’s why I’m free to prescribe for you.

RAK can be very simple and free, such as holding the door for someone, letting someone in in traffic with a smile, a thoughtful phone call, or kind word or compliment.

Don’t reserve this recipe for special occasions. I hope you keep this magic tonic recipe close at hand and apply it liberally.

The science behind a smile

I have a riddle for you.

What’s a little bit more than a mile, yet fits on your face?

It’s better than a facelift, it’s contagious, it’s free, and makes you feel better.

Yes, the answer is a smile.

There’s great power in our smiles. Even though they’re often hidden right now, we might want to consider smiling anyway.

Smiles not only lift others’ spirits, they have overall benefits for our brain and body health. Science reveals why.

With each grin, a little party happens in our heads, caused by the release of both neurotransmitters and neuropeptides in our brains.

Neurotransmitters such as dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin are released each time a smile flashes across our faces. These brain chemicals aid in calming our nervous systems by lowering heart rate and blood pressure, and this is a very good thing.

Dopamine gives the brain energy, motivation, a rush, and is necessary for habit change.

The endorphins secreted in response to a smile reduce our perception of pain and trigger a positive, euphoric feeling in our bodies.

Serotonin plays many different roles and controls our over-all moods. It can be thought of as a confidence molecule and flows when we feel significant.

The discovery of neuropeptides was important as it allowed science to connect the workings of the mind with the processes of the body.

Among other things, neuropeptides tell our bodies whether we are happy, sad, angry, depressed, or excited. When we smile, the neuropeptides tell the body we are happy.

Smiling improves our immune function by reducing stress and cortisol levels in our bodies.

Cortisol is the hormone secreted in response to stress, and high levels of cortisol are hard on our bodies and inhibit our immune systems. One study found that smiling helps the body produce more white blood cells, which fight illness.

One experiment showed that participants with elevated heart rates had their rate return to normal more quickly when they smiled.

Smiling involving the eyes activates the orbitofrontal cortex, the region of your brain that processes sensory rewards. This suggests that your brain feels rewarded when you smile or see a smile; it could be a great diet strategy.

When we are smiling, we even perceive other people’s faces differently, and will tend to see a smile on even seemingly neutral faces.

When we are smiling others tend to perceive us differently. Smiling faces are deemed to be more attractive. Who doesn’t want to be more attractive, especially with Valentine’s Day right around the corner?

People with smiling faces are judged by others to be, not only more attractive, but more confident, reliable, relaxed and sincere.

If you’ve nothing to smile about, smile anyway. The adage of fake it until you make it is true here, because even fake smiles have benefits.

The feedback from the skeletal muscles involved in making a smile tells your body to release hormones and neuropeptides. Research showed that even fake smiles lower our heart rates and ease stress.

People who frequently smile genuinely tend to live longer. They tend to stay married longer, live healthier, and have higher levels of physical and emotional well being.

Smiles are contagious, as most people can’t help but smile back at a smiling face. When we look at a smiling face, our brain coaxes us to return the favour.

This creates a symbiotic relationship allowing both people to release feel-good chemicals in the brain, activating our reward centres, making us more attractive, healthier, and more resilient.

Research found that when people were asked to frown whilst looking at the picture of the smiling face, they could not as they mimicked the smile unless they really focused.

The simple act of a smile can transform you and the world around you.

According to Thich Nhat Hahn, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

Smile! Let the party begin.

What's new? SSDD?

What’s new with you?

Same old, same old?

There’s even an acronym for our routine: SSDD, same stuff, different day.

It’s like living in the movie Groundhog Day, when each day is a carbon copy of the day before. It’s predictable and comfortable, but living life in a rut also prevents us from growing and flourishing as human beings.

We fall asleep at the wheel of life, and fail to realize our full potential.

Most of us are familiar with the well-travelled road effect of arriving at a familiar destination and not remembering the drive. When we travel familiar routes, it’s easy to zone out and fail to notice our surroundings.

It’s the nature of the mind to stay awake in new experiences and fall asleep, or go unconscious, with what’s familiar.

So too, when we get stuck in a rut in life. We can end up sleep-walking through our lives instead of living them with intention and purpose.

While arriving at our destination without noticing the trip is a common experience when driving, I don’t want it to be the way I live my life. I believe life isn’t meant to be a repeat of the same days, over and over, until we’re done.

It would be tragic to arrive at our final destination in life only to find we failed to really live the lives we wanted. If we’re alive and breathing, then there’s a purpose in our being here.

We’re not meant to just sleep walk through our days, but to constantly grow and evolve as we inhabit our days.

There are many people who don’t even like the rut they’re living in, but continue on with it, because it’s what they know. It’s easy to grow comfortable with our discomfort with life, and we can settle for living a life that no longer motivates and excites us.

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. As Henry Ford said, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

It’s easy to continue doing only what we already know and what we’re good at, staying safe within our comfort zones. We’ll never expand and grow if we don’t try new things.

Kids try new things all the time, and we encourage them as they grow, even if they’re not perfect. It’s not about the end result; it’s about the process of trying and creating.

At some point on the route to becoming an adult, it becomes easy to stop taking chances with trying new things. We often tell ourselves stories of why we shouldn’t or can’t do new things, but often these stories aren’t true.

It’s transformative to stretch and grow as we venture into new territory. Colour outside the lines.

It’s comfortable living on the merry-go-round of life, each day being a repetition of the one before.

It may be comfortable, but quite frankly, it’s boring and not the way we’re meant to live as creative human beings. SSDD causes us to fall asleep at the wheel and fail to experience the richness of life.

As our brains stay stuck in the same neural pathways day-in -and-day-out, we fail to develop new pathways in our brain. Incorporating mindful changes, learning a new hobby or skill, or even taking a different route on our travels keeps the brain engaged and active.

What’s something new that you’d love to do?

This is the perfect time to shake things up a little and try something new and different.

Step outside of your comfort zone because, quite frankly, comfort is over-rated.

Stop torturing yourself

We’re hurting ourselves.

The self-torture must stop if we are to live our best lives and make a positive difference in the world.

Self-torture? Yes, self-torture, which affects our happiness, health, and full expression of life, seems rampant.

Would you turn the keys to your kingdom over to those you dislike or who have harmed you?

This seems like a silly question, but this is exactly what’s happening when we spend our mental and emotional coin focused on what upsets us.

With the increasing tendency to be glued to media today, it’s vital we check-in with ourselves to notice how much attention, energy, and power we’re giving to what’s difficult.

Whether we’re holding virtual conversations in our mind with foes, or ranting and griping about politics and world situations, there are negative personal consequences when we focus on what we don’t like.

We can become like moths to the flame, and we bear the consequences.

Challenging situations are often mentally sticky and hard to shake. They easily start to colour our lives. What we focus on increases.

Psychologist Dr. Rick Hanson, a senior fellow from UC Berkeley, coined the phrase, “our brains are Teflon for what’s positive, and Velcro for the negative.”

Our brains react strongly to what’s unpleasant.

The tendency of the brain to over-emphasize what’s challenging keeps us stuck in a constant state of stress, and we can feel victim to life’s challenges.

It’s called the inherent negativity bias, the tendency of our minds to pay more attention to danger.

Research shows it takes five positives to off-set one negative criticism in healthy relationships.

The same is true for life’s experiences. We’re biologically wired to pay more attention to what’s challenging or negative; it’s a safety mechanism for survival.

When stuck in a negative mental loop, our bodies quickly follow suit, as shots of stress hormones circulate.

It doesn’t matter if challenging situations are currently happening, coming from memory or the media; our bodies react as if we’re faced with the threat in the present moment.

This easily colours our perspectives on life, and we can become negative, cynical, or pessimistic. It’s easy to start seeing only what’s bad, as the storehouse of the negative grows more quickly than what’s good.

In reality, we’re torturing and harming ourselves when we fall into the very human habit of maintaining our focus on that which upsets and disturbs us.

It’s challenging to switch gears once we’ve rehearsed a negative mental loop because neurons, or brain cells, that “fire together, wire together” according to Hanson.

Each time we practise a negative mental thought, negative mental connections become stronger.

While we want to stay apprised of what’s happening in the world brought to us by virtual reality, it’s important to remember what’s really happening within our own lives.

We don’t have to be victim to our negative thoughts, and with practice we can change the landscape of our minds. We can change our set-point for happiness, thanks to neuroplasticity.

It’s not about trying to ignore or suppress what’s difficult, or burying our head in the sand; it’s learning to use what’s good in our lives to consciously change our brains and improve our own health. We can then be better equipped to make positive changes in the world.

Gratitude is a simple practice offering powerful results, and it’s free.

Practising gratitude boosts the production of neurochemicals and hormones that support well-being. Our brains and our bodies benefit from practising gratitude.

Even if we can’t find anything to be grateful for, the mere practice of stopping to look for something to be grateful for creates a shift. Or you can up the power of gratitude.

While merely listing what we are grateful for is helpful, thinking of why we’re grateful for the items on our list enhances the benefits we receive.

Try this out for yourself, paying attention to how you feel inside.

Think of something you’re grateful for, pause for a moment and notice how you feel. Then list the reasons why you’re grateful. How do you feel now?

We can spend our time lamenting on what’s difficult, or what’s no longer possible, or we can choose to turn our attention on what is good within our lives.

We take back the keys to our inner kingdom, and it benefits us in amazing ways.

Quick! Name three things you’re grateful for? You’ve already started.

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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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