Finding the energy to face 2019
Many South Africans, and others across the world, experienced 2018 as a tumultuous and uncertain year. New Year is traditionally a time for revived energy, positive thoughts and intentions. However, the transition into 2019 may not automatically be filled with hope and verve. We have put the old year behind us, but are we surging into the new one believing that everything is going to get better?
In 2019, it seems most likely that we will continue to experience increasing social polarization, which evokes feelings of disconnection, isolation, anger at ‘others’, and of being threatened. Worldwide, politics and economics are expected to remain tense, volatile and unpredictable leading to personal feelings of anxiety and insecurity. As an individual, it is easy to feel powerless against these kinds of macro forces shaping our year ahead.
Somatic psychologist and best-selling author of The Mindful Body, Noa Belling takes a different view. According to Noa, we can certainly forge into 2019 with the optimism, energy and motivation to make it an excellent year for ourselves and for our contributions to each other. In The Mindful Body, Noa presents practical, quick and easy strategies to build emotional strength and manage stress through body mindfulness. Here are her top tips to find the energy to face 2019 and ensure that it is a year of personal fulfilment and achievement.
Starting out positively
“Each time a new year begins it can bring with it a sense of hope and renewed possibility that we can lean into. No matter how the year was that we are saying goodbye to, it is an opportunity to reflect on and learn from the past and to choose to focus on possibility and hope rather than carry forward negativity. Body awareness or body mindfulness can help with this. For example, when we are negative, we tend to constrict, tense up and hold our breath or perhaps fall into lethargy. A simple postural shift, like righting our posture, opening our chests, allowing ourselves a good few deep breaths and holding our heads up high can trick our brains into more positivity, even if we have to ‘fake it ‘til we make it’. There are more tricks like this – some call them brain hacks – which we can use any time we need a mood change and that can build our emotional strength and resilience.”
Building resilience purposefully
“Resilience is made up of a number of moments of facing our stresses with qualities like courage and confidence. How can we build our courage and confidence to face our daily stresses? Power poses can be helpful here. Harvard research by Amy Cuddy has shown that when we puff up or open our chest and shoulders, which encourages us to stand tall and proud, it raises our confidence hormone, testosterone and lowers our stress and anxiety hormone, cortisol. This can happen in a matter of a minute or two! The next time you are needing a courage and confidence boost, take a 2 minute break to practice standing tall and proud, with arms wherever feels best, such as on your waist like Wonder Woman or with elbows open and hands behind your head. Let your breathing be comfortable and feel grounded through your feet too to help maximize the calm, grounded confidence effect that this pose can have.”
Shifting fear and anxiety
“A hand to the heart or even a few fingers to the chest – whatever feels best in the moment, can be helpful here. As you do so it is natural to want to take a spontaneous deep breath, which can be helpful too. Fear and anxiety can cause tightness in our body, often centred in our chest, throat and solar plexus areas. A hand on the chest can naturally soften these areas in a matter of seconds. This is aided by the almost instant increasing of oxytocin levels through touch. Oxytocin is our snuggle or cuddle hormone, which helps us feel more intimately connected with ourselves and others. It can remind us of self-care and can wake up compassion in us that we can direct as we choose. It is also a feel-good hormone that counteracts stress hormones. In other words, our feel-good levels tend to go up and our fear and anxiety levels down. Added to this our brain can function better. When we are in the grip of fear and anxiety, made worse by worrisome, perhaps catastrophic thinking, it can limit our access to higher level thinking that includes our ability to think rationally, creatively and to be able to see the big picture. As we drop out of our thoughts and into our hearts, our feelings tend to ease as our brain frees up to think more clearly and intelligently about the situation we are in. We can also use this practice regularly, like in the morning to set a heartfelt tone for the day or when we sit down to vision and plan for what we would like to achieve in a day, in 2019 or in our lives from a clearer, more inspired and self-compassionate place. When anxiety creeps up on you, place a couple of fingers or a hand to your chest and allow your breathing to become fuller. To make this even more effective, add a small smile (even if you feel you are faking it) and think of something or someone that makes you happy. Hold onto this gesture, the smile and the happy memory for as long as you can, or for at least 30 seconds and notice the effect it might have for you. Then apply your mind, your heart and your attention to whatever you need or wish to.”
Keeping momentum going
“Get moving in whatever way works best for you! It could be through your exercise of choice or in the moment it could be loosening up your posture, aligning your posture to feel comfortable and uplifted and placing a smile on your face. This can keep oxygen and energy flowing throughout our body and mind to keep us feeling alert and alive. As mentioned earlier, changing our posture can also change our mind, mood and outlook towards greater positivity. There is also a version of the power pose that can be used on the spot for a boost in energy and positivity. It is called the Victory Pose. Stand with your feet well-grounded and reach your arms and fingers up high to the sky. Breathing evenly and perhaps deeper than usual but comfortably, hold this pose for one or two minutes. You can start your day in this energizing way or you can use it on the spot when you can for a quick mood lift. Then get things done! Any time we set out to accomplish a task and complete it, it tends to give us a dopamine rush. Dopamine gives us a rush of motivation, excitement, positivity and energy. It does not even have to be a big task. It could be a small one like cleaning the house, washing the dishes or completing what we planned in the office in a day. For this it can help to write lists and cross off what we achieve. For bigger monthly, yearly or life goals, it is recommended to break them down into small daily or weekly goals that we can cross off our list to keep us motivated and positive about reaching our goals. Dopamine is both a motivation molecule when we strive towards a goal and it is an ‘I did it’ victory feeling that can help us feel really productive.”
Nurturing connection to others
“There is nothing that can beat contact with our special people. Focused, connected time with others is a powerful antidote to feelings of isolation or polarization. As humans we are social animals wired to respond well to sincere and caring contact with other people. All it can take is a phone call, or even a text in the moment to help revive our sense of connection to others. But best of all for developing the wiring in our brain and nervous system for social connection is face to face, heart to heart or fun and playful connecting. From board games to deep and meaningful conversations, or sharing sporting activities or spending time together in nature, shared activities knit us into a wonderful sense of connection with each other. It is so important to make the time.”
In conclusion, Noa reminds us that 2019 is like every New Year, full of challenges and opportunities. How we experience it will be up to us as individuals. “We are completely in charge of whether we open our hearts more and make more time for the important people and causes in our lives,” she says, “Each of us can make good use of the two-way channel between mind and body, so that we choose wisely when to stretch ourselves and when we might need rest and recuperation to avoid burnout and replenish our energy. To help us we might ask ourselves this question from time to time: “What might be helpful to me now to open to greater fulfillment in 2019?”
The practical strategies offered here are adapted from The Mindful Body by Noa Belling, published through Penguin Random House SA and Rockpool Publishing. The Mindful Body is available internationally in bookstores and online.