Christmas Cheer is a winter supplier of serotonin and dopamine – creating feel-good chemicals in our brain and body. So now that the Christmas festivities have all but come to an end we can start to look forward to the New Year – with all the opportunities and challenges that might bring.
If your child (or you) have worked with one of the Youth Fairies you’ll know that each session involves an element of goal setting – identifying small actionable steps that assist with increasing serotonin, dopamine and other feel good endorphin levels, to promote more calmness, happiness and the ability to cope better with day-to-day life.
One task we ask people to do in-between sessions to support the process is to keep a positive diary, noting down 3-5 things each day that they have enjoyed, been pleased with or perhaps given them a little sense of achievement buzz.
For some children and parents this can initially be a difficult task.
When we are struggling with low mood, low self-esteem, low confidence or anxiety we may find ourselves focusing on those things we feel negative about. This is because our brain, on a subconscious level, is reacting as if we are under threat, being triggered by various events, interactions or worrisome thoughts. The more we feel this way, the more our brain focusses on the negative – in the same way that you wouldn’t take your eyes off a polar bear lurking around in your back garden waiting for you to come out so it can have its lunch!
The more we focus on negative experiences and interactions the more our thoughts will become problem focused. When we make a decision to change our focus though, such as writing in our positive diary every night and deliberately looking for the good in our day more consistently, our brain notices and starts to do it more for us. After a while, we will probably find that we don’t need to consciously make so much effort to have more positive thoughts and notice more good things as our brain will start doing it more for us subconsciously. So, we begin to notice more and more good things about our day.
You may have noticed how your brain does this – have you ever spent time researching a car you are thinking of buying and suddenly that car is everywhere? It’s not that there are more of these cars magically appearing on your route, it’s because your brain has acknowledged your focus and is now noticing these cars.
Now, the great thing about the positive diary is you don’t need a Youth Fairy to do it! Imagine, if you and your family started this as a new tradition for 2022 – this time next year you’d practically have a novel to read back over!
And not to mention how much more serotonin and feel good chemicals you would have created too. When you notice good things in the moment your brain gives you a little boost of those and, because it reacts similarly whether something is actually happening or you are thinking about it, when you write your diary at the end of the day you’ll also get a happiness hit too!
Consistency is the key here though – we’re not talking about that ‘toxic positivity’ where you’re told to just snap out of it and think positively. In order to build a new habit (a more positive mindset) you need to repeat those positive attitudes of mind over time.
Think of it like this – if you had a flower bed in your garden and watered it often then the flowers would be encouraged to grow, bloom and look healthy. If you were to neglect the flowers and water the weeds instead, then the weeds would grow and take over. Our brain works in a similar way when creating new habits – the more we think, talk about and obsess about the negatives the more we are watering the weeds and vice versa for more positive experiences.
So, the seemingly simple act of keeping a positive diary promotes the creation of more useful, less problem focused neuropathways = positive impact on mental well-being.
What we’re not saying…
It’s really important to understand that making an active effort to be more positive focused doesn’t mean ignoring problems or trying to discard uncomfortable feelings or big emotions. It’s essential for children’s well-being to feel they can talk to you (or someone they trust) and express how they are feeling if they are having problems.
However, when we are so far down the rabbit hole of negative thinking it can be hard to break that negative cycle and differentiate the real problems that need addressing and all the other anxious, stressed, overwhelmed, irrational thoughts that may be taking over a little too much.
So, why not forget the huge New Year’s Resolution list – instead join us in creating more positive neuropathways, increase that serotonin and develop the habit of noticing the good stuff more often.
Top Tips To Support Success:
- Let children choose their diary – have a fun trip to the stationers to pick one out. Or perhaps they’re a dab hand with arts and crafts and want to make their own?
- Children can write or draw in their book – whatever works best for them.
- Engage in the process as much as your child is comfortable with. Perhaps they like to do it together or maybe they’d prefer to do it themselves with a bit of privacy. Or both, depending on their mood – flexibility can be your friend.
- If you’re doing your book together ask questions about that experience – encouraging them to really imagine it more vividly will enhance the feel good.
- Do it before bedtime – how much nicer will their dreams be if the last thing they focused on before bed was ‘problem free?’
- Include things you’ve noticed that are good about your children in your own book – share these with them.
- Ask everyone to share some of their positives from the day around the dinner table.
- Ask ‘What’s Been Good about your day?’ instead of ‘How was’ your day?’