For starters… I refuse to mention the L**kdown #3 or C***D-19!
If you are anything like me, you have had enough of the 24hr pandemic news reel. For that reason, I thought this might be a great opportunity to fill your inboxes with something a little lighter and brighter. This week I wanted to talk about the power of JOYFUL MEMORIES!
The Cuban sun and an old Chevy
What are some of your favorite memories? Do you remember a time when you had fun dancing or laughing or celebrating with friends? What about a time you really felt proud, excited or in-love?
One of my favorite moments happened during a trip to Cuba in my late 20s. After a day of exploring nearby towns, some friends and I were heading back to the resort in the back of this beat up old Chevy – the kind that would be considered antique (and maybe not read-worthy) anywhere else. It had a rusted frame and no top, but I can remember vividly how comfortable it felt especially after a full day of walking.
After chatting with our driver and sharing a few laughs amongst ourselves, my friends and I, had slipped into this beautiful moment of silence. Each had laid their heads on my shoulder (I was sitting in the middle) and, having let my head fall back, I gazed up at a clear blue Cuban sky and felt the hot sun on my face. I remember feeling this deep flush of gratitude wash over me and I started to think about how lucky I was. I was healthy. I was able to travel to this beautiful land. I was safe and had everything I needed. I remember thinking that if my circumstances changed in the future, I would always have that moment where I felt like I was the most fortunate girl in the world.
A lot has changed since then, but that memory has never faded. It helps me put things into perspective when things get difficult. I close my eyes, go back to that moment, feel the sun on my face, and relive those feelings of deep gratitude.
Sometimes we have moments in our lives that, by nature, are difficult. It could be receiving the news that a loved one has passed or awaiting test results for a serious illness. These tend to be the kinds of experiences that make finding perspective feel like an impossible task. However, when we need a way to make emotional sense of the struggles we face, our memories can offer us a beautiful retreat as well as a way to counterbalance our pain or anxiety.
Our brain has a built-in “negativity bias” that makes negative memories easier to remember than happy ones (especially when we are stressed). This can leave us feeling like we have far fewer happy memories than we do. It may take more intentional effort to recall our happiest times but when we do the rewards can be pretty big. Reflecting on positive moments in our past can transport us back in time (not literally of course!) often allowing us to experience feelings like the ones we felt in the moment. Don’t believe me? Let’s give it a try…
Visualization – ‘Feeling’ your memories.
Think of a time you remember laughing with (or at) a good friend. Once you have a moment that sticks out in your mind, close your eyes, and replay that moment in your mind. Try to visualize the moment as best you can and allow yourself to fully immerse yourself in the memory. When you are done, open your eyes and come back to this email.
What did you feel? Were you smiling? Could you feel the lightness and hilarity of the moment? Did you remember bits you had long forgotten?
In most instances, mental immersion in a positive memory changes our physiology to match the event. You might have found yourself smiling, laughing, or feeling the lightness of the moment. Some of you might even have tears running down your face as you re-experienced the moment so thoroughly. This happens as our mind re-create the event, allowing us to act not just as a viewer but as a participant. By guiding our minds to a particular memory or recollection, we can choose the emotional experience we have in any moment. This also works with unhappy memories, so choose wisely!
If you were not able to ‘feel’ the memory in your body keep practicing with different memories and experiences. Visualization is a technique that can take time to develop effectively and comes easier to some than it does to others.
Joyful memories for painful moments
When we are faced with adversity, our brain starts to pay more and more attention to the things that are not going well. It becomes pre-occupied with worry and stress, creating intense feelings of overwhelm and despair. We can, using the visualization technique above, stop this downward spiral and retrain our brain to see our difficulties in the greater context of our lives. This does NOT mean that we will not have moments of pain, loss and suffering, but it does give us one more tool to help us cope and recover more effectively.
When you feel like your thoughts go from one worry to another, give yourself a break by making time for a positive memory. Use the natural boost from visualizing your happiest memories to lift your mood and help keep your struggles in perspective. This will keep your brain from believing that “everything sucks!”
Turn down the news, turn up the joy!
In a word where we are constantly being bombarded with images and videos of chaos and catastrophe, our brains could use a big dose of happy. If you want to take our joyful visualization strategy one step further, look for photos of your happiest times and put them all around your home or office. Having these in place can act as ‘happy triggers’ in the same way a smell or a sound brings us back to an earlier time.
However you do it, find a way to re-connect with the joy you once experienced. Re-train your brain to look for the good even when things are bad! It is 100% possible and just requires a willingness to commit and practice. Your joyful memories can offer you a goldmine of positive energy and motivation… all you need to do is make time to remember!
Wondering what you should expect when you attend therapy? Click Here! Also, check out our blog section to learn more about Anxiety, Depression, Parenting, Self- care, & more!
Bonnie J. Skinner, MEd, CCC, RP
B. Skinner Coaching & Psychotherapy