How to keep a good mood going
May 11, 2004
June Rogers -- CBC News Viewpoint

While having my hair cut last week by my handsome young Italian stylist, one of his colleagues came over to say hello. He told me that he looked forward to seeing me because I was always in a good mood (who wouldn't be around two hunky guys?). I, of course, was flattered. But it made me think: am I always so perky?

The answer, of course, is no. I have my down days, to be sure, but on the whole, I can honestly say I am a happy person. In light of the fact that last week was Canadian Mental Health Week, I wondered what contributed to my sense of well-being.

I don't have all the answers. But at the Canadian Mental Health Association's website, I found a stress test that asks some very probing questions. It's a real eye-opener.

Here's one: Do you do everything yourself? In the past, I would have answered yes. When I was younger, my mother hammered into our heads that we were to be self-sufficient. Never ask for help, she warned. If I had a problem, I was to tough it out on my own.

Thankfully, that's no longer the case. Whenever I have big work projects, I have learned to ask my husband to pick up the slack at home. He'll cook and wash the dishes, make the bed, whatever needs doing. With work, I have learned how to ask my colleagues to pitch in to finish up a project.

It was difficult at first to admit I needed help, but I found that it was easier than enduring the burnout that inevitably occurred when I tried to do it all myself. I reach out now more than ever - and not just to my husband and co-workers. My close friends are invaluable to my mental health.

They help me see that there are many options available. If I sit alone, stewing, I have difficulty finding my way out of the maze. But a simple chat over a cup of tea, or a well-timed phone call can often pull me out of my sense of isolation and frustration.

The next question on the stress test was: Do you blow up easily? Honestly? Yes. But not as often as I used to. In my 20s, I became enraged if I was kept waiting - in the grocery or bank line, on the phone, in traffic. Now, I see those times as an opportunity to take a few moments for myself. I look around me. The other day in the long, long bank lineup, there was the cutest little baby in her stroller, smiling. She kept me entertained - and in a good mood.

Here's another: Do you fail to build relaxation into your day? Not anymore. Now, I make sure I get outside and walk every day. Sometimes it's just for 10 minutes. But it makes all the difference in the world to me and my outlook on life. Getting my blood circulating increases my energy levels and I feel stronger and able to tackle a work project or emotional obstacle.

Singing is also a great way for me to unwind. My voice teacher has taught me how to breathe into my diaphragm, which initiates the body's own relaxation response. When I drive now, I crank up the radio and bellow (with the windows up, of course). Traffic jams? Who cares?

Meditation calms me, too, especially when I wake up at 3 a.m. and have squirrelly thoughts running around in my mind. Did I pay my credit card bill? Did I forget to send my brother a birthday card? Through meditation, I have learned to let go of those nattering thoughts and put myself back to sleep.

The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that one in five are affected by mental illness - that's 20 per cent of the population. Some 12 per cent experience anxiety on a regular basis. But a whopping 49 per cent of Canadians never see their doctors about their mental-health problems. I encourage all those who may be feeling isolated to reach out and ask for help from their doctors, family, friends, communities or religious leaders. There is a way out.