When will we finally be able to get past the pandemic? That is a very common question nowadays. It seems like it will never end. The news cycles are constantly talking about its effects, vaccine issues, new variants, 3rd and maybe 4th waves, mask pros and cons, social distancing, lockdowns, closings, economic impact, stay-at home orders, and hospitals at their breaking points, as are so many of us. The noise and chaos around all this can seem endless and discouraging. Spring seems to have brought us little relief and what about summer? Summertime is when the living is supposed to be easy. We suffered through last summer with pandemic overload and this one may not be much different. When will it end?

We cannot accurately predict the future. And planning for many things is now more difficult and uncertain. But this situation is defining our new normal. This is not a passing trend as so many people hope. The reality is that some aspects of this situation will be with us for some time to come and others in perpetuity. The wise person is one who embraces the reality around them, shaping circumstances to be better prepared for uncertainty and finding more joy in the present.

I hear so often that things are bad, difficult, exhausting and there is little we can do about it. But it is truly up to each of us to be our own leader and effect the changes that will give us power to live more joyfully and fully in the moment. New age feel good truism, cliché? For many people this is easy to say but seemingly near impossible to achieve. What can a person actually do to improve this situation? Well here are some steps you can employ immediately to help improve life, even in the face of a pandemic.

Firstly, it is important we find some inner peace and enjoy life. Life in the pandemic lane has forced most of us to grow in our ability to accept change, loss and the unknown. Own the inner peace that comes from being able to accept what is happening in the present moment. But do not stop there. Recognize and utilize how you can have fun, even in the midst of challenges. Share this with friends, family, fellow employees and even strangers. Find reasons to laugh hard, long and often, even when you do not particularly feel like it.

Laugher causes the body to produce naturally occurring hormones and neurotransmitters that produce many positive effects in the body and mind. Whether we giggle, chortle, guffaw, chuckle, belly laugh, lol, or even just smile, everyone laughs. This is a universal indication of happiness and pleasure across all human cultures. When we smile and laugh, the brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that produces feelings of happiness, euphoria and plays a pivotal role in our motivation to continue a particular behaviour. Laughter also releases serotonin, a brain chemical that has an effect similar to antidepressant medication (which contains a similar chemical). Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection fighting antibodies, improving resistance to disease. Laughter also releases endorphins which promotes an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain. It also releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps promote trust, empathy and bonding in relationships. And one of the greatest characteristics of laughter is that it is contagious, enhancing the moods of others around you.

Personal growth happens when we can shift our moods consciously, especially in the face of hardships. Some might say that they just do not feel like laughing or even smiling. But laughing and smiling can be employed at any time by choice. Personal happiness is much more of a choice than most people will accept or believe. We often blame others and situations beyond our control that are responsible for our unhappiness. We do not take responsibility for an emotional state that is created inside of us. We give that power to people and situations that for the most part are unwilling, unknowing, not interested and or mostly incapable of adjusting our emotional state. The wise and powerful person is one who accepts at least some responsibility for what is going on inside of oneself and consciously chooses to work on bettering it. Focus more on personal responsibility and less on blame. Choose happiness and work on it. The benefits are enormous.

There is an approach used in psychology (and Zen meditation) that employs forcing yourself to laugh for minutes at a time. The subconscious mind does not distinguish between fantasy and reality and it is in control of your hormones. Laughing and smiling use the same physical mechanisms whether it is forced or not, so the hormones added to your bloodstream are there nonetheless. The key is to do it often and for extended periods of time to enhance the hormonal effect. It is not about waiting for you to feel happy before you laugh but to laugh long and often to get in the habit of altering your moods by choice. Act happy and step by step, you will become more happy. The people around you will reflect positive attitudes more towards you because you smile and laugh more, just as they will reflect the negative attitudes you express. The more they are positive to you, the easier it is to smile, laugh and feel happier and so you do it more. This is called an upward spiral syndrome and creates a positive synergy that makes this behaviour more natural and common. And best of all, you learn that you can add some control to your moods and metal state. Happiness created by choice.

Some other strategies that can aid in dealing with the overload of the pandemic is to create a time space for yourself. Check your calendar and pick one day (or part of a day), where you are not going to be busy with anything required or important. Block out that time on the calendar now. Schedule nothing for that time. When it comes, enjoy the space you created and do whatever your heart desires. Be a little selfish and indulge. Hopefully you will learn to value this space and time and create more like it. Even the most successful and happy people need to take a me-time break.

Make a joy plan. Consider something you really love to do but have not done since the pandemic began. It may be a road trip, sporting event, spa day or anything else. Be aware of when that joy will be coming back online for you to experience and make a plan to join in when you are ready and the situation allows. You may not deem it possible today but plan to get back to previously loved activities and make specific plans for when it works for you.

Achieve something for yourself. Humans value progress. What is something that you would like to accomplish that is meaningful to you? Consider something that you can accomplish by the end of this month. Start that project you have been thinking of getting to, finish that book, start your spring garden, doing something at work, etc. Set your sights on achieving something that matters to you. Plan your work, dig in and then be prepared to celebrate your success.

Pandemic fatigue is real and exhaustion is a reality for many. Stay in the race. You have made it this far and have experience to adapt to the new normal. Have courage for with it, initiative and perseverance, you will have success. Choose to be happy, no matter what happens. OSU!

Kevin Blok