The holidays are fraught with emotion. To some, they mean nothing but good times with good people. But to others, they mean stress levels as high as Mt. Everest. Whatever your situation, we’re here to tell you that it’s worth your while to exert extra effort to be happy this holiday season. We’re not talking about being selfish and indulgent; we’re talking about being healthy.
It might seem too good to be true, but did you know that being happy is actually good for you? There is a growing pool of research showing that your emotional wellbeing is inextricably linked to your physical health (that includes your eyes!).
Enduring stress, anger, or fear for a long period of time increases your risk of developing heart disease, having a stroke, depression, and/or suffering from diabetes.
Judy Nguyen, O.D., from Bella Eye Care Optometry in Newark, California comments, “High blood pressure and hypertension are common results of stress and can strain your eye’s blood vessels and optic nerve. This could result in bleeding, difficulty seeing clearly, or permanent vision loss. Additionally, strokes often leave their victims with vision impairments, and insomnia can lead to dry and bloodshot eyes.”
If you feel engaged in life, enthusiastic about your current and future goals or circumstances, and are generally a hopeful person, the odds of you being healthier overall are much higher. Seems simple, right? Sure, if you’re a member of the Brady Bunch.
“Don’t worry. Be happy” is far easier said than done, especially around the holidays. So the $100,000 question is: how can I be happy? How can I manage my emotions and stress levels? Here are some tips:
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
- Exercise regularly (endorphins, anyone?)
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat well and in the proper portions
- Be kind to your spouse/partner
- Learn new things
- Exercise altruism and serve others
- Cultivate deep, personal relationships
- Tend to your spiritual health
- Laugh and smile often
- Put events in proper perspective
So how exactly does all this make you healthier? “It has to do with keeping your immune system stocked with your body’s natural ‘happy drugs’ – dopamine, serotonin, grehlin, relaxin, and oxytocin,” says Dr. Nguyen. These hormones kick in when you’re feeling happy or relaxed and they act as medicine for your immune system. This results in a high white blood cell count and has been proven to be a successful cancer-fighting technique. Even 5 minutes of laughing can significantly improve your white blood cell count (and your mood!).
Perhaps one of the biggest hurdles to the “happy = healthy” equation is the belief that happiness is frivolous and anyone who wants to get anywhere in life needs to be serious and just work hard. It’s interesting to note that countries like the United Kingdom, France, Canada, and Bhutan have put time, effort, and money into understanding “happiness economics.” This isn’t just some coping strategy your mom taught you as a kid. Happiness has a real effect on real people in real life situations, and it’s important.
Whether it’s the holidays or just the hustle and bustle of everyday life that’s robbing you of happiness, remember that taking time to be happy is taking the time to be healthy. Also remember that being happy doesn’t equal being self-indulgent. Consult the list of tips above, and you’ll be on your way to a happier and healthier life.