Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Three Small Things You Can Do to Feel Better

What if smiling could make you more cognitively nimble?

Does Life Feel Kinda Messy?

If you feel like you have spent the last few years on a roller coaster, blindfolded, with no end in sight, while half the passengers insist that we need to go faster, and the other half demand that we need to stop the ride and get off – you're not alone.

Social media is a hotbed of loud noises and false facts, and studies suggest that depressive symptoms increase as social media usage increases.

It should come as no surprise that all those shouting voices on social media contribute to insomnia and poor social experiences during COVID.

It all feels impossibly overwhelming. But, here are three small things that you can do that may make a difference in your life.

Smile. It may make you more nimble.

According to Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions, we should be focusing on setting our lives up in such a way that we create the opportunity for us to experience happiness. Positive emotions can come from learning something new, being silly with a friend, feeling proud and confident in meeting a goal or learning a new skill, and much more.

Fredrickson believes that these positive experiences free our minds to allow for greater creativity in our thought processes and problem-solving skills, which increases your potential coping skills.

Pexels/Wendy Wei
Live, love, laugh and learn! It's more true than we previously thought.
Source: Pexels/Wendy Wei

This makes sense, from a neuropsychology perspective as well. Our brains release a stress hormone, Oxytocin, when we feel emotional or physical danger. Oxytocin is great for fight or flight, but it limits our brain to focus very much on one very bad thing. Great for survival, but not for logical thought processes. If we can experience something positive, we can possibly trick our brains into shifting to more logical thinking, rather than survival mode.

Interestingly, Frederickson’s theory captures the same concept that Sigmund Freud explained as Adaptive Regression in the Service of the Ego, or ARISE as it was known. Freud believed that someone with a solid, healthy ego, would be more comfortable exploring new and potentially uncomfortable experiences because they were secure in their own person.

Neuropsychology also supports Fredrickson’s theory. We know that Serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters that contribute to happiness, is released as a byproduct of learning something new.

Learn a new card game, try a new restaurant, or make a phone call to a friend who will make you laugh.

Sleep on your side. It may give you a cognitive edge.

If you or someone you know has ever suffered from a serious bout of insomnia, you know that a lack of sleep has a negative impact on your thought processes and your response time to external stimuli.

Did you ever wonder why?

One of the many things that occur when you sleep is that your brain cleans itself using its glymphatic system. The brain has a lot of important tasks to do in order to successfully monitor the function of your entire body, and every once in a while, an error can occur in the brain producing a “misfolded protein.”

Think of it as a drawing that didn’t work out as planned, so you crumple the paper and throw it in the trash. The glymphatic system empties the trash can while you sleep.

In order to keep your brain emptying itself of what it doesn’t need, researchers have long-recommended a healthy diet, regular exercise, and minimal alcohol consumption.

But, a new finding from researchers has discovered that for mice, sleeping on their side may also help the brain in its self-cleaning process.

Keep in mind that these findings have yet to be established in a human population, nor have these findings been replicated. But, this could be the start of a simple solution to a complex problem.

Interestingly, researchers point out that the majority of mammals already sleep on their side, which hints at the possibility that it is biologically advantageous for us to do so.

It's Ok to want your MTV.

For many years parents and educators alike have debated how to prevent teen pregnancy. Access to contraception? Education? Abstinence?

In fact, the answer might be MTV.

Many people had expressed concern when MTV's 16 and Pregnant first premiered that the show would glamorize teen pregnancy and potentially increase incidents of teen pregnancy.

However, in the first eighteen months that the MTV show 16 and Pregnant aired, researchers found a 5.7% decline in teen pregnancy directly related to viewing the show, as well as an increase in internet searches about preventing pregnancy and pregnancy options.

Let this be a reminder to be careful what you consume. Although true crime and murder mysteries are fun forms of entertainment, you never know how they might be influencing your subconscious.

At the end of the day, you can’t change the world, but with a little bit of effort, maybe you can make small changes to better yourself.


Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.

More from Lindsay Weisner Psy.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Lindsay Weisner Psy.D.
More from Psychology Today