This past year has been tough and a lot of people have lost hope for a better future. But that can change by recognizing that we’re somewhat in control of our thoughts. Did you know that we have about 6,000 thoughts per day? And about 80% of them are negative! That means that we have a huge amount of negative self-talk. We spend a lot of time telling ourselves that we’re not good enough, not smart enough, not thin enough or not as good as someone else. When we do this often, it becomes a habit. We can start feeling bad about ourselves and lose hope.
The great news is that we can change these negative habits and train our minds to interpret our experiences in a more positive way. Sure, life can be HARD, but our patterns of thinking and the way we perceive the world can make it much harder than necessary.
In the words of Greek Philosopher Epictetus, “We are disturbed not by things, but by what we think about things.” Therefore, if we can change the way we think, we can change the way we feel!
Have you ever expected, even visualized disaster? Have you noticed or heard about a problem and started asking, “What if?” What if tragedy strikes? What if it happens to you? That way of thinking is called “catastrophizing” where we catastrophize a problem and make it worse by escalating our negative thoughts.
With catastrophizing, we worry that the worst possible outcome will happen. We exaggerate the problem. When you realize you might be catastrophizing, stop and ask yourself the question, “What story am I telling myself?” It might take a moment, but get specific. For example, maybe you are telling yourself that you are ruining your kids and that you are a terrible parent and that none of you are ever going to be happy again. Whatever it is, when you force yourself outside the thoughts and examine them, it becomes apparent how dramatic your story has become.
After identifying the story you’re telling yourself, ask yourself, “What other story could be true?” This is where you use your logical brain and reference facts. An example of this would be, “Patty went through a divorce and it was so hard, but her children are all doing well and she moved on with her life and is thriving. That can happen for me, too.”
When you identify the negative thoughts, and replace them with positive ones, you’ll feel better. If you think you are a good person who deserves to be happy, you’ll create a happy life. You’ll see possibilities for the future and have hope. While using these techniques takes mindfulness and work, it’s worth it as it can give you a tool to start the new year off in a great place.
Positive affirmations have been shown to reduce stress. The following six mantras can be a powerful tool to reduce stress. Take deep breaths as you say the following:
Studies have shown that some people are inherently more grateful than others. People are born with a proclivity towards many different things and being grateful is one of them. It may have to do with a person's temperament and their ability to be tolerant - some people are more tolerant of everyday hassles such as difficulty finding parking, long waits for help on the phone, etc. The people who are more tolerant of everyday hassles are also more grateful for everyday blessings such as seeing the sunset through the clouds, the right to vote, a quiet moment, etc.
The good news is that being grateful is something that can be learned. If you can incorporate more gratitude into your life, you will be happier, more fulfilled and more peaceful. How do you incorporate gratitude into your life? One way is to keep a gratitude journal. A gratitude journal is simply a journal where you write one thing that you're grateful for every day. Writing what you're grateful for everyday helps you focus on the positive things in your life so that you can develop a grateful focus.
Becoming more grateful has tangible benefits. In 1,000 people studied, the people who kept a gratitude journal had psychological, physical and social benefits. They felt more alert and alive. In addition, they felt less bothered by aches and pains, they exercised more and they had a 10% increase in sleep duration. There was also an improvement in blood pressure! Socially, they felt more outgoing, less lonely and more compassionate. In addition, children who wrote in gratitude journals showed an increase in their GPA.
A gratitude journal is just one way to become more grateful. What other ways can you come up with to become more grateful?
There's a blizzard in New Jersey this morning. The shopping centers were packed last night with people scrambling to buy milk, bread, eggs - everything they could possibly need in case they were stuck in their homes for a while. But this morning it's quiet. There is not a car on the road.
Normally, most people are pulled in so many directions with an overwhelming amount of responsibilities. But today you can't get errands done, you can't go to work, you can't really do anything. This gives us a rare chance to do the things that we can't do very often. Relax, take a nap, talk to family, breathe, play a game, bake cookies, have tea, read. Take advantage of the blizzard - be in the moment and appreciate the moment.
If you are in another part of the country where there isn't a blizzard, take a blizzard day! We all need those days where we get nothing accomplished because it is what helps us to be effective during the rest of the days. Don't feel guilty or pressure to get something done. Recognize that you deserve it, we all do. If you can't take the whole day, a part of the day will do. Don't wait for a blizzard, they don't come very often. Take a blizzard day today!
New Year's Resolutions are common - "I'm going to lose 10 pounds", "I'm going to eat all organic, gluten-free foods", "I'm going to be nicer to people". Many times resolutions are somewhat unrealistic. And most likely the reason people create resolutions is that they have the underlying thought - "I'm not good enough." This thought of not being good enough is most likely a result of low self-esteem. In order to feel good about ourselves, we need to actively be aware of our internal messages. Say to yourself, "I like the way I am."
Instead of creating resolutions in the new year, create realistic, attainable goals. You can have goals every day, every month or even every quarter. If you don't meet some of your goals, don't get discouraged. They can be re-evaluated every so often to see if they are realistic.
Here's a good example of attainable goals:
Goals for January:
1. Find a charity or organization that I would like to become involved in.
2. Eat at least one vegetable per day.
3. Spend one day with a good friend doing something fun.
4. Network with one group for my business.
Be sure to include taking care of yourself in your goals. It's really important when you are planning your time to schedule in something that will make you feel cared for. Most people forget to include that in their schedule and if it's not a priority, it may not get done.
What can you do so that you feel taken care of?
The holiday season brings a tremendous amount of stress as we are either incredibly busy or feeling somewhat lonely. Many people don't have as strong support systems as they need and it becomes very obvious during the holidays due to the messages that we receive from the media. If your life doesn't look like some picture perfect holiday card then you feel like a failure. These perfect pictures are usually unrealistic. Here are some tips to make it a non-stressful holiday season:
1. Slow down - our society moves quickly. There is so much to do and we feel that if we aren't accomplishing something we're waisting time. Say no to an invitation. Shut off all screens. Sometimes we need to take a break and breathe.
2. Acknowledge your feelings - know that feeling anxious or sad is normal and allow yourself to feel those feelings. Express them in a journal or to a close friend.
3. Look for the positive - if you don't have an extended family or support system, find the people who are there for you. Recognize that you do have people who care about you and who you care about.
4. Reach out - contact others in the community or in religious or other groups. There are others who are waiting to connect with you and will help you get through this time.
5. Spend time in nature - nature can be healing and if you're feeling stressed or depressed, getting out in the sun can be just what the doctor ordered. Sunlight stimulates the production of the feel good serotonin.
6. Make time for yourself - take a walk, listen to music, take a yoga class, take a bubble bath. Spend time with someone who makes you laugh. Do things to take care of yourself so that you can truly enjoy this time of year.
Jill Barnett Kaufman, MSW, LCSW and Certified Parent Educator is an experienced clinician who helps clients discover new ways to resolve a variety of challenges and bring more happiness and peace into their lives.