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?
In today's world, it's very difficult not to feel anxious. With the advent of the 24 hour news cycle, an infinite amount of information coming at us from a multitude of devices and recent current events, people are more anxious now than ever before. Everyone seems to be worried and it is significantly impacting our physical health, our mental health, our relationships and our lives.
What can we do about this? It turns out that we can start with some advice from our elders. In an article in Psychology Today, the author interviewed hundreds of older people over a 10 year period about what they would like to pass on to younger people. You would think they would talk about their regret of a big decision they made or an affair. As they reflected on their lives, over and over they said "I wish I'd spent less time worrying." We need to take this advice from our elders and worry less!
The best way to decrease anxiety and worry less is to be in the moment. When you're truly in the moment, you can't be anxious. Often we spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about the past or the future. When thinking about the past or the future, you aren't in the present moment. Being in the moment means looking at the beautiful colors of the fall leaves or noticing the curve of your child's face. It means taking some deep breaths and smelling what's cooking on the stove. It means being in your body, not in your head.
Sounds simple? Obviously it's not that easy to do. One very important method to help stay in the moment is meditation. Meditation takes time and practice. There are several meditation apps and YouTube videos that can teach how to meditate. Meditating once or twice a day, it could be for only 10 minutes, has been shown to change the way the brain works and decrease anxiety. The apps that I found helpful are: Take a Break, Headspace and One Moment Meditation - all are free! Also, there are many YouTube videos with instructions on how to meditate. Just type meditation in the search bar and look at all of the options.
So the next time you find yourself worrying, tell yourself, "Stop". Refocus your thoughts to the present and use your meditation skills to decrease anxiety in your busy life. You may find that when you become an "older person", you'll have less to regret!
I always feel really good when I walk out of yoga class. My head is clear and I feel calm. My yoga instructor, Gemma, has an incredible peace about her and she puts it into each of her classes. But this morning it was different. Gemma was saying something that was really meaningful throughout the class. She was repeating four sentences which captured the idea that I try to share with clients about being peaceful and content. Just repeating them in her calm voice was impacting me. I started to worry that I wouldn't be able to say them as well as she was able to say them. But then I stopped myself from thinking that way because it was interfering with my yoga practice...
When I opened my eyes after the deep relaxation and sat up, I found a hand written piece of paper next to me. I thought I was the only one who got it and it was my own special message. But then I saw that everyone had gotten one. On the paper were those four sentences:
"May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I be peaceful with whatever comes.
May I be free from fear and striving.
May I be content just as I am."
Such simple words but with so much meaning.
Thank you, Gemma, for giving me your inspirational words to take with me!!
Many people have negative thinking patterns. Changing these negative patterns is the basis for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which is one of the most successful techniques used in therapy. Some examples of negative thoughts are:
Once in a while, we all have thoughts like these. But if it happens much of the time, these negative thinking patterns can have serious consequences. Our thoughts impact the way we feel and repetitive negative thoughts can lead to depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.
What can we do about it? The first step is to notice when you have one of these thoughts. Stop yourself from continuing to think about it by asking yourself two questions: What is the evidence that this thought is actually true? What is the evidence that this thought is not true? Because these thoughts are usually distorted, it is likely there will be a lot more evidence that the thought is not true.
After you recognize the thought is not true, replace the negative thought with a positive one:
At first it may feel awkward to do this but it will become more natural with practice. Give CBT a try and let me know how it goes!
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?
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.