A 22-year-old man in CA goes on a killing spree because he’s upset that he’s still a virgin. More than 200 girls were abducted by militants in Nigeria. The sea level is climbing and the East Coast is going to be underwater.
Then a picture shows up in my Facebook feed of a puppy buried up to its neck with a man leering at the camera fist pulled back ready to punch the poor thing. It was shared in the hopes of identifying the man, but STILL.
Too. Much. Bad.
It’s easy for me to get overwhelmed and riddled with worry and dread. I’m not alone. Anxiety disorders have become the most common mental illness in the U.S. affecting 40 million people over the age of 18. An estimated 1 in 10 adults in the U.S. is depressed.
Although these conditions develop from a complex set of factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events, negative and unhealthy thought patterns are major contributors. It’s estimated that a person has anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 thoughts a day. If your mind tends toward the negative, that’s a lot of dark thoughts.
Pessimistic thinking is usually under the radar of conscious awareness and becomes a persistent habit casting a shadow over the a person’s entire world. Because our brains physically change based on our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions, a capability known as neuroplasticity, negative thinking patterns actually get wired into our brains and become the default.
By learning to consciously intercept and change thought patterns, anyone can lower anxiety, ease depression, and train their brain to become more consistently positive and calm.
I used to be on antidepressants for more than a decade and attempted suicide twice. By taking control of my mind and thoughts, I ditched the drugs, turned my life around, and have managed to stay calm, positive, and happy for years. While I’m certainly not here all the time and it’s unrealistic to expect to be, it has become my baseline that I return to.
Some tips which you can easily incorporate in your life that have worked for me are:
Come into the present moment: Many times throughout the day, bring your awareness into the here and now and realize that you are alright regardless of anything else going on in the world.
Breathe: Take several small breaks during the day and inhale long, deep breaths into your abdomen counting to six. Repeat exhaling. This slow breathing lowers the heart rate and calms the parasympathetic nervous system.
Notice the good: No matter what the current circumstances, there’s always good to be found even if it’s something as small as turning the faucet and water coming out. There was good in your past, there’s good in the present, and there will be good in your future. Make it a point to notice it.
Say affirmations: Counter negative thoughts by repeating positive statements to yourself, such as “I’m smart, competent, and capable.” The affirmative thoughts need to be present tense, positive, personal, and believable to work.
Visualize: See mental images of how you would like to be, situations you want to create, or how you would like events to play out and really let yourself feel the accompanying positive emotions. Your body is constantly reacting to your thoughts whether it’s to your benefit or not. Use it for your good.
Meditate: Practice mediation daily to strengthen your mental health and feeling of connectedness. Meditation becomes a place to process emotions and for self inquiry. If you already have a meditation practice, great. If not, start one. You can find good pointers here.
Practice mindfulness: Jon Kabat Zinn defines mindfulness as: “The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.”
Get Outside: Many studies have linked being in nature with reduced depression and anxiety even faster healing times and greater work productivity. Go take a walk!
Limit Media and Electronics: There is no way to avoid all media, and you don’t want to, but there’s no need to focus on negative hype. Find sources that inspire and motivate you. Take a break from electronics.
Hang out with positive people: You “catch” emotions and attitudes, both negative and positive, from others, just like germs. When possible, surround yourself with encouraging, optimistic, and creative people.
image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/