Emotional wellbeing is a hot topic in today’s society, and more and more cases of depression and anxiety are being openly discussed. No longer a taboo, we can now express ourselves more candidly if we choose to. However another opportunity of our self-awareness is the choice to be our own coach and counsellor; to help ourselves through those times when our thoughts clamour and our emotions and logic start battling one another.
Let’s be realistic: there are chemical and hormonal imbalances outside our control that are among the very good reasons why we might be feeling down, anxious or just a bit grumpy, and they should never be diminished. Acknowledge them and ask yourself what you can do to help yourself and what you need from others.
The best way to help yourself is to give yourself a chance and be your own best friend. Choose to think positively and don’t let that negative spiral suck you in. If you need support from others, talk to the people you trust. If that isn’t an option, get in touch with one of the many people and organisations available to support you, you are not alone and seeking help is your choice.
This article focuses on what we can do to help ourselves when we are feeling low, grumpy or negative about a situation or a person, or even ‘just because’.
You can choose your mood each day. You have the power to choose whether to let the way things are now to be the way they will always be.
The impact and effects of negative self-talk and negative thinking
Imagine you are walking in the woods and you see a huge bear snarling and rearing up in front of you. What happens? Your brain registers a negative emotion - in this case, fear.
It has long been established that the purpose of these negative emotions is to focus your mind on one thing, in this case, how to get away from the bear! You will not be thinking about what to have for lunch, how pretty the sunlight dappling through the leaves is or how much work you have to do; your entire focus will be on the threat.
You can see how useful that reaction is in the case of a physical threat, but how does that relate to our day to day relationships and activities?
If you have had an altercation with someone, your brain is still programmed to perform in the same way as it would if the threat was physical and our adrenaline is focused on preparing our body for fight or flight. You will have experienced that feeling of light-headedness and shaking that accompanies a verbal confrontation, that is the adrenaline kicking in.
When the confrontation is with ourselves, the same applies. It becomes all consuming, it’s all we can think about and our anger, embarrassment, shame or disappointment consumes us to the point where we can think of nothing else.
In each case, your brain closes off from what is happening externally and focuses only on those negative emotions, just like it did with the bear that prevents you from seeing other options and choices around you. It’s your survival instinct.
Behaviour breeds behaviour
One of the things I hear a lot when working with teams is that there is a mood hoover in the group who is so negative they suck the life out of everyone else, or that they bring the whole group down. Strangely, though, the reaction that we sometimes apply to that situation is to sympathise, in some cases even ‘join’ them in their opinion or mind-set. Misery loves company, and if we are feeling down we might want others to join us in that head space.
Now let’s turn that frown upside down!
If your brain has the power to do that in the face of a perceived threat, why not harness that power for the good? How do you feel when you are surrounded by positive, optimistic and engaged people? You begin to feel the same way, right? Even if something is very wrong and you are dealing with some genuine challenges, the sense of hope is likely to be much higher because behaviour breeds behaviour.
You may not be able to change the world, but you could change someone’s world
Those who think positively not only inspire confidence and attract more positivity, but it’s also proven that positive thinkers see more opportunities and experience more of what life has to offer, which in turn means that they learn more and develop greater skills more easily.
Essentially, positive emotions broaden your momentary thought-action repertoire. Joy sparks the urge to play, interest sparks the urge to explore, contentment sparks the urge to savour and integrate, and love makes it easier for us to love and be loved in all forms of relationship.
You can see how the positive mind-set creates opportunities for self-development as opposed to negative thinking which limits you to a narrow field of options such as fight or flight. That’s a lot of good reasons to be a positive thinker! So how do you do it?
"Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." - Abraham Lincoln
There's no doubt that happiness can be the result of achievement - winning an award, landing a better job, getting that promotion or finding someone you love. These things bring joy and contentment to your life, but so often, we wrongly assume that this means happiness always follows success.
How often have you thought: "If I just get this then I'll be happy." or, "Once I achieve that I'll be satisfied"?
Happiness and positivity are essential to building the skills that allow for success, so happiness is both the precursor to success and the result of it.
There is what is known as an "upward spiral" that occurs with positive people. They are happy so they develop new skills, those skills lead to new success which results in more happiness, and the process repeats itself.
Choose to be happy
When you sense your mind is closing in on a situation or an issue, find something that sparks feelings of joy, contentment, and love. You probably know what will work for you - maybe it's a piece of music that reminds you of good times, maybe it's seeking out a certain person that is good for you, maybe it's being kind or helpful or giving someone a compliment. Giving often makes us happier than receiving.
Win or Learn
Reframe the stuff that goes ‘wrong’ in your life, be that a conversation that turns into a confrontation, making a bad decision, behaving badly or getting into relationship that doesn’t serve you. These things will happen, they cannot be avoided forever. The trick is to ask yourself what you have learnt from it, then take that as a positive, an opportunity to be better next time or to be stronger in future. When we look at the things that test us as ways to grow as people, it is much easier to own and apologise for our actions and to move on.
Research has revealed that people who meditate daily are more positive than those who don’t. They also build valuable long-term skills, have more purpose and are healthier! There are lots of YouTube videos and apps that you can use to get yourself started and it only requires a couple of minutes a day. Try it, it could be life changing.
A journal, a diary, a story or a blog. Whatever you like. The act of putting what is in your head, down on paper is incredibly powerful. It’s a bit like clearing out an overstuffed cupboard and leaving what is in the cupboard more organised and clearer.
Schedule time to play into your life. You get your down time, make sure you use it to do something that brings you joy and opens your mind. That might be a solitary hike, playing games or just talking with friends, cooking or indulging in something creative alone or with others, organising an event or heading off to a spa for the day.
Positive thinking isn't just a soft and fluffy feel-good term. Yes, it's great to simply "be happy", but those moments of happiness are also critical for opening your mind to explore and build the skills that become so valuable in other areas of your life.
Positive thinking helps you to see the possibilities for how your past experiences fit into your future life, helps you to develop skills and useful talents and spark your appetite for exploration and adventure.
To put it simply: Seek joy, play often and pursue adventure. Your brain will do the rest.