“In the depth of winter, I finally realized that deep within me there lay an invincible summer.” A. Camus
Let’s face it, life throws us curves sometimes. We all experience the ups and downs that lead some of us to seek a counselor’s help: relationship issues, money problems, job struggles, grief and loss. Add any of those stressors to our current economy and it becomes even more challenging to stay positive and thankful! And yet, an optimistic focus is an essential quality for mental health and happiness. What do we do?
The Practice of Optimism
The alarming thing about tough times is that negativity feeds on itself. As we “talk fear” to others, we contribute to THEIR anxiety. They then spread that talk to more people, keeping us all in a state of uneasiness. Negativity is truly contagious, a “mental virus” spread by thoughtless conversation, news stories, and emails. Before you know it, a whole nation is panicking, which helps cause the very hard times we fear.
What we Focus On, Grows…
An ‘attitude of gratitude’ simply means that we make a conscious choice to put our attention on what we like about our lives. One easy exercise is to list the three best things that happened to us today, and then note why they happened. The “why” is usually because we chose to make an effort to improve our lives, whether it’s the good feelings we get from working out, or the pleasure of calling a friend. This helps us see that we are not victims and we are not powerless. There is always one small thing we can do to improve our present circumstance and ease our anxiety. Some ideas:
- Lay the problem down. Take a break from trying to solve the situation. Put aside the divorce papers and take a walk. Leave the resume writing behind and watch a funny movie. Let your mind rest.
- Limit the time spent dwelling on and talking about the problem. Just as not talking about it at all makes it worse by suppressing it into the body, so talking about your problem obsessively can keep you panicked. Your discussions should be brief and you should only confide in a positive, non-advising friend, family member, and your counselor.
- Give yourself healthy treats. A nap, a novel, or signing up for a class can be a little lift to help you get through a hard time.
- Examine the problem on paper. Write down how you feel for a few minutes to release the problem. Things look different on paper than in your head!
- Let yourself grieve. Grief is a natural and necessary process when facing a loss, whether you have lost a job, a person, a lifestyle, or a marriage. Crying is important for release of cortisol, a damaging hormone that builds in the body during stress.
- Avoid negative people. There will always be those who are determined to “spread the virus” of negativity. Some people get a sense of importance from repeating bad news and the media depends on bad news for ratings! Be wise about who gets your attention.
There is always something hopeful to say, something to be grateful for. Fix your attention on what you appreciate, and more good things will come along!