Last time I discussed how positive affirmations and positive thinking can affect the way we think and feel. Increasing positive thinking is paramount, but can be very difficult at times. We have all been stuck in patterns of negative thinking that seem impossible to get out. Here are a few simple tricks in order to help with altering your thinking from negative or stuck to positive or constructive.
Resetting your brain. I recommend that people take the time to reset their brain every so often during the day. This is done with breath control and clearing your mind. Take a moment right now.
- Close your eyes
- Take a deep breath in the nose for 4 counts
- Breathe out for 4 counts
- Clear your mind
- Repeat for 5 breaths 5 times a day
This very simple technique gives your brain a chance to reset, have a break from intense thinking, breathe in more oxygen, and it naturally relaxes your muscles. When you are done you will feel, calmer, alert, and ready to focus on whatever it is you would like your brain to think about; work, school, loved ones or even your favourite T.V. show.
Thought stopping is a widely used technique that is helpful to shift thinking when your thoughts have become repetitive, annoying, upsetting, anxiety provoking, or if you feel you are close to a panic attack. The thought stopping technique follows exactly the same pattern of breathing from above, but it adds in an extra component. As you continue to breathe deeply in threw the nose shift your thinking to:
- A stop sign or think STOP!
- A wave clearing your mind
- Building a brick wall to keep intrusive thoughts out
- A candle whose flame stretches to the edge of your mind cleansing you of your thoughts
- A broom sweeping the thoughts out
Resetting your brain can be a way to help keep your mind on task and anxiety down, and thought stopping is a quick tool to help you refocus from distressing, intrusive thought patterns.
Today is a good day.
We have all been told to think more positively, to look on the bright side of things, see the cup as half full and so on. Does being positive actually make a difference? When we change our thinking do we actually start to feel better? YES! There are more studies than can be sighted and multiple therapeutic orientations –CBT being today’s favourite-based on changing our thinking. So how? There are many different things that people can use to change their thinking and increase happiness. This week’s topic is positive affirmations.
Positive affirmations are sentences that make us feel good, switch our thinking when we are not focused on what we want to be focused on, and even help change the way we view ourselves, other people and the world in general. Positive affirmations can be about putting a positive intention out to the universe for what you want and need, depending on your beliefs about the universe. My favourite positive affirmations are created for individual needs; however, you can find them everywhere.
For example if you are trying to increase self-esteem: I am worthy, I am capable, and I am loved. Sometimes when we are using positive affirmations it can be useful to back them up, to look for the evidence in our lives that demonstrates that we are loved or capable-everyone is worthy just by existing. The smaller the evidence the better, the little things are what make the biggest difference.
For depression: I have hope for today; it isn’t important that we believe it immediately or all the time, saying it and thinking it move us closer to believing.
Mistakes: mistakes are how I learn, I’m glad I’m trying.
I recommend keeping positive affirmations, thoughts and ideas around. The more we surround ourselves with positive thoughts, hope and inspirations the more positive, hopeful and inspired we will be.
Here are some links to pages with positive affirmations. It is important to look for things that work well with your values and beware of negative messages. If anger and hate are part of the message to make you feel better it is not a positive affirmation.
If shorter days, longer nights and snow are part of your year you have probably heard of SAD, know of someone who is affected by SAD or have been affected yourself. What is SAD? SAD is a mood disorder, which typically begins to rear its ugly head in the fall and lasts till the spring. Symptoms of SAD include: depression, hopelessness, overeating, oversleeping, loss of interest in social activities, anxiety, weight gain, and feeling run down to name a few. SAD for the winter is believed to be triggered by less exposure to sunlight. It is also possible that vitamin D has in impact in depression. According to Stats Canada 2010 two thirds of Canadians do not get enough vitamin D.
What to do?
Part of what to do was outlined in last week’s blog about goals setting. Setting goals specific to planning for the winter is extremely helpful for combating SAD. I strongly recommend you find a winter specific activity. Finding an activity that can only be done in the winter increases your passion for the winter. Possibilities could be trying a winter sport like hockey, curling, skiing (in it’s many forms), skating or tobogganing. Any form of exercise helps to boost endorphins and aid in building positive mood. Taking a class by yourself or with a friend helps to get out of the house, it’s a plan and a commitment to yourself and others.
Medication is an option that many people take to help them through the winter months. Whether you are taking over the counter or prescription medication, talking to your doctor and pharmacist is important to ensure that it’s done safely and effectively. Some alternatives to prescriptions are St. Johns Wort (interacts with birth control pills), vitamin D, chamomile and lavender for anxiety and light lamps. Vitamin D can be helpful and has few side effects. Light lamps are used to help people get back some of the benefits of summer sunlight. There are many different varieties of light lamps and they range in cost; your doctor may be able to guide you in the best product and light dosage.
Winter may not be your favourite season, but you can still enjoy a few cherished moments till the thaw
Last week I discussed the process of change. This week I am going to discuss how to put change into action, including how to help prepare for winter psychologically.
Define what you are looking to change. In order to do so, we need to define what we want in measureable terms. For example if you want to feel happier, what does being happier look like? What has happy looked like in your life? What were you doing differently at a happier time in your life? What do happy people do that is different from what you are currently doing? For some people this means socializing more often, getting more of their to do list accomplished, exercise, hobbies, sleeping less/more etc. It is important to create a list of what you want to accomplish, so that you know what changes you would like to make. A goal to be happier sounds overwhelming and confusing. A goal to talk to friends 3 times a week instead of 1 looks attainable.
Start small to ensure success. Make a goal for the week that you know that you can obtain. If you are not currently exercising a goal to exercise 3 times a week may be too much, a 10-20 minute walk may be more realistic and can work as a stepping-stone to getting to that eventual 3 times a week goal. I often recommend that people break down goals to good, ok and bad day form. This way we are gentle with ourselves. It is not fair to expect the same type of performance on bad days as great days. On the days you feel like you can do more, do more on days you feel like doing anything is hard, do just a little.
Keep track! I cannot emphasize this part enough. Our brains are wired to remember negatives. This is a defense mechanism built in to keep us safe. Unfortunately, it also means we have a harder time remembering the positives. Fortunately, when we keep track of our accomplishments it makes it easier to see how far we have come, and holds us more accountable.
How does this apple to the looming winter? The same process used for change can be used to set goals to increase happiness or stave off depression in the winter. Define your goals, start small and keep track and give yourself credit for success.Take the time today to start making a plan to make your winter more enjoyable. If you put your plan in place before you start to feel down, you can avoid or lessen the winter blues. Next week more on things you can do to prepare for winter.
Fall is the time for transformation and forward thinking. The beauty in fall lies within the leaves changing colours, the smell of crisp air, sweaters, no sunscreen and pumpkin spiced lattes. The difficulty in fall for many people is mourning that summer is over and the looming feeling of upcoming winter. So how do we enjoy our fall? Embrace the change. See change as an opportunity for growth and transformation. This is a new beginning. What is it that you want to change? What have you been thinking about for awhile? The process of change can be complicated and unique for each individual and for each change. In my practice and my own life I notice a pattern in the way people change.
First, we learn about something new. Our new lesson can come from many sources a class, other people, media or inspiration. Second, we intellectually understand the concept and decide that it can benefit our lives. Third, we decide we would like to put this information to practice in our lives and begin to plan how to do so. Fourth, we put our plan into action. Fifth, and finally we maintain this action into our lives, abandon it, and often we start, stop and revise things till the change is lasting and effective. What does this look like? First, I read an article that said only twenty minutes of walking three times a week can make a huge benefit on overall health. Second, I think about it periodically throughout the week, believe it, and think walking could work for me. Third, a week has gone by and I decide that I want to start walking; I talk to my spouse about how we can fit this into our schedule and make a plan to start. Fourth, the next week I start walking every Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Fifth, I miss a few days when things get busy, then a week; then I rededicate and change the times and days to adjust to my ever changing life and schedule. *
Does this sound familiar? Probably to most people. This is a natural process to start, stop and revise-one to be praised and not critiqued. As long as we keep trying we accomplish something. Every little step in my walking is better than no step at all. An important thing to remember is that the process of change can take a long time between the finding new information and application phase, and even longer in the fourth and final stage of start, stop and revise. In fact, in lasting change we spend the rest of our lives making revisions so our lives change. Next week I’ll discuss how to start making changes, the feeling of looming winter, and what to do about it.