Everywhere you turn there is bad news and recent weeks have been no exception.
A 29-year-old man goes on a killing spree in an Orlando nightclub because he can’t come to terms with his sexuality; a two-year-old is attacked and killed by an alligator while on the holiday of a lifetime at Disney World; and closer to home (here in the UK), an MP is stabbed and shot in the street by someone consumed by hatred.
The world can be a frightening place, and if you’re easily overwhelmed by worry and a sense of dread, you aren’t alone.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, a mixture of anxiety and depression is the most common mental health problem in the UK, with 9% of people diagnosed. Who knows how many more go undiagnosed?
Of course, these conditions develop as a result of complex factors related to genetics, brain chemistry, personality and life events – but negative thought patterns are a major contributor. With the average person experiencing approximately 70,000 thoughts per day, if you’re the glass half empty sort that’s a lot of dark thoughts to wrestle with.
A capability known as neuroplasticity means your brain physically changes as a result of your thoughts, so over time those negative thought patterns become your default.
Thankfully this same capability means you can also rewire your brain to think more positively by consciously intercepting those dark thoughts and replacing them with brighter ones. Yes, you can retrain your brain. Here are six ways to hijack negativity and turn the world, as you perceive it, into a more positive place:
1. Believe that positivity is a choice.
This can be hard to accept. We tend to blame our negative thoughts on outside forces – tragic events, our family, our relationships – but the reality is our negative attitude is how we’ve chosen to respond. Everyone experiences challenges, setbacks, heartbreak and loss and everyone, including you, is in charge of how they respond to it.
2. Reduce the negative influences in your life.
Turn off the TV, put down your phone. There will always be bad things happening in the world – that is out of your control – but you can control your exposure to it. Limiting your screen time is a good place to start.
You can also control who you allow to influence you. This isn’t something you can change overnight, but over time make a conscious effort to spend more time with people who make you feel good about yourself and the world around you.
3. Look for the positive.
In the now famous words of US TV host, Fred Rogers:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.
Even in the worst of a situation, there’s always good to be found if you look for it. The solidarity shown by the candlelight vigil held by the LGBT community in London after the nightclub shooting in Orlando is just one example. Tragic events can and do bring out the very best in people.
4. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness simply means bringing yourself back to the present moment by using all your senses to ground yourself in the here and now. It’s an effective way of stopping negative thoughts about the past or future in their tracks.
When you feel trapped in a negative thought pattern, turn your focus inwards and focus on your breath and the sensations in your body – your feet on the ground, your legs on the seat – and the sounds around you.
5. Start a gratitude journal.
Taking a few moments to focus on what you have to be thankful for is one of the simplest ways to improve your outlook and bolster your mental resilience.
When faced with adversity, gratitude helps us see the big picture and not feel overwhelmed by the setbacks we’re facing in the moment. – Robert A. Emmons, University of California
Put a notebook by your bed and before you go to sleep write down at least three things you feel grateful for. It could be a simple as the fact you woke up this morning and a comfortable bed to sleep in – the point is to focus on what you have, not about your worries or fears.
6. Go for a walk.
Exercise can do wonders for your state of mind, but more specifically walking in nature has been shown to reduce the risk of depression. Researchers at Stanford University have found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with depression.
If you or someone you know, struggle with depression or anxiety and would like help to put the ideas mentioned here into practice, I can help no matter where you are as we can work together in-person or online.