|Deborah Brautman, M.S., LMFT||
|Deborah Brautman, M.S., LMFT||
By Deborah Brautman, LMFT
Moods come and go like tidal waves.
Some days we wake up and just know its going to be a good day. The proverbial sun is shining. But… how about when a negative spell hits— you feel a bit edgy and start dwelling on negative thoughts. When that happens, it is hard to concentrate and move through your day. We all slip into those mental states at times.
Here are four ways to activate a more pleasant state of mind— one where you will feel more at ease.
1. Label Your Emotions
Current research strongly suggests that labeling your feelings helps to deactivate parts of the brain that are responsible for increased anxiety. When we dig deeper into our emotions, we are less likely to ruminatie on negative thoughts. Start by identifying the more basic feelings such as happy, sad, mad, or scared. But then go a little deeper. For example, sometimes, someone— a coworker, friend, or family member-- says something that makes you feel uncomfortable. Next, you become aware of feeling hurt. As you continue to go deeper, you might discover that you also FEEL judged and a bit shamed. Allowing yourself to stay present with these feelings will directly affect your self -talk in a positive manner. Another plus is that you will be less likely to react in a way that you might later regret. You are taking care of your emotions, which will help your mood to shift in a better direction. You will feel less ramped up and more regulated. Acknowledging a range of feelings is a simple practice that will make you feel better.
2. Adjust your ANTS ( Automatic Negative Thoughts)
Your thoughts and feelings might present themselves in “What if…, all /none thinking.” Additionally, you might be worrying about things that may or may not occur in future. Notice how many of these automatic negative thoughts (ANTS) also relate to future thinking. Having a lot of automatic negative thoughts creates a sense of hopelessness, playing havoc with your mood. When we are upset, meaning our nervous system is ramped up, we tend to think in all or none terms. We view average things as catastrophes and go into "What if" thinking. Additionally, we are more likely to magnify the negative and discount the positive. Once we have identified that we are on that runaway train of “what if “thinking and "emotional reasoning", we can begin to shift our thinking to something more balanced.
Here are some examples of some common ANTS
l. I'm never going to finish this project
2. My supervisor is going to find a ton of mistakes and fire me.
3. I feel like a failure.
4. My colleagues are disappointed in me.
Notice how these thoughts magnify the negative and try to predict a future catastrophe.
Once we have taken the time to identify that we are stuck on the runaway train of "what if" thinking and emotional reasoning, we can begin to shift our thoughts to a more balanced perspective.
Here are some examples of more balanced, less critical thinking.
1. I have been at this job for nearly a year, and my employer has never threatened to fire me.
2. There is no shame in requesting more time to complete my project.
3. I’ve put unrealistic pressure on myself. Most people would have a difficult time finishing this project so quickly.
4. Today is just one of those days where I feel overwhelmed.
When you slow down and identify your automatic thoughts and concomitant feelings, your mood will improve.
3 . Scan Your Body
We generally feel these feelings in key places in our bodies; however, we may not be aware of what is happening in our bodies. Notice where you are feeling the tension. For example, some people feel their jaws tightening ,while others feel their stomachs clenching. Where are you feeling your tension? Focus on your breathing. Is it shallow and tight? Try breathing into your belly for a count of four and then holding for four. When you breathe in, imagine that your belly is a balloon and that you are trying to fill it. Now hold for four counts. Finally, exhale through your lips very slowly, for five counts, as though you are blowing out a candle. By taking the time to do a body scan and slow your breathing down, you are telling your nervous system to slow down. Quieting your nervous system, through your breathing ,actually slows down the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. When your nervous system stops pouring out so much cortisol, you to will feel more relaxed.
4. Give yourself the same kindness as you would a friend.
Kristin Neff, who is considered the pioneer of self -compassion, describes how to shift from self- criticism to self- compassion. One of the ways to do this is talk to yourself in the same way that you would talk to a good friend. You would offer your friend encouragement and validation. The key is to practice doing the same thing for yourself.
For example, if your friend shared that he/she was feeling overwhelmed with work, you would not say, “hey get over it!” or “ what is your problem?” You would not tell your friend that he/she should start looking for a new job.
In actuality you would try to soothe your friend with acceptance an encouragement.
For example you might say:
-Hey I know that you don’t feel good today.
-Its okay if you are not in a smiley mood
- I felt that way yesterday
- Maybe you are working too hard.
The bottom line is that you will feel better—calmer— when you move from self-critical talk to self- acceptance and compassion.