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Can You Train Yourself to Become a More Optimistic Person?

The brain has a natural optimism bias—we are what I call “wired for love”. This means that when we are connected to others in deep and meaningful ways, and when we are satisfied with where we are in life and where we are going (even if we have ups and downs, which are normal!), we can function at a healthy level. The brain likes it when we are in a good place!

If this is so, why does the negative seem so…overwhelming? Why do bad things and bad people tend to stick to our mind like super glue? Why is it so easy to fall into negative thinking spirals?

The negative affects us more because it is so unusual. Think about the many noises you hear at night: cars driving by your home, the chittering of crickets, the hum of the washing machine or refrigerator—these sounds are “normal” and don’t disturb your sleep because you are used to them. But, if you hear a door quickly open or a window break, you are suddenly on high alert. Something is out of place/out of balance, and your attention will stay fixed on that noise until you figure out what is going on and if you are safe.

The negative is like this “out-of-place” noise: it doesn’t make sense and your brain is not happy about this imbalance, so it tries to figure out how to fix this situation. It is easy to fix all your attention on this abnormality until it does make sense, but this can have some serious mental and physical repercussions if we are not careful, because, over time, toxic rumination disrupts the energy flow in the brain. Whatever we think about the most grows!

As I mentioned above, when we think too negatively or just focus on the bad (a pessimistic state of mind), the energy flow in the brain becomes distorted and incoherent, which can result in inflammation in the brain and body, jumps in cortisol levels, digestive issues, heart problems, mood swings and so on. In fact, this state of mind, which is what is known as a “red brain” on qEEg scans can even activate weaknesses in our genetic code! And, over time, it can become a pessimistic thinking habit—the more we think this way, the more the world seems like a terrible place.

Thankfully, we can combat and heal the effects of focusing too much on the negative by self-regulating our mind. This means focusing on how we think, feel and choose. Dr. Caroline Leaf discuss’s this in detail in her book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess. When we learn how to control our mind, we can rebalance the chemicals and energy in the brain and combat the negative health effects of toxic rumination.

This doesn’t mean that we should fear negativity. It is normal to have negative thoughts and experience uncomfortable emotions. If we think we are happy all the time, then we are lying to ourselves—we are suppressing the negative, which will only make things worse. Rather, we need to change the way we perceive the negative. We need to see negative thoughts and feelings as signals that something is going on in our lives that needs to be addressed; there is an “out-of-place noise” in our mental house that we need to get to the root of. This means asking questions like “why I am so pessimistic?”, “what are my triggers?”, “how does the negative affect me?” and “what is the thinking pattern behind my thoughts and feelings, and how can I change or rewire this?”.

The brain changes all the time because it is neuroplastic. The great news is that you can direct this change with your mind (your thinking, feeling, and choosing). You are always thinking, which is why self-regulation is such a great habit—it gives you the tools to control your mind!

Based on decades of research and practice, Dr. Caroline Leaf developed a self-regulation method that harnesses the neuroplastic nature of the brain through specific techniques to combat the negative influence of toxic rumination. Although there is a lot going on behind the scenes when you self-regulate your thinking and manage your mind, the process itself is not only simple but also accessible, no matter where you are, who you are with or what you are doing:

1. When you find yourself getting trapped in a toxic thinking spiral, take a 10 second pause, for as many times as you need. I recommend deep breathing during this pause, which helps bring brain energy back into balance. Breathe in for 3 counts (say, mentally or out loud, “think, feel”), then breathe out for 7 counts (say mentally or out loud, “choooooooose”).

This is like a reset button in the brain, and will increase your decision-making ability and clarity of mind. Indeed, doing this 6 to 9 times can really reorganize chemical chaos that results from negative thinking in the brain by transferring this energy from the toxic thinking pattern to cleaning up your mental mess!

2. Do a NeuroCycle, which is the self-regulation technique.

Here are the steps:

  • Gathering awareness of your physical and emotional warning signals. We can only change what we are aware of!
  • Reflecting on why you are feeling these things in your body and mind.
  • Writing down your reflections to organize your thinking.
  • Rechecking what you have written and how your thoughts and feelings have changed.
  • Active Reach: taking action to reconceptualize your thinking and find sustainable healing.

If you do this daily for 63 days, you can actually rewire a negative thinking habit or a pessimistic mindset. Each of these steps essentially reset the brain, taking you deeper into your own mind and transferring energy from toxic to healthy. Doing this not only makes your mind and brain more resilient to the pull of negative rumination; it teaches you to use your mind to change your brain! It shows you how to make negativity and life challenges work for you and not against you—YOU TAKE CONTROL, which will have positive carryover effects in other areas of your life.

When you learn how to self-regulate your thinking, you change the energy flow in the brain, which has a host of positive effects on your wellbeing. You still have negative thoughts, of course, but they don’t control your thinking, you control them!

For more information on the optimism bias and self-regulation, listen to Dr. Caroline Leaf’s podcast on MindBodyGreen.

Article by: Dr. Caroline Leaf

How To Be Happy

Behavioral scientists have spent a lot of time studying what makes us happy (and what doesn’t). We know happiness can predict health and longevity, and happiness scales can be used to measure social progress and the success of public policies. But happiness isn’t something that just happens to you. Everyone has the power to make small changes in our behavior, our surroundings and our relationships that can help set us on course for a happier life.

Happiness often comes from within. Learn how to tame negative thoughts and approach every day with optimism.

Conquer Negative Thinking
All humans have a tendency to be a bit more like Eeyore than Tigger, to ruminate more on bad experiences than positive ones. It’s an evolutionary adaptation — over-learning from the dangerous or hurtful situations we encounter through life (bullying, trauma, betrayal) helps us avoid them in the future and react quickly in a crisis.

But that means you have to work a little harder to train your brain to conquer negative thoughts. Here’s how:

Don’t try to stop negative thoughts. Telling yourself “I have to stop thinking about this,” only makes you think about it more. Instead, own your worries. When you are in a negative cycle, acknowledge it. “I’m worrying about money.” “I’m obsessing about problems at work.”

Treat yourself like a friend. When you are feeling negative about yourself, ask yourself what advice would you give a friend who was down on herself. Now try to apply that advice to you.

Challenge your negative thoughts. Socratic questioning is the process of challenging and changing irrational thoughts. Studies show that this method can reduce depression symptoms. The goal is to get you from a negative mindset (“I’m a failure.”) to a more positive one (“I’ve had a lot of success in my career. This is just one setback that doesn’t reflect on me. I can learn from it and be better.”) Here are some examples of questions you can ask yourself to challenge negative thinking.

First, write down your negative thought, such as “I’m having problems at work and am questioning my abilities.”

Then ask yourself: “What is the evidence for this thought?”
“Am I basing this on facts? Or feelings?”
“Could I be misinterpreting the situation?”
“How might other people view the situation differently?
“How might I view this situation if it happened to someone else?”

The bottom line: Negative thinking happens to all of us, but if we recognize it and challenge that thinking, we are taking a big step toward a happier life.

Controlled Breathing
Science is just beginning to provide evidence that the benefits of this ancient practice are real. Studies have found, for example, that breathing practices can help reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and attention deficit disorder. For centuries yogis have used breath control, or pranayama, to promote concentration and improve vitality. Buddha advocated breath-meditation as a way to reach enlightenment.

Try it.

Rewrite Your Story
Writing about oneself and personal experiences — and then rewriting your story — can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness. (We already know that expressive writing can improve mood disorders and help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, among other health benefits.)

Some research suggests that writing in a personal journal for 15 minutes a day can lead to a boost in overall happiness and well-being, in part because it allows us to express our emotions, be mindful of our circumstances and resolve inner conflicts.Or you can take the next step and focus on one particular challenge you face, and write and rewrite that story.

We all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves.But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it right. By writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of our personal well-being. The process is similar to Socratic questioning (referenced above). Here’s a writing exercise:

1. Write a brief story about your struggle. I’m having money problems. I am having a hard time making friends in a new city. I’m never going to find love. I’m fighting with my spouse.

2. Now write a new story from the viewpoint of a neutral observer, or with the kind of encouragement you’d give a friend.

-Money is a challenge but you can take steps to get yourself into financial shape.
-Everyone struggles in their first year in a new city. Give it some time. Join some groups.
-Don’t focus on finding love. Focus on meeting new people and having fun. The rest will follow.
-Couples argue. Here’s what your situation looks like to a neutral observer.

Numerous studies show that writing and rewriting your story can move you out of your negative mindset and into a more positive view of life. “The idea here is getting people to come to terms with who they are, where they want to go,” said James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas who has pioneered much of the research on expressive writing. “I think of expressive writing as a life course correction.”

Get Moving
When people get up and move, even a little, they tend to be happier than when they are still. A study that tracked the movement and moods of cellphone users found that people reported the most happiness if they had been moving in the past 15 minutes than when they had been sitting or lying down. Most of the time it wasn’t rigorous activity but just gentle walking that left them in a good mood. Of course, we don’t know if moving makes you happy or if happy people just move more, but we do know that more activity goes hand-in-hand with better health and greater happiness.

Practice Optimism
Optimism is part genetic, part learned. Even if you were born into a family of gloomy Guses, you can still find your inner ray of sunshine. Optimism doesn’t mean ignoring the reality of a dire situation. After a job loss, for instance, many people may feel defeated and think, “I’ll never recover from this.” An optimist would acknowledge the challenge in a more hopeful way, saying, “This is going to be difficult, but it’s a chance to rethink my life goals and find work that truly makes me happy.”

And thinking positive thoughts and surrounding yourself with positive people really does help. Optimism, like pessimism, can be infectious. So make a point to hang out with optimistic people.

Article by: Tara Parker Pope, New York Times

Stressed and Anxious? Here’s How to Stay Emotionally Healthy

“Health is not just about what you’re eating. It’s also about what you’re thinking and saying.”

A virus is spreading across the globe. Schools are shut down. People are out of work. Grocery stores are empty.

Weddings, graduations, vacations, a day in court—canceled.

This is the ultimate test in emotional resilience.

Uncertainty is one of the main reasons we stress, along with a lack of control, and right now we’ve got it in truckloads. I’ve spent the last decade building my mental and emotional resilience to stress and adversity, and yet fighting off the anxiety is still a challenge.

I’m putting all the tools in my toolbox to good use.

And they are working. So I want to share these tools with you.

1. Talk to someone, but limit the bitching.

It can be cathartic to share with others the fear, panic, and challenges we’re experiencing. It makes us feel not alone. It validates our feelings and makes us feel connected. So talk to someone about what is stressing you out right now.

But set a time limit to focus on the negative. Maybe ten or twenty minutes each to share. Then it’s time to change the conversation.

Here are some cues:

What is going right?
What are you proud of yourself for?
What are you grateful for?
What are you looking forward to?
Despite the hardships, how are you coping?
How can you encourage and praise your friend?
When we only focus on the negative, we forget what is going well and then all we can see is the bad.

I also find it incredibly helpful to notice how differently my body feels when I’m complaining, angry, and blaming than it does when I’m grateful and optimistic. One feels tight, hot, and heavy. The other feels lighter, looser, and freer.

And as I listen to my husband, mother, or friends share their pain with me, I always make it a point when they are done to change the conversation and ask them what’s going good. I can hear the tone in their voice change as they bring their thoughts to the positive.

2. Be generous.

This doesn’t need to be a gift of money!

It can be a roll of toilet paper. It can be an hour Facetiming your grandmother who is held up in her nursing home with no visitors right now. It can be offering to pick up and drop off groceries for a neighbor or making them a plate of enchiladas.

I have a three-month-old and am blessed with an ample supply of breastmilk, so donating some of my freezer stash costs me nothing, but can mean so much for a needy mother and child right now.

Generosity can even come in the form of well wishes or prayers for others dealing with difficult times.

Giving is scientifically proven to be good for your emotional health.

It activates regions of the brain “associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a ‘warm glow’ effect. It releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the ‘helper’s high.’”

Giving has been linked to the release of oxytocin, a hormone that induces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection to others.

It’s been shown to decrease stress, which not only feels better, but lowers your blood pressure and other health problems caused by stress.

What can you give right now?

3. Take a mental break.

It’s so easy to get stuck in mental go-mode all our waking hours. Especially since our brains crave being busy or entertained.

Even when we rest, we flip through Facebook, watch TV, or daydream.

These past few weeks I haven’t been making the time to take my mental breaks. I usually meditate daily, but with a baby who doesn’t yet have an eating and sleeping schedule, plus with all the extra stresses right now, I’ve not given my mind a break!

So I could feel the anxiety creeping in. It started in the body. I felt the tension in my muscles. My jaw was tight. Breathing was shallow. And I was irritable!

I know it’s time for a mental break when something as simple as my husband leaving another towel on the banister makes me want to file for divorce. (Or end up on an episode of Dateline!)

So I put my husband on baby duty, ran on the treadmill trying to focus on my breath and not my to-do list, took a shower, and brought my attention to the warm water instead of worry over how I will get clients. Then I meditated for fifteen minutes zoning in on my breath every time my thoughts turned to worry over daycare and the coronavirus.

I felt like I’d washed my brain. The tension was gone, my mind was clear, and I no longer wanted to strangle my husband.

From our anxious place, we catastrophize as we spin out in our negativity bias. All we can see is the negative.

We need these mental breaks to create space from these ruminating thoughts. We need to hit the reset button.

A mental break is taking anywhere from thirty seconds to thirty minutes to consciously turn our attention inward, away from outside influence, as well as our flow of thoughts.

We can’t stop the flow of thoughts, but we can notice when they’ve taken our attention, and purposefully redirect that attention to something in the present moment like the breath, a mantra or sound, or a visualization.

Here are a few ways to take that mental break:

Breathwork
Meditation
Time in nature
Walking, exercise, or dancing
Practicing mindfulness
Listening to music
Simple mental break breathing:

Start with a re-calibrating big, big inhale, hold it, and breathe out all the way.
Now breathe in slowly to the count of four, then hold for a second.
When you hold, hear the silence between the breaths.
Then breathe out to the count of four and hold for a second at the bottom.
When you hold, feel your mind clearing as you listen for the space between inhale and exhale.
Repeat until you feel relaxed.

4. Allow all the feels.

This stress and anxiety feel terrible. And it can be hard to muster up the strength and will to try out some of the items on this list to make yourself feel better.

That’s okay.

But what tends to happen is we want to run from the discomfort, try to suppress it with distraction like TV or social media, or numb it with wine, food, or drugs.

It’s normal to want to avoid pain. We’re naturally geared to avoid it. However, when we block this pain from flowing, when we don’t allow ourselves to feel our emotions, they get stuck.

Emotions are energy in motion. If you stop it, it just bottles up. It doesn’t disappear.

Try this exercise to allow your emotions to flow:

Take a moment to close your eyes and sit in a quiet space or block out distraction as best you can.
Take a deep breath in and slowly breathe out.
Notice the physical feelings of stress. Where are you holding it in your body? What does it feel like?
On your next exhale, release as much tension as you can.
Repeat:
“I am allowing these feelings to be present.”
“I let these feelings flow through me.”
“These feelings are causing me no harm.”
Now scan your body starting from your head, jaw and neck. Shoulders and hips. Down your legs and feet. Release any tension you find along the way.
Once you’ve allowed these feelings to exist and flow, the following tool is a fantastic next step toward emotional health.

5. Express gratitude.

We humans have a natural negativity bias. It’s a mechanism in place designed with the intention of keeping us safe.

Being on the lookout for danger, in theory, might be a better tactic to keep us alive than ignoring any signs of danger for the sake of focusing on pleasantries. Like being on alert for a mountain lion instead of enjoying a bed of flowers.

But 99 percent of the time, or more, our lives are not in imminent danger. Yet the negativity bias remains.

As it turns out, much like generosity, gratitude is also scientifically proven to be good for our emotional health.

It’s shown that people who express gratitude are more optimistic and feel better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercise more and have fewer visits to physicians than those who focus on sources of aggravation.

In some studies, it’s also shown people immediately exhibiting a huge increase in happiness scores, as well as improved relationships.

Here are some ways to express gratitude:

Write a thank-you note or email
Thank someone mentally
Try a gratitude journal
Pray or meditate on something you are grateful for

6. Ask for help if you need it.

I am so proud of our communities coming together, staying home, helping each other out. If there is something you need, there are whole groups of people ready and willing to help a stranger out. I see it all day on my Facebook feed, people offering up formula or diapers, services to drop off food, or offering homeschooling tools and advice.

Thankfully, this pandemic has come during a time of advanced technological capabilities, allowing us all to connect digitally.

Doctors, teachers and coaches are now available online. From the comfort of your socially distant home, you can find help right at your fingertips.

Ask. It doesn’t make you look weak. You aren’t impositioning anyone. People inherently like to be helpful.

Especially if you need help dealing with the anxiety of our current situation. We don’t make good decisions coming from a place of fear. Now more than ever it is essential to have emotional resiliency to get through this tough time and come out the other end whole and ready to move forward.

We’ll get through this. Together, even though we’re physically apart. Wishing you much love, luck, and light on your journey.

Article By: Sandy Wosnicki of Tiny Buddha

How to Re-Wire Your Brain for Better Relationships

“For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks; the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke

I was eight years old when my father and I somehow ended up in a heated, verbal struggle. I don’t remember what we were fighting about, but I remember that he was yelling at me.

I already knew by then that my father didn’t deal well with anger. It wasn’t uncommon for him to explode into fits of rage. I don’t know what I had done this time that had gotten him so upset, but I must have felt that he was being unfair. As he turned his back on me to walk away, I blurted out, “I hate you!”

It’s not an uncommon thing for a kid to say in the heat of anger, because kids haven’t yet learned how to cope with strong emotions. If you’re a parent, you know what I’m talking about.

My father didn’t respond. In fact, he didn’t say anything to me at all for several days. He gave me the silent treatment. He ignored all of my attempts to get his attention or to try to reconnect with him. He acted as if I didn’t exist.

I felt alone, sad, guilty, and scared. As you can imagine, for a child of eight, it was excruciating to be shut off from him. And that wasn’t the only time my dad punished me with silence.

Obviously, my father wasn’t a good role model for helping me to deal with anger constructively. If he had been, he might have asked me what was upsetting me and would have helped me figure out my feelings. At the very least, he might have apologized for getting so angry.

Instead, he responded in a way that was anxiety-provoking, guilt-inducing, and painful. His tendency to act in this way made an indelible impression on me and my nervous system that I have struggled with for much of my life. The message I got was clear: Anger is bad and dangerous to a relationship; it brings disdain, loss of approval, and abandonment.

It’s not that my father didn’t love me. I know now that he loved me very much. But he had a really hard time managing his emotions. This came from his own early experiences in his family where he learned the very same thing that he ended up teaching me.

During our volatile exchange, I’m sure something deep in his brain had gotten triggered and had gotten the best of him. Some old unprocessed feelings came up, and caused him to withdraw and shut down.

At the time, he didn’t understand what kind of damage his reaction was causing. He was actually doing the best he knew how. Fortunately, he’s grown and changed a lot since then and so have I.

But that kind of treatment affected the way my brain got wired. I grew up feeling anxious about feelings of anger. If I felt angry with someone important to me, I worried that if I spoke up or asserted myself, they would abandon me.

In my adult relationships, any sign of conflict with a partner, friend, or authority figure made me scared that something bad would happen, that I’d be punished in some way, rejected, or abandoned. In romantic relationships, I worried that I would lose our relationship if anything challenging came up.

As soon as anger arose in some way, my nervous system would respond as though I was in danger. I’d feel anxious and panicky. I’d question my feelings and inevitably I’d rationalizing away whatever was bothering me. I avoided the discomfort of honoring my emotions and talking to the other person about how I felt.

My adult relationships followed a typical pattern: They would start out with a lot of happiness and excitement, but as they continued, I’d start to feel anxious, worried, unsure, especially whenever there was any sign of conflict. I felt conflicted about my feelings and had a hard time working with them.

Every relationship has times when partners get angry or upset, and in healthy relationships, the partners can find a way to constructively deal with their emotions and talk it out with one another. But that was not a part of my software. I’d avoid having uncomfortable conversations, I’d repress my feelings, and I’d hide how I really felt.

As a result, I would often wonder why I felt so disconnected to other people. I would keep busy with my work, school, going to the gym and other activities just so I wouldn’t have to slow down and feel my real feelings.

Of course, none of this was apparent to me at the time. It was just how I’d been wired. It took many years before I understood what was going on.

Eventually a skilled and compassionate therapist helped me see how much anxiety was affecting my experience, that I was shutting myself off from my certain feelings because they felt threatening. I had been taught that strong emotions–particularly anger—were dangerous and would result in abandonment and rejection.

Now, many years later, I have a happy twenty-two-year marriage to my husband, Tim, and I’m a therapist, writer, coach, and speaker. Though I still sometimes feel that old wiring trying to take control, I’ve developed some skills to manage the anxiety or fear that can get stirred up when something is off between us or when conflict arises.

I see many clients who struggle with similar issues in their relationships. They feel excited to start out with their new romance, but as the relationship goes on, they start to struggle, they feel disconnected, shut down, or they and their partners fight a lot, or respond in ways that don’t support the health of their relationship.

They often ask me: why is this so hard?

I’ve learned that, while our specific relationship problems may be different, the underlying issue for most of us is the same.

At the core of our struggles, underneath many layers of conflict and complaints, is a fear of being emotionally present and authentic in our relationships. We’re afraid of truly expressing our feelings in a vulnerable way. We worry that the other person won’t like us or want to be with us if we tell them what’s really going on for us.

But why are we afraid of being emotionally present in our relationships?

The short answer is that—as you saw in the story about my dad and me—our adult brains are still operating on wiring that was created in the first few years of our lives. Depending on what our caretakers taught us about how to function in close relationships, we may have learned some unhealthy coping mechanisms.

If you struggle with painful romantic relationships (or even troubled relationships in general) as I have, you may be experiencing the effects of “faulty wiring.” You may have learned ways to cope with your emotions that don’t serve you anymore.

Luckily, there are ways to “re-wire” your brain for better relationships.

The first step is to understand what you learned about expressing your emotions when you were a child. Take some time to respond to these questions (separately for each parent or caregiver):

  • How did your parent(s) respond to your feelings?
  • Were they generally open, attentive, and responsive to your feelings?
  • Did they get uncomfortable or anxious when you expressed your feelings or certain feelings in particular (e.g., anger, sadness, fear, joy, and the like)?
  • Did they get distracted or seem to ignore certain feelings?
  • Were some feelings okay and others not? If so, which feelings were welcomed, and which weren’t?
  • Did they get irritated, frustrated, or angry at times when you expressed certain feelings?
  • Did they apologize when they hurt your feelings or reacted in an unhelpful way?
  • How did they respond when you were afraid or feeling vulnerable?
  • How did they respond when you were angry and asserted yourself?
  • How did they respond when you were affectionate and loving?
  • Could you rely on them to be there for you emotionally when you needed them?
  • Overall, how did it feel for you to share your vulnerable feelings with them?

Now think about whether your answers to these questions reminds you of your romantic relationships in any way. Do you ever see yourself acting in similar ways to one of your parents or caregivers when particular feelings arise in your relationship? Does your partner ever act in similar ways? If you’re in a relationship now and your partner is willing, ask them to answer these questions about their parents as well.

See if you can identify any patterns in how you both share and react to different emotions in one another.

If you’re not currently in a relationship, think about past relationships, especially particularly difficult ones.

After you get a sense of what lessons you may have learned about how to express emotions (or not) with people close to you, you’ll be in a better place to learn new ways of reacting.

Here are some tips for growing your capacity to be emotionally mindful and present when you get triggered by your feelings. .

1. Recognize and name.

When you feel a strong emotion, you may have been triggered by old wiring. You may feel out of control in your response, which is why some people say, “I don’t know what came over me!” when they get really upset.

The first step in regaining control of your emotions is to learn to identify the ones that most often trigger you. Practice observing yourself when you feel those challenging emotions. Name them as they come up. You might even want to write down the emotions that are difficult for you to cope with. This step takes a lot of practice, but it gets easier the more you do it.

2. Stop, drop, and stay.

When we feel triggered, upset, and uncomfortable, we often want to escape that emotion. We may get irritable, yell or criticize, walk away, shut ourselves in our room, or numb ourselves out.

But in order to practice being mindful of your emotions, you’ll need to learn how to stay with them and ride them out. Rather than doing what you normally do when you have those feelings, stop. Pay attention to how the emotion feels in your body. Describe it. Ask it what it’s there to teach you. You may even want to write or draw it so you can become familiar and comfortable with it.

The point is to look at it, stay with, and learn about it.

3. Pause and reflect.

When we’re in a conflict, we often feel like there’s no choice between the time we feel the strong emotion (such as anger, rage, hatred, or fear) and our response to it (yelling, becoming violent, shutting down, or running away).

But in reality, by stretching the space between the feelings arising and responding, we can create some room in which we can chose how best to respond.

So, practice feeling the challenging emotion and not responding right away. If you normally lash out with an angry statement when your partner says or does something you dislike, practice doing something else. Tell your partner you need a moment. Breathe deeply and slowly which will help to calm your nervous system. Go for a walk. Whatever you need to do to calm your distress and choose a more helpful response.

The more often you do this, the easier it will get to make better choices.

In this space that you create, reflect on what you’re feeling underneath the reactivity. If you’re feeling like lashing out, what’s underneath that? If you’re angry that your partner forgot to call you on your birthday, is there more to it? Are you feeling hurt, disappointed, or afraid of losing a sense of connection with them? Does it feel familiar? Might it be linked to feelings you had when you were a child?

Explore the emotion. Give yourself time to figure out what you’re really feeling, what you want, what you desire, and what you’d like to happen in that situation.

4. Mindfully relate your feelings.

Once you know what it is you’re really feeling and what you’d like to happen, try relating that in a calm and open way to your partner. If your partner forgot to call you, rather than yell that she doesn’t really care about you at all, maybe you can say, “I’m realizing that I feel hurt that you didn’t call me. I worry that you don’t really care about me. I would like to understand what happened.”

This will help you and your partner connect with one another, open yourselves up to one another in a more authentic way, and share your true feelings and experiences. This way, you are less likely to fall into old patterns where you may trigger one another and cause each other pain.

By being vulnerable, open, and unafraid to express your true self, you’ll connect better to your romantic partner and you can develop a better understanding of what you want in your relationship.

I speak from experience. Once I learned how to better express my emotions and what they were saying to me, I decided that I wanted a partner who would be willing to do that as well. I made the painful decision to end a 5-year relationship I’d been in which was full of conflict and, on a deep level, I knew wasn’t all that I longed for.

But in doing so, in listening to and trusting my feelings, I was able to move forward and eventually meet my husband, with whom I’ve found the space disentangle myself from my old wiring and have a healthier, satisfying relationship. To love and be loved like I mean it.

Article By: Ron Frederick of Tiny Buddha

3 Negative Inner Voices and How To Challenge Them

“Beautify your inner dialogue. Beautify your inner world with love light and compassion. Life will be beautiful.” ~Amit Ray

There is no better way to feel good about yourself than changing your internal dialogue. Yes, you have the power to change your inner voice. You can choose to speak to yourself in a positive way or a negative way.

Stop all activity for a moment.

Be still. Notice what your inner voice is saying. Do you hear anything? If not, ask your inner voice this question: How does it feel to be still?

Listen.

Is your inner voice declaring that you are too busy to be chillin’? Or is it supporting you, happy to be playing this hanging-out-and-noticing game?

Get to know your inner voice.

Over the next few days stop and listen to your inner dialogue. Especially notice what your inner voice says as you are about to make a decision. Does it say, “I think, I can, I think I can” or does it say, “There is no way, I can’t do that, I can’t do that.”

Powerful Lessons from a Little Children’s Book

I hung out with a two-and-a-half-year-old the other day. He wanted to read a book and brought me The Little Engine that Could, by Watty Piper.

This book was read to me as a child, and I heard the voice in my head chant, “I think I can, I think I can” as I opened the book’s cover. The part I didn’t remember was the lessons of the trains.

As I read this little children’s book written way back in the 1930’s I felt the power of the lessons and how they apply to my own self-speak today.

The Little Engine That Could

The story is about a little train who wants to bring presents over the mountain to children who are patiently and excitedly awaiting their gifts.

However, on the way to the town, the little engine breaks down. The toys are very upset, and one of them, a funny little clown, sets off to find another train to help them.

Lessons on Self-Talk from Four Trains

1. The first train has a Shiny New Engine.

The Shiny New Engine didn’t want to help the little toy train because he was too special, too proud. He looked down on the little train and said a resounding “NO.”

I thought of my shiny arrogance that I’d polished for years. I’d told myself I was too special, too important to waste my time and attention on certain tasks and people.

Even though I’ve worked on this character defect, I know I have some of this self-speak going on inside of me. I noticed it the other night when I went out to dinner with a friend who brought along a friend of hers.

The woman appeared to be in her sixties with huge fake boobs. She dressed in a tight, sparkly sundress that emphasized her boobs and wore high heels with gold doodads pasted on. She talked about how her love life was filled with younger men who were her “F–k buddies.”

The moment she said this, I felt superior and stopped listening to what she shared. The next two hours I spent wishing I was at home watching Netflix. My inner voice said she was desperate.

What did I miss out on? She could have been a kindhearted, fascinating person, even if she dressed provocatively and made choices I wouldn’t make. Where was my compassion or at least my curiosity?

2. Next comes a Big Engine.

The Big Engine says he is too important and won’t “pull the likes of you.”

That got me thinking of my judgments. How do I judge others? Have I missed out on opportunities and connections because my over-inflated ego tells me that I’m too important to get involved with that person or situation?

My lesson on this came from an Alanon meeting. Well, actually, two separate meetings.

I rushed into my regular Alanon meeting a bit late and sat down in the only open chair. Once I arranged myself I noticed the man I was sitting next to had a scraggly beard, his clothes looked like they’d been slept in, and he smelled a bit. I scooted as far as I could from him in my chair and held my nose in the air.

When he shared in the meeting I chose not to listen. My inner voice said, “He has nothing to share that could be of value.” I knew that at the end of the meeting I’d have to hold his hand. My inner voice said, “No way.” So I slipped out right before the closing of the meeting.

A week later I arrived at my Alanon meeting on time and sat beside a good-looking man in a neat business suit. He piqued my interest. I’d never seen him at a meeting before, and I always appreciated a good-looking, well-groomed man.

When this good-looking man shared, I listened intently and nodded my head in agreement with much of what he said. My inner voice said “yes” to holding this man’s hand at the end of the meeting. As we grabbed hands, I gave his an extra firm squeeze as my way of saying, “I’m glad you are here.”

As we released our handhold, I turned to the nice-looking man and said, “My name is Michelle, welcome.” I’ll never forget how he looked at me with his deep blue eyes and asked, “You don’t remember me, do you?” I nodded my head “no,” thinking to myself I’d surely remember him if we’d met before.

He said, “I was here last week, a bit disheveled, as my best friend who suffered from alcoholism had killed himself. This Alanon meeting was recommended by my therapist to get help and support. I was so distraught I wasn’t eating, sleeping, or taking care of myself. I noticed you wanted nothing to do with me.”

It dawned on me as he spoke that he was the homeless-looking man from the week before. I turned bright red, mumbled an apology, and ran out of the room.

I never saw the man again, but I do think of him often and consider him an angel sent to stop me from my “I’m better than” inner voice.

3. The Rusty Old Engine comes next.

The Rusty Old Engine sighed and said he could not. He was too tired and weary.

I personally am not familiar with this inner voice. My inner voice tells me I can do anything and handle most things that come my way, to a fault. But I’ve watched others run this internal narrative. One of them is Jean.

Jean was a vibrant, gorgeous woman who owned a successful advertising company. When the advertising business began to shift away from print toward the Internet, I watched as she became defeated. She told me she was too old to make the changes she needed to make.

Her business began to fail, and as it did Jean failed as well. She stopped doing her movement practices, gained weight, and subsequently had two hip replacements. Her financial picture grew dim, and Jean was forced to sell her beautiful condo. She gave up on the life she’d so artfully created for herself over decades.

I saw Jean a couple of years ago. She was a shell of her former self and shared she felt old and tired.

4. Lastly comes the Little Blue Engine.

Chugging merrily along. The dolls and toys didn’t have to ask this train for help. She asks them, “What’s wrong?” As she hears of their plight, she tells them she isn’t very big and has never been over the mountain.

She thought of what the kids would be missing if this little train didn’t bring the gifts to the boys and girls on the other side. So she said, “I think I can, I think I can.” It was a supreme effort, but she hooked up to the train, began chugging along, and kept going all the way over the mountain by saying to herself over and over again, “I think I can.”

I know this voice.

I recently changed my business model from brick and mortar, which I knew I could do, to an online business, which required a supreme effort. I’ve gotten up every morning for over a year chanting, “I think I can.” I’ve put my head down and chugged through twelve-hour days, and you know what? I did it. I made it over that mountain. My online business is going strong.

Inner Voice Lessons from The Little Engine That Could:

Listen for your arrogant inner voice that tells you that you are better than anyone else. Tell yourself to remain curious and compassionate.
Listen for your inner judgments. Say to yourself, “I’m grateful for the people that I meet; they might teach me something.”
Listen to your inner voice of defeat that tells you that you are too tired. Change that voice to “I’m not handed anything I can’t handle.”
Take the next adventure you encounter and say to yourself, “I think I can. I think I can.”

Article by: Michelle Andrie of Tiny Buddha

How to Tackle Fear and Anxiety Cognitively, Behaviorally, and Spiritually

“The beautiful thing about fear is that when you run to it, it runs away.” ~Robin Sharma

During my first-grade choir concert, my classmate, Meg, fainted from the top row of the bleachers, and in a subconscious gesture of empathy, I went down right after her, breaking my glasses and flailing on the gymnasium floor.

It’s possible that this triggered some kind of coping mechanism in my brain, because I started fainting again and again.

One time I fainted at the dentist’s office—immediately after the dentist injected me with my first round of Novocain—then months later in a hospital parking lot after a small medical procedure.

I also fainted a few days after getting my ears pierced. I was showing my grandmother my new gold studs, and I happened to look toward the TV just as Nellie Olsen fainted during a Little House on the Prairie rerun, and that was enough, over I went.

What affected me the most during those early years of growing up was not the tangible act of fainting, but my anxiety anticipating when and where I would faint next. Whenever I wasn’t moving, whenever I tried to be still, my thoughts traveled to the fear of fainting. And because of that, I tried to keep my mind constantly active.

I had several tests, and the doctors found nothing medically wrong with me. I literally scared myself to the point of fainting. Though I never let fear prevent me from doing things, inner struggles and cautious dread were always present. It made living in the moment very difficult.

Going to church became a major source of stress for me. I had time to think, worry, and become anxious. These were ideal fainting conditions for me.

I’d have panic attacks during Sunday mass without anyone knowing. Moments of pulling my hair, pinching my skin, feeling my heart pounding out of my chest were common, all while trying to will myself from fainting.

This continued for years.

I seemed to outgrow my anxiety attacks after high school, and I continued through college and beyond, without thinking much about my prior angst. I got married and had three children. Then, during my late thirties, my anxiety returned with a vengeance, escalating to a fear of driving on the highway.

Things got worse in my early forties when I developed major health concerns. Again, there was nothing physically wrong with me; I was purely manifesting physical symptoms from worrying about a certain disease or medical condition. It was quite a skill—one that I was not proud of, but one that certainly awakened me to the power of my mind.

My fear ran deep and was so powerful that it physically controlled me.

The more I tried to ignore my anxiety, the more it escalated until it gradually controlled the person I was becoming. I didn’t like “me” anymore.

I was afraid of everything. I talked to my doctor, read every Louise Hay book, went to biofeedback, performed EFT, and saw a few therapists. I would do anything to remember who I was before the fear of living got in my way.

The funny thing was, no one else noticed because this overwhelming anxiety never stopped me from doing anything. It just sucked the spirit out of me. No one knew that, to me, life felt really scary.

I wanted to crawl up in a ball with my kids. I wanted to control every waking move I made and make sure we were all safe.

I remember a profound moment one fall day after finishing a run. Out of breath and standing there with my hands on my knees, I looked up at the trees and saw a leaf floating from a tree. I stood and prayed that I’d learn how to let go and release my inner struggles and be as light and free as that leaf.

That was when I decided I would not consume my every waking moment with this fear. I would be the person who chose to live life fully.

So this is what I know now.

To let go of something, you need to lean in.

This is counterintuitive. We all have a built-in “fight, flight or freeze” response to stress, which is a physiological reaction that occurs in the presence of fear and is exhibited by the urge to flee, run, or freeze and do nothing.

In many ways, anxiety can protect us from harmful situations. In other ways, when the threat is not harmful, it can prevent us from functioning at our fullest capacity and experiencing all that life has to offer.

I spent many years of my life trying to push fear away and running as fast as I could from it. But what I needed to do was to allow myself to lean into fear, to work through it, to face it head on. I needed to show my anxiety and fear that I wasn’t afraid anymore.

This was a frightening act. But the alternative was to continue to run—and this was even more terrifying.

So I began to allow, to surrender, to trust. I stopped fighting and made a conscious choice to choose love over fear—again and again. Battling and rejecting a part of myself had only caused feelings of isolation and anguish.

I searched to understand the power of my subconscious and began to process fainting as my defense mechanism. I realized that if I was going to move through this fear, I’d have to love and accept myself, including the anxiety within me.

I stood firmly anchored in the ground of acceptance. Of all of me. And the result was a newer, more powerful version of myself—one that no longer was afraid to live.

If you’re struggling with anxiety and/or fear, here are eight ways to move forward. In more severe instances, you may need the help of a medical professional.

Cognitively

Acknowledge your fear.

This is a major first step. We often ignore our fears and anxiety for so long that they progress into a part of us.

Compartmentalize your fear, separating it from yourself. Then peel back the layers and find out what it is that you fear. Is it disappointing others? Rejection? Failing? Something else? Recognize that it’s holding you back from becoming your true self.

Fear is sneaky. It can be quite obvious, presenting as physiological symptoms, or it can be much more obscure. Procrastination, perfectionism, and overwhelm can all be forms of fear.

Explore if any of these are showing up for you and consider how they may be contributing to your lack of progress.  When you pinpoint the underlying fear and how it is presenting itself, you diminish the power it has over you.

Initially, I believed I was afraid of fainting. After much reflection with my coach and therapist, and as my thoughts evolved, I was able to identify my underlying fear—the fear of dying. Every time I fainted, my blood pressure would drop and I’d lose consciousness, essentially looking death in the eyes over and over again.

Once I recognized this, even though it was still scary, the awareness allowed me to use coping skills to move forward.

Lean into your fear.

When you feel like running or fleeing, it’s time to face your fear with courage. Although our automatic response is often to run away, numb our feelings, or somehow distract ourselves, escaping only temporarily relieves anxiety. Fear will return, possibly in a different form, until you choose to confront it with kindness.

Bring yourself into the present moment by noticing the sensations in your body. Where Is fear showing up as discomfort for you? In your chest? Your stomach? Your throat? Fully experience it.

Befriend your fear.

Let fear know that you’re not afraid of it. Ask it: What are you trying to tell me? What do you want me to know?

What I learned from asking these questions was that fear was trying to keep me safe from harm. A part of my past needed to be acknowledged and fear was whispering, “You can’t move on and become your most powerful self until you work through this, my friend.”

Then thank it for trying to protect you in the only way it knew how.

Behaviorally

Exercise.

For me, running has always been a huge stress reliever. Whether it’s running or yoga or something in between, movement calms you down by releasing chemicals called endorphins.

Make healthy choices.

When I feel stressed, I limit my sugar and caffeine intake, since sugar crashes can cause irritability and tension, and stimulants like caffeine can worsen anxiety and even trigger panic attacks. A well-balanced diet full of healthy, whole foods will help also alleviate anxiety. Be sure to eat breakfast to keep your blood sugar steady, and stay hydrated to help your mind and body perform at their best.

Breathe.

Since I have made yoga and meditation a part of my daily routine, I’ve noticed a difference in how I react to stressful situations. Slotting this time into my morning ensures I get it done before the day gets busy. When you’re in the middle of a panic attack, it’s harder to move into meditation and deep breathing, so it’s helpful to make this an everyday practice.

Spiritually

Trust.

Fear and anxiety can stem from self-doubt and insecurities. If you regularly work on accessing your inner wisdom, and acting on what you learn, you’ll develop more trust in your ability to do what’s best for you and handle whatever comes at you. You can begin to strengthen your relationship to your inner wisdom by journaling, meditating, and sitting in silence. This is an ongoing process that requires exploration.

One of the most effective ways to build self-trust is to take small steps forward. Know that it can (and most likely will) be scary, but once you step out of your comfort zone, you’ll see that much of what you were afraid of was in your imagination. To make this easier, I often recall a time when I trusted myself, despite my self-doubt, and things turned out positively.

Surrender

When you have done all you can, let go. Discern what is outside of your control and find the courage to release all expectations of it. You may just find a sense of relief in allowing life to unfold naturally.

I still have moments when I get anxious and overly worried. In these moments, I think about the influence my mind has over my body. Perhaps it’s not about resisting my mind’s ability to control me, but rather redirecting its incredible power to work in my favor.

And with that, I can move mountains.

Article By: Carly Hamilton-Jones of Tiny Buddha

This post was republished with permission from tinybuddha.com. You can find the original post at https://tinybuddha.com.