Stress happens! We can all agree to that. But when negative thoughts become burdensome they distract our focus, creativity and productivity. What started as a doubt or regret can turn into overwhelming anxiety. It can take away precious time and energy. Mistakes being replayed over and over in our heads can be dangerous to our thoughts, actions and health. A way to combat this destructive process is to master letting go of the thoughts that are troubling you. It’s possible that you can’t change the stressful situation but you can change how you think about it. Life isn’t simple and very seldom will everything be worry free, but there is a way to create a larger sense of peace in your life. Taking a moment to consider another perspective or explanation, and rid your mind of counterproductive thoughts, can get you back on track to living healthy in the present moment. Here are some steps to help you do that:
• Breathe- It is truly remarkable what just taking a few breaths can do for you. If you are in a stressful situation and you feel overwhelmed, breathing can re-center your mind and restore a sense of calm over you. Closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing will not only allow you to temporarily escape your stress- it will also help you to renew your current outlook and think of new ways to tackle the problem. Mindful breathing can lower your heart rate and increase the flow of oxygen to your brain. This can only help your game plan.
• Don’t bury your feelings! Express yourself. If you stifle your feelings they may come out in different ways and on different people that are innocent to the situation. Allow yourself to tap into your emotions and feel everything fully. Get it all out. After you have accepted your feelings- find an outlet. If expressing your anger with the person or situation that inspired it is not possible- then find other ways to move on. Metaphorically throw the bitterness or worry thoughts away. Visualize placing your feelings in a balloon and watching it float away, or simply take out a piece of paper and pen and let whatever is in your head flow out. These simple tricks will free your mind and will feel cathartic in and of themselves.
• Consider what you’ve learned- Allow yourself to identify what the experience taught you. This will help you develop a sense of closure. If you are struggling with a past relationship- visualize the single empowered you and take down all those old photographs. You need to create a space that reflects your current reality so that you can move forward. Don’t be afraid to reward yourself for each step you take. Throwing all your ex’s stuff into a box or deleting their phone number is a big hurdle, and you deserve a little prize! Replace emotional thoughts with positive goals. For example, when you think, “I’ll be alone forever,” acknowledge the feelings that accompany the thought and move on to a more productive and realistic thought such as “I’m sad about this relationship ending, but now I have time to focus on me and there will be a new relationship when I’m ready”. This will help take the focus off negativity and keep you on the right track.
• Choose not to focus on it- It seems easier said than done, but if you surround yourself with things you enjoy doing it will become harder to focus on the negative. Go out with friends, exercise, participate in your favorite hobby, or learn a new one. Any of those things will help you take your mind off what is bothering you. The trick is to do something that really demands your focus- that way you aren’t just giving yourself more time to fester over your problems.
If you feel as though your problem or current situation cannot be eased or solved on your own, you can always go to a mental health counselor or life coach. A professional can help guide you in the right direction and unshackle your mind of what is troubling you. Remember, you CAN feel better!
*Written by Michelle Avidon, a Clinical Psychology Graduate Student with a BA in Psychology. She mentored troubled youth at The Door in New York City and now works in Inpatient Mental Health in New Canaan, CT. *Edited by Heather Edwards, LMHC, NCC, BCC