- by Alona Pulde, MD
Finding a New Perspective
Have you ever noticed how you can be given the same circumstances as someone else, but when your thoughts about it differ, so do your feelings and experience of it?
Imagine, for example, a day of pouring rain.
One person might be thinking: “What a bummer, it’s cold and wet and I hate the idea of going outside.” Another might think: “How lovely, I can watch the rain while staying indoors and reading my favorite book.” And still another might think: “Let me grab my rain coat and rain boots and go splash in some puddles.” Each of these thoughts will set a mood and result in either a positive or negative experience.
We are now learning that in addition to affecting our experience, thoughts and emotions can also affect our health – with a capacity to harm or heal. Positive experiences, mindfulness and healthy ways of coping with stress can help to boost your health.
High anxiety, persistent negative thinking, or an inability to cope with stressful situations may have a damaging impact. I am guessing you have heard the saying “worrying yourself to death.” Although that is an extreme example, some more common ones include worrying yourself to a headache, a stomachache, bowel troubles, or an ulcer.
The good news is that there are ways that you can improve your emotional health. Here are some helpful tips:
Find gratitude – Spend a few moments everyday focusing on things that you are grateful for. This does not necessarily mean overlooking or eliminating negative emotions (it is important to experience these too) but it does mean working to find the positives as well. Gratitude’s can vary from having two feet to strongly support you as you stand, to having a family member or friend you can call when you are having a rough day, to have a job that provides you with the resources to pay for your needs. It can be fun to think of something new to appreciate every day.
Gain mindfulness – Find ways to relax and calm your body and mind. Some ideas include meditation, breathing techniques, exercise, listening to music, or taking a warm bath. The idea here to increase mindfulness is to put your attention on what is objectively happening in the present moment, whether it be your breathe, a body sensation, or an observation of what is happening around you.
Find a healthy way to express yourself – Suppressing your emotions or raging against the world are both extreme forms of expressing yourself – neither of which is healthy. Some alternatives to consider include talking to a friend or counselor, drawing your feelings or journaling and writing them down.
Build your resilience – This does not mean soldiering up and stifling your experience. Instead it is the ability to face setbacks, learn from them, and bounce back to face another day.
Learn to say “no” – Overextending often results in stress and anxiety. Take inventory on what you are balancing, prioritize the top 3-5 things and consider saying “no” to the rest.
“Don't sweat the small stuff” – Stress and anxiety can make little things seem big and big things seem bigger. Putting things into perspective helps us see that many things in our lives are temporary inconveniences over impossible to overcome obstacles. A great question to ask yourself to determine whether or not a given circumstance is worth the stress is, “Will this matter in one year?”