[View original article published in Answers.com here]
What is your first thought when you wake up in the morning? “I’m ready to take on the day!” But maybe you had a restless night and couldn’t stop thinking about current problems. Perhaps you wish your day never began.
All of us experience difficulties at one point or another, and it has been said that what really matters is how we react to adversity. The advice is that we need to confront our difficult experiences with a positive attitude. When we do, things go smoother. But it is easier said than done!
Take Lori for example. She was the oldest child of four, and when she was twelve years old, her mom passed away. She missed her mother, and she and her siblings were raised by her great aunt. She often felt criticized and overcorrected. She tried her best to please her aunt and her father -who often was absent because of his job. As she grew up, she began to form negative beliefs about herself, others, and the world. When negative events occurred in her life, it was difficult for her to recover because she felt inadequate.
We all have thinking errors, and some of us more than others. For instance, Lori tended to dwell on the past and focus on “what could’ve been.” Then there were the “what if” predicting thoughts. Her mind would race, and she’d begin worrying about something horrible happening in the future. Research has confirmed that “neurons that fire together, wire together.” As Lori experienced emotional challenges, she created thinking habits that she needed to change or “retrain.”
The good news is that people with similar experiences to Lori’s can receive treatment and learn skills to change their negative thinking patterns. They can learn to overcome their fears and eventually change their perspective.
In the meantime, what can they do to start changing those brain pathways?
When individuals are having a difficult time, they most likely are aware of their feelings -but then they may panic! The natural tendency is to repel unpleasant feelings and sensations in their body. The problem with that, is that they inadvertently create a thinking habit that will be associated with the distressing feeling, the body sensation, and the event.
Instead, it’s more productive to become aware of how these feelings are manifesting themselves, name them, and focus on them. This may sound counterintuitive, but by becoming aware of where your body is sensing those feelings, you start to shift your focus. The thinking errors that triggered those feelings in the first place may start diminishing. This could be the beginning of significant changes in your thinking habits. Give it a try!
Many individuals experiencing anxiety and stress wish to get rid of their unpleasant feelings and thoughts. The more they try, the harder it is to do so. Remember it has been said that “what you resist, persists.” They inadvertently highlight their feelings and thoughts!
An effective way to handle distressing feelings and thoughts is by being aware of them and by acknowledging them. Acknowledge them as they are – feelings and thoughts – nothing else! Thoughts and feelings are like clouds – they come and go. Some are fluffy, grey and even stormy at times. The good news is that they are temporary if you just let them be. Don’t be afraid of them, acknowledge them and try to move on!
Some people misunderstand this term. It certainly is not to accept life and adversity in a sense of defeat and hopelessness! On the contrary, life can be enjoyed despite adversity. A while ago when I asked my elderly neighbor how she was doing, she answered, “I am counting my blessings. That’s what counts. Things don’t have to be one way all the time. Changes happen and I go with them. I laugh instead of growl.” She was ill and up in years, yet, she was accepting changes with a positive attitude!
Yes, it’s not easy and some of us need to work at it more than others. We also need to be consistent in practicing these skills.
Sometimes we are stubborn and believe life should be easier and impatiently wait for things to change. Instead we can accept the fact that we will all experience emotional winters at one time or another. If those moments haven’t arrived yet, let’s enjoy life until we need to cope. If we are there already, let’s learn how to cope and focus on what we can control and what can bring true joy despite the hardships.
Let’s not look at adversity as our enemy. Instead of being afraid, let’s learn from it.
The fog does dissipate and the sun eventually comes out. What we do while this happens is up to us. We are in charge of our lives!