Have you been more grouchy than usual in the past year? In our post yesterday, Stressed and Overwhelmed? Here's Where To Start, we talked about how our reactions to stressful events often send us into negative moods. And the past year has been full of stressful events. (Remote schooling, anyone?)
It's isn't always stress, with its accompanying low-level fear, that drives our bad moods. But sadness and hurt tend to come out in tears, after which we feel better. Fear most often emerges as lashing out, which is a defense against feeling vulnerable. At a lower, more daily, level, fear manifests as low grade irritability, self-criticism, perfectionism, annoyance, resentment, judgment of ourselves and others, and general negativity.
You can't stop your mind from being negative sometimes. The job of the mind is to watch for danger. That gives our minds a negativity bias.
But you can commit to a better way of handling low-level fear when it arises, before it spirals out of control. When you notice that creeping negativity, use these practical mindfulness tips to shift your mood.
1. Use your Pause Button.
Train yourself to Stop, Drop (your current agenda, just for now), and Breathe, the minute you notice that something is stressing you. Three deep conscious breaths will pause your stress response, and give you the power to choose how to react to whatever's in front of you, instead of getting hijacked by your emotions.
2. Observe what's happening in your body.
Ruminating about whatever is upsetting you will just get you stuck in the story line. Instead, notice the sensations in your body. Tight shoulders? Dread in the pit of your stomach?
Be willing to feel that. The secret is that as you welcome those sensations, and breathe into them, the feelings begin to shift, change, and eventually evaporate.
Still feel upset? You're probably bumping up against a powerful belief system, which you've reinforced with your thoughts many times. It's worn a groove in your psyche, and triggers some big feelings.
But don't worry, you're already excavating it. Every time you notice those automatic negative thoughts and feel the sensations that go with them, but -- and this is crucial -- you RESIST TAKING ACTION (which is a distraction from the feelings), you break that neural chain. Eventually, you won't even get triggered by those thoughts, and that belief system will no longer feel true.
3. Make Your Conscious Attention Bigger Than Your Fear.
At this moment, while you're upset, here's a power tool to move this process along faster. Be more present. That means you shift your attention from your
mind back into your body. Breathe deeply. Notice everything your senses are telling you.
Notice that as you observe, the part of you that's observing gets bigger than those uncomfortable sensations. Your conscious attention is like a light that melts away tension and fear.
4. Open some space to shift out of feeling victimized.
Fear makes us feel powerless and victimized. But what IS Fear, really? It's just the worry that we won't be able to handle something that might happen.
So one antidote to fear is to claim your power. Once you've spent some time in your body dissolving those stuck patterns, shift the energy.
- Tap the karate chop point on the side of your hand as you say: "Even though I'm feeling stressed about that right now, I know that whatever happens, I can handle it!"
- Shake the tension out of your hands or run them under water, imagining that you're off-loading fear.
- Put on some music and dance it out, claiming your power. (This is terrific to do with children.)
5. Change your mind.
- Notice that the upsetting thoughts causing your unhappy feelings may not even be true. Reframe mentally, with a thought that is more positive and just
as likely to be true. ("Every baby sleeps through the night sooner or later.")
- Use a mantra to talk yourself down and reframe your perceptions, so your mind turns off its alarm system.
- Choose to see things from the other person’s perspective.
- Remind yourself of all the wonderful things about your child, to put any current “offense” into perspective.
- Choose a more expansive emotion. The simple act of choosing to feel grateful stills our inner critic, changes our body chemistry, and floods us with appreciation and love. As Jan Marie Dorr says, “Practice being grateful for what you have, rather than focusing on what's missing. Look at what's working in your life rather than what's not working. Practice being grateful for the small, wonderful things that happen to you every day, and this will automatically shift your attention from problems to joy, from stress to inner peace.”
6. Change your environment.
Still upset, because something in your world really isn't working for you? Start by doing the first five steps above to let go of where you're stuck, empower yourself and shift into a more positive place. (Actions you take from fear won't get you to a better place.)
Then consciously choose love, for yourself and everyone in the situation. What does that look like? Imagine the situation working out for everyone's highest good. Everyone wins. See how that loosens the situation.
Still feel like something needs to change? Now that you've done this work, you'll have more clarity about how to get where you want to go. Take one step toward a better future. Just one. See what happens.
Hard? Yes. The hardest work we can do. You're bringing the light of your conscious awareness to your fears, so you can spin them into the gold of love. I personally think this is a big part of our life-purpose. But you don't have to believe that to realize the transformative effects!