Updated: Jul 23, 2020
If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present. Lao Tzu
Experiencing distress, anxiety and stress is part of the human experience. In some cases these negative emotions can develop into serious cases. But most often they are experienced in mild forms. In severe cases these emotions can be disruptive.
I will focus on the mild forms as I am not a clinical psychologist to give expert advice on the serious forms. Nonetheless, anyone who has experienced the serious forms of an emotion like anxiety and has sought the necessary clinical assistance, can benefit from this resource. Symptoms of anxiety include panic, worry, fear and ruminating often about the future but sometimes in the past.
When faced with these negative emotions, these simple steps can help you work through the emotion with a little practice;
1. Treat your past as if it was meant to be exactly how it happened.
Your past should not define who you are today. It should be a reference point and if you use it well, you can create the best version of yourself going forward. You may ask how was my terrible past meant to be exactly what it was? Well I have a question for you. How is arguing with your past serving you? What success have you had in trying to change it? You have a better chance of finding success in believing hat your past is your past and nothing more. Believe that it was simply a circumstance and you happened to be available to experience it. So use it well. Make a a decision about how you want to use it to create the best version of yourself going forward. Some powerful questions to ask are "how can I learn from this experience", "how can I be an example of what is possible"?
2. Separate the facts from the thoughts.
A circumstance is a fact of life. A circumstance is something that everyone will agree with, it's neutral and it can be proven in the court of law. For example, death is a circumstance.
Our thoughts on the other hand, are just sentences we tell ourselves in our minds. For example, if you had an abusive spouse and he/she hit you, that would be a fact, a circumstance. When that happens you will attach a thought to the circumstance. The thought might be "she/he hates me so much that's why she/he hit me". Although the hitting could have come from frustrations elsewhere but because you are the one who got hit, you are believing that it has everything to do with you. When you make the circumstance mean something about you, you end up generating negative feelings that will take you down a spiral of unwanted actions. In the end you create results that you do not want in your life. And when you get stuck on believing that thought about him hitting you is true, you end up living a life that holds onto the distress that you are causing yourself.
Let us look at this differently. Your spouse hits you. You think "he has some issues going on that I choose not to be apart of and they definitely have nothing to do with me". You actions here will be much different from the scenario where you believe it had everything to do with you. You might choose to leave because you are choosing to love yourself but not because you feel victimised.
Write your story down, separate the facts from the thoughts and really focus on what actions are created by your negative thoughts. You can choose to work on your thoughts, or get some help to be able to work them. The only way you will change your life is if you change your thoughts.
3. Pay close attention to your negative feelings.
Whenever those negative feelings creep in, pay very close attention to them and allow them. And as you do, ask yourself what thought am I thinking that is causing this feeling. Spend sometime on this. Seriously. As I earlier said that our thoughts are because of our interpretation of a circumstance.
So here's what you do. Your boss says to you "you are not ready for that promotion". And maybe you want to apply for a position that's available right now but you get anxious when you think about what your boss said. What is causing you the anxiety or anger or distress, is not what your'e boss said. It is what you are making it mean. You could choose to take your boss' words as a challenge and the meaning you derive is "I hear what he says and I should find ways of improving where I am not showing my full potential." Or you could choose to wallow in the anxiety because your thought is "my boss is never going to let me grow into that promotion." As you can see the two thoughts will not allow you to create the same results. And by the way, you do not have to believe your boss. You just have to decide, what thought or belief you want to be able to create a positive emotion.
Please be aware that in some cases it is necessary to allow the negative emotion. For instance, you might have a presentation to do in the near future and you are filled with anxiety as to how you are going to show up. Perhaps it's in front of many people or it might be that job interview for that promotion. Whatever it might be, sometimes it's difficult to get rid of the anxiety. When faced in a situation like this, just allow it while keeping in mind that the worst that could happen to you is simply a negative feeling and nothing more. Such anxiety often clears away once you start the presentation because you soon realise that the humans in the audience do not bite.
Although, I would also like to stress that suppressing negative feelings is not the same as allowing them. Suppressing them does not create room for healing.
4. Journal your way to mental health.
I cannot stress how helpful journaling can be when dealing with negative emotions. Journaling allows you to empty your mind with all the thoughts that could be holding you hostage. I always equate journaling to the roughly 3 litres of water an adult, who does not like drinking water, has to take per day. We can all agree that water is good for us. And those who have it as part of a daily diet, they'll drink it without even thinking about it. My husband is one of those. I on the other hand, need to remind myself whether I reached my target for the day.
Journaling is emptying that 3 litre water bottle while nourishing your body with the fluids you need for hydration. While you empty your thoughts into a journal your mind is freed up from the entanglement of thoughts that might be causing you distress. And in fact, you are more likely to self coach through journaling than keeping your mind racing with thoughts that do not serve you. You may hold yourself accountable for some of your thoughts as well as your actions and that's exactly how journaling serves its purpose.
5. Practice daily gratitude.
I may not be telling you anything new here but how many of us actually practice gratitude religiously everyday. This is the simplest and easiest way to achieve happiness but it is not always the easiest to practice. No matter what your abilities or achievements are, having gratitude is a must for every soul as long as it is still breathing. The almighty gives us his countless bounties everyday, from the air we breath, which is free of charge, to the wisdom we use to create all possibilities in life. How amazing is that? How often do we truly sit and count our blessings? Is it even possible? I know what's possible. Is to give ourselves sometime each day to really ponder over what we have that we have or haven't worked for at all. If you must do one thing out of the five listed here, let it be gratitude. Being grateful will give you peace even when you least expect it.
This is a wonderful day. I have never seen this one before. Maya Angelou
Here are some helpful resources to supplement these exercises;