By: Dr. Francesca Vazquez
Stress is inevitable. We are all bound to encounter negative life events, stressful times, and situations that take us off track.
It is important to realize that stress is not bad in itself. It helps us achieve our goals and protects us in life-threatening situations. However, when we carry stress for a prolonged amount of time without adequate coping strategies, it begins to affect our health, relationships, and all-around life satisfaction.
However, there are also proven strategies to help train our minds and bodies to better handle that stress in a more mindful and proactive manner. If we have a few tools in our back pockets when stressful events arise, we're more likely to successfully overcome them.
Here are five mindful techniques you can use the next time you encounter a stressful event:
1. Remove yourself from your thoughts with meditation.
Our thoughts can be harsh—we are our worst critics when we should actually be our best advocates. When we encounter a negative situation, we tend to engage in catastrophic thinking. Our thoughts tend to exaggerate the magnitude of the problem, and if we take our thoughts seriously, our stress levels rise.
When you find yourself jumping from one thought to another, check out. Mindfulness meditation has been found to decrease negative automatic thoughts. Observe your thoughts rather than identifying with them. Meditate for one to five minutes daily, focusing on your breath and a relaxing view or focal point.
2. Repeat positive affirmations.
The more often you hear a message, the more likely you are to believe it. This is true for messages we hear from our friends, boss, parents, and ourselves.
However, we have a choice. We can choose what we want to believe by counteracting negative messages. Choose two to three positive affirmations and repeat them to yourself daily or when you encounter a stressful event. For example, “I can handle anything life throws at me,” or “I am strong and capable.”
It might seem ineffective at first, but with repetition we create habits. And with time, are able to rewire our brains to become more resilient.
3. Challenge your natural tendency to think negatively.
Our brains are prewired to focus on the negative. It's a survival strategy that has been passed on through generations. We are naturally pulled toward scanning everything that could go wrong.
However, just because we think it doesn’t mean we need to believe it. Thoughts are not facts. Challenge these negative thoughts and list the reasons these negative thoughts are untrue. For example, let's say you start your own business and fail on your first try. This doesn’t mean you are a failure. It simply means you need to try again, this time with a different approach.
4. Choose a distraction that requires your full attention.
Distractions are powerful. When we're stressed, we tend to overthink and engage in ruminative thinking.
Next time you're stressed out, instead of using all your energy to dwell, find a creative outlet that requires your full attention. This could be mindful drawing, painting, building something, an intense workout, writing, and so on. Try to find an activity that requires you to focus, and turn to that every time you find yourself being overly critical or analytical.
5. Be grateful.
When you encounter negative events, it's important to notice what’s also going well. Thinking about the good, even if it's just a few minutes a day, helps balance out the stress from negative events.
Rewire your brain to become more optimistic by helping it store more positive events through gratitude. Write down three things you are grateful for as soon as you find yourself becoming overwhelmed. For example, “I am thankful for having the skills to do my job," or “I am thankful for having a satisfying career."
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