Have you ever wondered how to make life better? How can you be happier, healthier, or more fulfilled? Having an attitude of gratitude could be one answer. You may have heard this little catchphrase before. It’s possible you just rolled your eyes, too.
But does being thankful work?
What is gratitude anyway?
Gratitude is the state of being thankful. It’s showing appreciation for what you have or receive.
Dr. Robert Emmons, the gratitude guru, takes the definition further. He describes it using two key components:
Gratitude is “an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts, and benefits we’ve received.”
Gratitude is our recognition “that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves.”
So, how can being thankful benefit your life? I’m so glad you asked.
Here are 5 benefits of gratitude:
1. Gratitude can help relieve stress.
We all deal with stress daily. Research has found that being grateful might keep our minds from getting so worked up worrying about things. When you’re in the middle of a stressful situation, refocusing on what you’re grateful for can calm the body and mind. This reduces the symptoms of stress.
When you choose gratitude over negativity, you also feel less emotionally charged. A sense of gratitude allows you to respond rather than react in the moment.
2. Gratitude can make you more positive.
According to psychologist Dr. Catherine Jackson, gratitude causes the brain to increase the production of dopamine and serotonin.
Dopamine is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. It’s associated with pleasure and reward. It contributes to focus, motivation, and happiness.
Serotonin is a chemical that is considered a natural mood stabilizer. It helps reduce depression, regulate anxiety, heal wounds, and maintain bone health.
So, a grateful mind allows you to feel more positive emotions.
THE GRATITUDE CHALLENGE
EASY ACTIVITIES FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY TO CULTIVATE A MINDSET OF THANKFULNESS
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE MAGIC OF THIS SEASON?
It’s easy to find yourself smack dab in the middle of the holiday season feeling frantic and totally unprepared for the flurry of meals, school programs, family get-togethers, and gift exchanges. It’s really hard to feel grateful when you’re STRESSED to the max. (Shocker, right?)
And you better believe your kids are picking up what you’re putting down. So if you want them to have a little gratitude for all that they have, a good place to start is intentionally expressing gratitude yourself.
This guide will help you and your whole family do just that. Download these free activities for all ages and start cultivating some gratitude magic!
3. Gratitude strengthens your relationships.
Relationships, whether romantic, family, or friends, can be full of disappointments. As we grow closer to others, we see their flaws. It can be easy to dwell on these. But an attitude of gratitude allows us to focus more on the good qualities. The more we focus on the good, the more positive attributes we’ll find.
A series of 2012 studies found that gratitude also increases empathy and reduces aggression. Gratitude motivates people to express sensitivity and concern for others. Aggression, however, is just the opposite and is reduced among grateful people.
4. Gratitude can make you healthier.
The more grateful you are, the healthier you feel. Research supports that, too. Those who practice gratitude tend to have better psychological health. Grateful people also involve themselves in healthy activities and are more willing to seek help for health concerns. Additionally, grateful people are more likely to take care of themselves.
5. Gratitude reduces your risk of depression.
Regularly expressing gratitude can lead to fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. Being grateful reminds us that not everything is bad. There are positives that we can focus on. Gratitude can make you feel more motivated, which pushes you toward your goals and dreams. A sense of hope helps to protect against depression.
Approaching life with thankfulness can have positive effects across all aspects of life. It’s good for you, and it’s good for your relationships. Choosing to be thankful and expressing gratitude for what you have can be a wonderful thing. And in case you didn’t know, gratitude is contagious. Your attitude of gratitude can create a ripple effect throughout your friends and family.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Untitled-1-01-2.png5001200Mitchell Quallshttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngMitchell Qualls2021-11-09 10:08:382021-11-12 11:36:525 Benefits of Being Thankful
My wife and I have been together since high school, and she was just offered a new position at work. Yay!! We’re so excited. But there was only one catch: the offer required that she take and pass a standardized test. Three things trigger her anxiety more than anything else: doctors, spiders, and tests. When any of these three is a possibility, she can’t sleep and loses her appetite. We’ve always known this was an issue for her, but we work through it. One step at a time.
Her anxiety before these events made me curious. Is this normal or is it a sign of something more? Is she ok? I mean, I get anxious about some things, but not to that extent. So, I did a little digging. In the process, I came across some interesting articles and research regarding something called “anticipatory anxiety.”
What is anticipatory anxiety?
It sounds clinical, but anticipatory anxiety comes from fear or worries about things that could happen — situations, events, or experiences that may lie ahead. It can stem from past experiences, but it doesn’t always. My wife’s anxiety with tests or spiders doesn’t stem from past trauma. The anxiety with doctors? Now that’s a different story.
Some symptoms may include things like hyperventilating, chest pain, difficulty concentrating and feeling apprehensive. It can also show up as sleep issues, loss of appetite, emotional numbness, and trouble managing emotions.
Aren’t we all a little anxious about the future?
Sure! It’s normal for all of us to feel anxious about the future from time to time. Tests, moving, big trips, new jobs, and major medical procedures are just a few examples of things that cause anxiety. It’s not unusual to worry over these things, but there’s a BIG difference between being worried and having anticipatory anxiety.
Let’s take a look at some differences. A 2015 study looked at “phasic fear”(fear that precedes a threat you can predict) and anticipatory anxiety. Phasic fear lasts for a short time. On the other hand, anticipatory anxiety lasts longer and is a reaction to an unpredictable threat. Each fear activates different parts of the brain. The researchers found that we all experience different levels of anticipatory anxiety. BUT if a person suffers from an anxiety disorder, anticipatory anxiety can go well beyond what most people experience. Anticipatory anxiety can be life-limiting for those who suffer from panic disorder, PTSD, or a phobia.
An American Psychological Association survey in March 2021 found that 50% of participants reported anxiety in the current reentry phase of the pandemic. We’re probably all a little anxious right now as the world reopens and kids return to school (in some areas of the country for the first time since March 2020). We might even worry about a COVID recurrence or future pandemics.
So, how do we cope with anticipatory anxiety?
Anticipatory anxiety can put stress on personal relationships because you’re distracted by what-ifs. It can be life-limiting as you try to avoid things you’re afraid of. But you can cope with anticipatory anxiety and work to overcome it.
We can also help others cope by paying attention to their actions and emotions. Maybe you have a loved one with anticipatory anxiety. If so, you can encourage them to use the coping mechanisms listed below. A strong support system that offers love, grace, and encouragement can make a world of difference.
Here are some methods to help you cope:
Practicing a relaxation response: Deep breathing, guided imagery, or meditation are a few examples. Find something that calms you.
Self-talk: Talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend who’s having a similar experience. Self-compassion can make you more mindful. It can also motivate you to recognize and face your fears.
Healthy distractions: Take a walk, listen to music, engage in your favorite hobby, or exercise.
Challenge your anxious thoughts: Ask yourself if you’re being realistic. If you aren’t, challenge those thoughts with realistic ones.
Take action: Sometimes, the best solution is to confront whatever makes you anxious. This may mean taking small steps toward conquering your fears. You don’t have to tackle it all at once.
So, my wife faced her test anxiety. She studied diligently. The kids and I cheered her on and offered words of support and encouragement. We created an environment at home to lessen her anxiety as the time to take her test got closer. And she passed her test. With that, the fear is gone… until the next test. But, when it comes to spiders, we’ve got a long road ahead. [Read How To Help Your Spouse Deal With Anxiety]
Overcoming anticipatory anxiety takes work. But, reining in your fears will be helpful for you and your family. If you think your anticipatory anxiety could be a sign of something more, consult with a therapist or counselor for guidance.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Untitled-2-01-3.png5001200Mitchell Quallshttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngMitchell Qualls2021-07-30 12:10:142021-08-11 00:20:59What You Need to Know About Anticipatory Anxiety
“Why don’t I feel that overwhelming loving feeling toward her? Is there something wrong with me?”
These are the thoughts that raced through my mind as I was sobbing at 2 a.m., trying to rock my 4-week-old baby girl back to sleep.
I’ve always wanted to be a mom. As a kid, if you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have answered, “a mom.” In friend groups, I’ve always been the “mom” to everyone. When I thought about motherhood, I felt totally confident and prepared to become a mother.
But the day she was born, all those things I thought would come naturally never came. And even now, 3 months into it, I’m still struggling with those late-night thoughts.
Let me clarify something before you get any further — I’m not here to give you any advice. I can’t share a list of steps to help you out of these feelings because I’m still in it myself. And I don’t have it figured out (not even close), but I can offer you this: You’re not alone. I see you.
And I see you questioning yourself and your baby, wondering if you’ll make it through this in one piece, struggling to understand how different motherhood is than how you thought it would be. And I’ve realized, for me at least, that these feelings aren’t just rooted in sadness or sleep deprivation, but grief.
Grieving What Used to Be and Accepting the New
After my husband, my daughter, and I survived those first 3 weeks of postpartum and the fog *somewhat* lifted, I had this unshakeable feeling that the Caroline I had known 3 weeks earlier was gone. The super type-A, confident, reliable person I had been was just upheaved, and a new life — a new person — had just begun. And while I was told to enjoy it, to celebrate having “mother” as my number one descriptor, and to lean into this person I was becoming, I couldn’t do it. I liked the person I used to be and the life I had before motherhood. I didn’t want anything to change. But it had to.
I’ve grieved things as they used to be. I can no longer be on-call for everyone’s every need. I can’t go out with friends at the drop of a hat. No more snuggling on the couch every night with my husband and our dog. Heck, even the clothes I wore no longer fit, and they probably never will. Now, everything revolves around a feeding and sleeping schedule. I have to look for childcare, turn down calls and visits, and set firm boundaries with friends and family.
Maybe you’ve changed careers, or maybe you’ve given up your job to stay home with your baby. And maybe you’ve felt ostracized by family and friends because of this transition into motherhood. Regardless of what your life as a mom looks like, we all have to mourn the life we had before our little ones came into our lives. For good and not so good, things will never be the same.
Grieving Who I Thought I Would Be
There is this second aspect of grief that has taken me nearly 3 months to understand. It’s this feeling that I’m not the kind of mom I always thought I would be. My whole life, I envisioned this fun, adventurous mom dancing in the kitchen with her kids. But when my daughter was born and struggled to eat and refused to sleep, I thought I would lose my mind. That vision of the energetic mom quickly disappeared, and what felt like a shell of a person took her place.
For over two months, there was rarely a day without a breakdown from me, my husband, and our baby. It has been hard to bond with and love on my daughter and nearly impossible to feel close to my husband. At times I’ve felt like I just can’t do it anymore.
*I want to take a second here to say something that needs to be said. Since the very beginning, I’ve been in conversations with my doctor to monitor Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety symptoms. Since 1 in 7 women experience PPD, I was very aware that this was a possibility for me. It is always a good idea to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms or have any concerns. For more resources on Postpartum Mental Health, check out: Postpartum Support International. You can also call the PSI Helpline at 1-800-944-4773 (#1 En Español or #2 English) or TEXT: 503-894-9453 (English) or 971-420-0294 (Español).*
I’ve felt stuck in a never-ending cycle of trying to force myself into who I am “supposed to be,” then breaking down when that pressure is too much for me to handle. After the first 10 weeks of this, I gave up. I stopped trying to force that image on myself and started trying to accept the mother I am right now. This doesn’t mean I can’t learn and grow as my baby girl learns and grows — that will always be my goal.
But I want you to hear this: It’s ok to rest in who you are right now. Take the pressure off yourself to be the mom you feel like you’re supposed to be. Ignore the people who tell you to enjoy every moment, because not every moment is enjoyable. If no one else has, I want to tell you that it’s ok to need a break, to ask for help before you get desperate, and to be honest when people ask, “Don’t you just love being a mom??”
I know it gets better. But until it does, I don’t want to pretend that I’m loving this stage. People give new moms an unrealistic expectation to immediately bond with their baby, to be joyful about the many challenges of motherhood, and to appreciate all the fleeting stages their child will go through.
But what happens when none of that feels possible? Most new moms are left to wonder if there’s something wrong with them. But I firmly believe that these feelings of grief are ok to process through. I’m content with where I am right now. But I’m also looking forward to growing into the mother I know I can be. And I’m ready to take this journey one baby step at a time.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Untitled-4-01.png5001200Caroline Henryhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngCaroline Henry2021-07-28 15:22:242021-07-29 09:36:08When Motherhood Isn’t What You Thought It Would Be
Here are two important things you can do right now.
Let me state the obvious and say it’s been a rough year or so. With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, reality has come the closest it’s ever been to a sci-fi novel. And it’s literally messed with our heads. Society as a whole experienced a significant uptick in relationship and mental health issues.
And let me just speak for us all when I say thank goodness we seem to be on the downswing of it all. (Of course, we’re not entirely over the hill — many are still dealing with health concerns.)
Despite this downswing, fear and anxiety are still lingering in the air. Many are experiencing what scientists call “post-pandemic anxiety syndrome.” It’s a condition marked by continual worry about re-entering life in the post-pandemic era.
Signs1 of this syndrome tend to mimic other mental health issues like anxiety and post-traumatic stress syndrome. They include:
Difficulty returning to a full engagement with society
Avoiding work or social interactions
Constantly checking symptoms despite not being in a high-risk scenario
Perceived threats that aren’t necessarily there
Some of these symptoms are pretty normal after a global pandemic. Most of us experienced at least one of these at some time or another. But for those who cope in a healthy way, these signs should gradually taper off.
However, symptoms that persist or get worse might indicate a bigger problem.
So how do you help your spouse with post-pandemic anxiety?
There are two important things you can do right now.
1. Exercise a great deal of empathy and understanding.
You may not have the same anxiety your spouse does. You may even wonder what all the fuss is about. But it will help if you understand that’s not their reality.
Consider this: We now know that our brain can train itself to think toward a certain way over time.2
We’ve had over a year for our brains to adjust to new and sudden precautions, rules of social distancing, and risk management during extreme uncertainty. That’s stressful.
And now, we’re experiencing an almost equally instantaneous shift back to pre-pandemic life. For many, that’s stressmultiplied.
Knowing this, put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Let him or her know you’re there, walking with them through this. Allow them to vent and share feelings, no matter how irrational it sounds to you.
Anxiety isn’t something that can just be quickly “fixed.” It’s a process that takes time. So you’ll have to be patient.
2. Encourage your spouse to seek out a professional counselor that works well with them.
A counselor can provide useful coping tools and help your spouse monitor their progress. It may even be a good idea to attend counseling together because anxiety affects your marriage3,4. You may also need to learn new skills to support your spouse. Couples therapy is very effective for treating a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety5.
Your number one goal in marriage is to show unconditional love and support for your spouse, for better or worse. And that takes a great deal of understanding. You may not know the particular skills they need to cope and overcome the anxiety, and that’s okay. (That’s one reason a professional counselor is so important.) But the greatest presence they have is you. Let them know you’re on their side and you’re not going anywhere. Post-pandemic anxiety is real, and it’s scary for those going through it, but it’s no match for the support and understanding you can give your spouse.
2Hunter, R. G., & McEwen, B. S. (2013). Stress and anxiety across the lifespan: structural plasticity and epigenetic regulation. Epigenomics, 5(2), 177–194. https://doi.org/10.2217/epi.13.8
3Zaider, T. I., Heimberg, R. G., & Iida, M. (2010). Anxiety disorders and intimate relationships: a study of daily processes in couples. Journal of abnormal psychology, 119(1), 163–173. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018473
4Darcy, K., Davila, J., & Beck, J. G. (2005). Is Social Anxiety Associated With Both Interpersonal Avoidance and Interpersonal Dependence? Cognitive Therapy and Research, 29(2), 171–186. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-005-3163-4
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Untitled-5-01.png5001200Chris Ownbyhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngChris Ownby2021-07-06 15:49:492021-07-16 11:44:17How to Help Your Spouse With Post-Pandemic Anxiety
Just like COVID affects us in different ways, so can the aftermath.
Summer is in full swing, and things seem to be getting back to normal. Fifteen months ago, the world was full of questions and uncertainty. Today, businesses are reopening, large-scale events and social gatherings are returning, and school resumes in the fall. While some people are relieved by these things, not everyone is.
Some may feel anxious about the post-pandemic world.
Many people shifted how they lived during the height of the pandemic. We had to adjust to life as we knew it, and now we see a slow return to a pre-pandemic normal. It’s common to feel anxiety and uncertainty due to change.
2020 brought a drastic shift in life around the globe, affecting us all in different ways. You may have been affected to a greater degree than those around you. You may have felt a little out of place because of that. Maybe you still do. It’s okay. Anxiety during the post-pandemic period is normal, and we all deal with things in our own way. Over the last 12 months, several studies have examined the pandemic’s impact on mental and physical health. As you would expect, researchers have found increased stress levels due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several studies call this stress post-pandemic anxiety.
So, what is post-pandemic anxiety?
We all experienced a global pandemic over the last 15 months. But we didn’t all have the same experience. Many factors may have affected your experience: job loss, being classified as an essential worker, parenting and dealing with school from home, being in closer proximity to those infected with the virus, contracting the virus, or being quarantined are just a few examples.
According to Canadian researchers, “several studies have reported high levels of fear of infection and a pandemic-specific adjustment disorder called the COVID Stress Syndrome.
The COVID Stress Syndrome has five features.
1. danger and contamination fears
2. socioeconomic concerns
3. Xenophobia (the fear or hatred of that which is perceived as foreign)
4. traumatic stress symptoms
5. compulsive checking and reassurance seeking.
There is emerging evidence that some people have developed post-traumatic stress disorder in response to COVID-19 related events.”
An Italian study conducted in 2020 found a similarity between anxiety induced by the COVID-19 pandemic and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Since previous studies have identified PTSD in the months following epidemics or medical emergencies, this isn’t uncommon. Survivors, healthcare workers, people in direct contact with those infected, those subject to restrictive measures (quarantine and shutdowns), and those overly exposed to media information are at high risk for developing PTSD.
Of course, not everyone who experiences anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic suffers from PTSD. Anxiety can be seen as more of a sliding scale. People might experience varying levels of stress and anxiety as the world reopens.
Did I experience stress or trauma?
A Canadian study found that 15-25% of the general worldwide population experienced clinically significant levels of anxiety or stress-related symptoms in response to COVID-19. It’s likely that even more people experienced general distress due to the pandemic. Understandably, we all experienced varying levels of stress or even trauma.
What signs should I be aware of?
You may want to dismiss what you’ve experienced over the past year, but reflecting on how the pandemic has affected you might be good for your mental health. Pay attention to your emotions because self-awareness is the first step in getting help if you need it. Here are some signs of anxiety according to the American Psychological Association:
Persistent worry or feeling overwhelmed by emotions
Excessive worry about a number of concerns
Restlessness and irritability
Generally feeling on edge
While anxiety is normal with lots of situations, including post-pandemic, it’s whether the anxious feelings decrease over time that really determines if someone might need to seek professional help. If these symptoms don’t improve, reach out to a counselor or therapist. If you see a loved one struggling with anxiety, encourage them to seek help as well.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Untitled-2-01-2.png5001200Mitchell Quallshttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngMitchell Qualls2021-07-06 11:42:522021-07-16 11:49:43What You Need to Know About Post-Pandemic Anxiety
Grief is a response to loss. It’s characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, depression, numbness, anger, and guilt. The goal of successful grief resolution is to reestablish emotional balance. Not everyone grieves the same things or expresses their grief in the same way. And then there’s what we call “disenfranchised grief.” (You probably know what it is, and you may have even felt it, but you might not know what to call it.)
Recognizing that loss comes in many forms has been one positive thing we’ve taken away from the pandemic. For example, loss of:
A prom or graduation
A dream wedding
People are more aware of “disenfranchised grief” now. Still, it’s helpful for us to think beyond the pandemic to other commonly overlooked losses. That way, we can support those suffering from them.
Understanding Disenfranchised Grief:
Grief that isn’t typically recognized by societal norms and/or lacks cultural expression.
Grief that is often minimized, invalidated, stigmatized, marginalized, or misunderstood.
★ Disenfranchised grief (DG) leaves individuals to process their loss on their own or in secret. They lack the supportive benefits available to people whose losses are more socially accepted, expected, acknowledged, or understood. Often, people tell those in distress, “You didn’t even know them that well,” or “Move on,” or “Get over it.”
Even if we don’t understand it or agree with it, it doesn’t make the pain any less. The pain is REAL.
Examples of losses that are frequently disenfranchised include:
death of an “ex,” an absent sibling or parent
loss of someone who was not a “blood relative”
loss of a co-worker or pet
an adoption that fell through
loss of possessions, loss of location due to a relocation or move
loss of mobility or health, loss of a body part
infertility, miscarriage, stillborn child
incarceration of a friend or family member
deaths due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, suicide, or overdose
loss of personality due to dementia, etc.
Frequently, the loss itself may not be disenfranchised, but the manner in which an individual grieves may be.
Those around them may criticize the length of their grieving process or the form their grief takes. Societies and cultures can have “unwritten rules” when it comes to grief. People often question, criticize, or invalidate expressions outside those “rules.” These things can complicate the grieving process.
For many circumstances that individuals experience, there is no “race for the cure,” support group, lapel ribbon, hotline, celebrity fundraiser, foundation, or “public awareness” campaign. There may not even be a Hallmark card for it. This doesn’t mean that feelings of grief are invalid or illegitimate.
Often, people don’t even know they are experiencing DG, let alone know how to work through it.
Instead, people have a tendency to minimize or invalidate their loss by comparing it to what a person (or society) believes is a “legitimate” loss.
Disenfranchised Grief. They say if you can name it, you can tame it. It might begin by being honest with yourself, admitting you’re grieving, and not feeling guilty about it.
Stop faking smiles. Then find some support. The people around you are probably more than willing to help you. They just might not recognize your “outside the box” loss.
For those of us who may know someone experiencing DG, support might begin by expanding our definitions of “loss” and “grief.” We can follow up by making ourselves available to those who are hurting and grieving. We can listen and empathetically validate their sense of loss.
About 2.5 million people die in the United States each year. They all leave an average of five grieving people behind. Not all those grieving people grieve the same.
If we can expand our perspective on grief, we can expand our support to those who are grieving.People are hurting, and we can help.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Grief-01.png10422500John Daumhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngJohn Daum2021-06-10 13:11:002021-06-14 14:03:06What You Need to Know About Disenfranchised Grief
I hit the road every Saturday morning. Usually, I’m gone for an hour or two. Saturday is my long run day. The time commitment of training for a half marathon is significant. As I walk out the door, my little ones are wide awake and active. They hit me with the questions… “Where are you going, Dad?” “When will you be back?” “Why will you be gone for so long?” “Can you stay with us?”
Up to a few months ago, I felt guilty for leaving them. I felt like I was being selfish. I questioned if I was neglecting my wife and kids to do something I wanted to do, which took so much time and energy. This was me overthinking, being flooded with negative self-talk. They didn’t tell me I was being selfish. They were my biggest cheerleaders. But my overthinking was affecting reality.
When I think I’m neglecting my family to go on long runs one day a week, I’m listening to negative self-talk. Acuff calls these soundtracks. They are symptoms of overthinking that get you nowhere. We are just wasting resources on dead-end thoughts. He refers to overthinking as “the greatest thief of all. It steals time, creativity, productivity, hope.”
We can all be subject to overthinking as a spouse, a parent, a boss, an employee, or a friend. In any scenario, overthinking can be detrimental to furthering our relationships.
So, how do I stop overthinking?
Jon Acuff suggests we retire our broken soundtracks, replace them with new ones, and then repeat the new ones so often that they become the predominant thoughts you hear. The soundtracks we listen to are associated with an action. A broken soundtrack leads to inaction. It doesn’t take us anywhere, and doesn’t motivate us to push toward our goals.
Let me give you a real-life example. Training for a half-marathon takes anywhere from 4-6 hours a week for 12-18 weeks. This is time I would normally spend with my family. My negative self-talk led me to believe I was neglecting them and that I needed to spend that time with them, having fun. This made my training difficult because I felt guilty. That’s my broken soundtrack—all in my head.
My wife told me, “We are so proud of you. You are setting goals and doing what you love.” She helped me see that even though I was giving up some family time, I showed my kids what it looks like to set goals and take steps to achieve them. And there’s a bonus: they’re getting some weekend trips to races that they are super excited about.
I retired my broken soundtrack, replaced it with a new one, and it’s playing on repeat.
To stop overthinking, we have to identify a broken soundtrack. But, how do we do that?
Jon Acuff gives us a simple way to figure it out. Write down something you want to do. Doesn’t have to be anything significant. Maybe it’s, “I want to have a weekly date night.” Then, listen to the first thought you have. What is your first reaction? If you immediately start saying, We don’t have the money, we don’t have the time, or we can’t afford a babysitter, you’re overthinking.
Congrats, you just found a broken soundtrack. Now ask three simple questions about that thought:
Is it true?
Is it helpful? (Does it move me forward or hold me back?)
Is it kind?
You don’t have to ask these questions about every thought, but ask about the big ones.Question the thoughts that seem to be holding you back the most. You might be surprised at how many broken soundtracks are playing in your mind.
Overthinking doesn’t have to kill your relationships. If you are an overthinker, evaluate those thoughts. Identify if they are true, helpful, or kind. And if those thoughts are hurting your relationships, it’s time to release, reshape and repeat new ones. You can choose what you think. Tell yourself, “I have the permission and the ability to choose what I think during the day to lead me to action I will take.”
It’s been one year since our lives drastically changed. Schools shifted to virtual learning, many of us were scrambling to set up home offices, and some lost their jobs. Life looks somewhat different today. But we can see the light at the end of the tunnel; there is hope.
With so many drastic changes, 2020 also saw a rise in stress, anxiety, and loneliness. The American Psychological Association reports that 78% of Americans say the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives. I’m part of that group.
As anxiety and stress increase, self-care is essential, whether that’s through outdoor exercise, getting into nature, yoga, reading more, unplugging from technology, or breathing exercises. I enjoy going for a run. Being outdoors is my go-to. (In cases of extreme stress, anxiety, loneliness, or a psychological disorder, seek the help of a professional.)
If we don’t care for ourselves, we’re unable to care for others.
There are many techniques and practices to help us navigate stress.
Let me introduce you to a method that neuroscientists have found useful. You may already do this and not even realize it’s an actual practice. Enter: havening. Neuroscientist Dr. Ronald Ruden created havening techniques a decade ago. Havening uses gentle touch to the upper arms, hands and face, and constructive messaging to replace stressful responses with healthier ones.
Havening can be as simple as rubbing your hands together, on your face, or through your hair when you feel stress rising. You may do these simple acts without even realizing it. But neurologically, it helps your brain cope with stress.
You may be asking, how does this help? (I know I was).
Havening helps boost oxytocin, a “love hormone” that is typically released through human touch and bonding. Contact is something that we’ve been lacking over the past few months. The hugs, handshakes, and high-fives all help us de-stress. Havening can convince your brain that you are receiving some of this touch.
We are built for community, for relationships, and to do life with other people (in-person, not virtually). This has presented challenges for many as we balance our need to be with people and health concerns. Of course, I’m not suggesting that havening should replace personal contact and touch. But in a world where touch and close proximity is still being limited or feels uncomfortable to many, havening is a great way to calm yourself and the ones you love. It’s also helpful for those who are not comfortable being touched by others.
This technique can also be beneficial for kids, especially as anxiety has risen due to online school and the lack of time with friends. If your child has been struggling with meltdowns, anger, or anxiety due to loneliness, encourage them to pause, take a deep breath, and wrap their arms around themselves in a big bear hug. It may seem weird at first, but practicing havening can help you feel more grounded and connected.
We have learned much over these past 12 months. We’ve learned resilience, flexibility, what’s important, and that we are made for relationships. We’re made to be with other people, and our brains need that connection, along with physical touch.
As we push forward through this pandemic, continue to take care of yourself and your family. If you haven’t already, figure out what reduces your stress and brings you joy. Use havening if you feel out of control or anxious. Put self-care at the top of your to-do list. And if you take up running, I’ll see you out there.