Brainwashing Yourself – How to Feel Better

This month has been crazy, and exhausting. For lots of reasons. Work, life, moving.

We’re in our new place now. Sans furniture, which has been interesting… That’s changing slowly. I’m looking forward to having a bed again and eating from a plate!

Anyway, I’ve caught up with a few friends recently who are having a bad time.

I know how hard it can be to pull yourself out of the vortex of doom when you’re spiralling downwards.  It’s tough to get out.

Ultimately they’re the only one that can drag themselves out though.  No one else can do it for them.

I’m glad that I can be there for my friends. Seeing them so down however, also makes me grateful for how far I’ve come in my ability to manage my own mindset.

I grew up as a negative person.  Since then I’ve managed to completely change my outlook. Don’t get me wrong, I still get upset, and angry, and sad! But overall, I try to be upbeat and positive.  I don’t see any value in being depressed or focusing on the bad, although I appreciate that it’s difficult not to in some situations.

Doing the following has completely transformed my life.  I wasn’t always this way, and it’s because of that, I believe that brainwashing yourself is a valuable skill that can be cultivated by anyone 🙂

For a long time I resisted the notion that the quality of your life is determined by your feelings, and that feelings are dictated by your thoughts which are are ultimately within your control.  I was depressed and didn’t want to believe it. Part of me was so used to being thinking pessimistically, as was most people around me at the time, that thinking differently was anathema to me.

I read an article a while ago about how it’s hard to change the way you think because your brain’s neurotransmitters and synapses are set up based on your usual thinking pattern.  It doesn’t mean that you can’t change your thoughts, but explains why sometimes you feel a resistance to thinking differently about something. Essentially, you need to set up new neurotransmitters and synapses based on new ways of thinking which takes time.  I think that’s why so many of my friends never seem to want to do anything to improve their situation when they’re going through a hard time.

Only they can change that though. To be sad, unhappy, depressed, isn’t a good way to spend what precious time we have on earth.

Everyone deals with things differently. I don’t have all the answers, and there are obviously some situations, death, rape, violent abuse, for example, that many of these techniques are not going to be a quick fix for.  I also appreciate that some people’s brains are chemically wired to have a negative bias and that many people would benefit from therapy of some kind. I still believe these things help however.  Brainwashing yourself to have a positive attitude is one of the best things you can do:

1. List what you’re grateful for

This is by far, one of the easiest ways to feel better.  It will transform your attitude, and only takes a minute!

Grab a pen and paper or use your phone and list what you’re grateful for.  There is always something. The world is an amazing place.  Watch this awesome short video by Louie Schwartzberg, (you can fast forward to 4.30 if you really have to…).

Often, when you’re in a bad place, you don’t want to look at the good stuff.  Someone’s died or upset you, and you’re hurting, and you’re angry, and frustrated, and sad, and you don’t want to think about what’s good in your life, because you are in pain, and feel like there’s nothing good, and you just want to cry.

That’s exactly when you need to sit down and force yourself to rationalise.

Focus on the good. Doing so will magnify what you’ve got to feel good about.

I find it helps to write.  Do it every day.

2. Change your perspective

Getting wrapped up in a situation magnifies it.  People get so stressed that it’s hard for them to think about anything else. It’s easy to lose perspective when you’re stressed or upset about something.

Whatever your problem however, there is always someone dealing with something worse.

One way to gain perspective is to be grateful for your situation and how it isn’t worse.  Have you just been given 6 months left to live?  Be grateful that it isn’t 3.

Things can always get worse.  That’s one way to look at it.

If you’re having difficulty figuring out how things could be worse, write it down.  Write down everything that would make this situation worse.

Has someone you love died?  At least they didn’t die ten years ago, right? Where they blind? Deaf? Could they walk?  Were they sane?  Did they have any happy moments in their life?  Did they have people who loved them?

They died unexpectedly?  Well at least they didn’t have a long slow and painful battle with death.

They had a long slow and painful death? Well at least they had some warning and didn’t die unexpectedly.

Have you had a car accident and lost your licence?  Well at least you weren’t killed.

You lost a job.  It might not have worked out anyway, and you have your health right?

If you can, try and think of your situation from a difference perspective.  There is usually a positive way to look at every situation.  Approaching a problem with a positive attitude can work wonders.

How you frame a problem determines how you perceive it.  If you are constantly thinking about how impossible a situation is, your brain will generate an onslaught of reasons to confirm your belief.  It will make you feel even more fearful and helpless which won’t achieve anything.

Alternatively, you can look at problems or bad experiences as lessons, or challenges, opportunities to grow, and prove what you’re made of.  You can learn or gain something from even the most unpleasant experiences.

I’ve had a few things happen recently that haven’t been great.  A few people have gone on about how I’ve been “unlucky”.

Which is funny – because despite everything, I don’t think of myself that way, and I certainly don’t feel “unlucky”. To the contrary, I actually feel very lucky. I find it difficult when they suggest otherwise. That’s partly because I try so hard on cultivating empowering beliefs.  Limiting ones that make you feel useless, scared, small have no value. I’ve had a rough time recently but it could have been much worse, and I’ve also had a lot of good things happen, many of which might never have happened had it not been for the bad stuff.

3. Give yourself a break, be kind to yourself, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself

Sometimes, the kindest thing to do is to recognise how you are going through a difficult situation.

Be kind.  Don’t berate yourself for feeling down, or overwhelmed, or for feeling guilty for whatever’s happened. Treat yourself like you would a friend in the same situation.

Sometimes you are just upset, and the kindest thing you can do to yourself is to let yourself cry, or take some time out.

You are not a machine.  When bad things happen, humans sometimes need time off to sleep, or reflect. It’s natural. It’s not weak or anything to be ashamed of.

I find this one difficult. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be positive and optimistic, because I think it’s important and want to live my life that way. However, sometimes, especially when I’m exhausted and dealing with lots of stressful situations, things take their toll.  I hate crying as I feel that I’ve failed to live up to my ability or the image of myself as a positive person.

Sometimes though, the kindest thing I can do to myself is to recognise that I’m dealing with a pretty full on situation, and remind myself that I’m not weak or letting anyone down if I shed a tear. I tell myself that I’m doing a good job of handling it, and that most people in my situation would also find things difficult.

I’ve read a few books recently about being kinder to yourself which I’ve found useful. Brene Brown’s three latest brooks were interesting, as was Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance.  I also like Jack Canfield’s technique for eliminating negative self talk from the Success Principles.  It does work but I do feel a bit crazy doing it!

4. Stop complaining

Constructing criticism can be useful.  If you are complaining e.g. to a customer service representative called Gill from BT, because your internet access has been cut off a week early, just before you were about to email draft contract documents for an extremely important deal to your team in the States for example, then sometimes it’s worth complaining, (thanks for sorting all that out Gill, I really appreciate it!).  Most of the time however, it doesn’t change a thing. It’s a waste of time and energy and puts you and everyone around you in a bad mood.

Some people find complaining cathartic. If you are one of these people, you might want to get whatever you are worried about off your chest.  Just limit yourself to a set amount of time and one or two people.  Too many people feel compelled to bore everyone they meet with their problems.  They’re addicted to talking about it, (I know because I used to be like that!).  Don’t do it. Everyone’s lives are short!

When I complain, I get worked up and end up in an even worse mood! If you are one of these people, don’t do it.

5. Recognise what you can’t change and manage your fears

Too much time is spent imagining that our fears will come true.  People worry about the worse case scenario based on a limited amount of information.

Worrying will never help anything. It just creates stress. That isn’t healthy, physically or mentally.

Focus on what you know for sure.  Separate what you know from the scenarios that you are assuming may be true or might happen.  Draw up alternative scenarios that might explain current evens in a more positive light.

You will never have the full picture.  There will always be things that you won’t know, and surmising about what may happen is pointless.

Recognise what you can’t control or influence, and focus on what you can do now.

Take each day, day by day, hour by hour. Don’t think about the future or imagine all the negative things that could be, but may not be. Focus on the now, the present moment.

At the same time, you also need to try and see things clearly.  Realise what is happening and accept that.

Depression often happens because you don’t want to accept something. You don’t want to accept that someone has died for example; you’ve lost your job; or have just been told that you are really ill.  That’s painful.  It isn’t easy to accept.   But you need to accept what’s happened.  It will pave the way for you to deal with the situation and move on.

Writing down your fears and worst case scenarios along with what you could do to mitigate things can help you feel more prepared and in control which can help put your mind at ease.  It can also help clarify how, even the worst case scenario, really isn’t that bad.

6. Exercise, take cold showers, and meditate

Getting your body moving and the production of endorphins will always make you feel better, provided that you aren’t exhausting yourself!

Cold showers used to be used as a way to cure depression in the nineteenth century. It might not have been rubbish either.  A lot has been written about the benefits of cold showers, including on depression. Check out the Wim Hof method!

Meditation’s something I’ve written about before. It’s definitely helped me think clearer. It’s helped me rationalise and deal with stressful situations a lot better than I would have been able to otherwise.

7. Manage your inputs and stay healthy

As well as looking after yourself, it’s up to you to control the environment that you put yourself in.  No one else can do this for you and it will have a huge bearing on how you feel.

If you’ve just broken up with your boyfriend and stay at home every night crying to tearful songs about unrequited love on Magic FM, you are not going to feel better! Change the channel! You want to be listening to upbeat music that will put you in a good mood.

The same goes with the people you surround yourself with, as well as what you read and watch. If reading or watching the news depresses you, don’t watch it!

You might not feel like doing so, but if you’re going through a difficult time, looking after yourself is more important than ever.

Sleep lots. Whatever you are dealing with is likely to be emotionally draining and you’re going to be a lot better equipped at dealing with things if you’ve had some rest. Lack of sleep will make you feel worse and increase overwhelm.

If you are tired, give yourself the night off and go to sleep early. If you’re not sleeping, let yourself sleep in when you eventually do fall asleep.

If you need the distraction of work, don’t feel guilty about working.  If you don’t feel that you can concentrate on work, take some time off.

Put yourself in the company of good people.  Watch Modern Family, cheer yourself up.

Remember to eat. Even if you don’t feel like it, and try to eat nourishing foods if you can.

Get back into a routine if you have one.  Get out of the house.  Participate in the world.  Smile.  Be around people. Socialise. They are all things that will make you feel better.  Force yourself, if you have to. Fake it until you make it!

You need to get on with your life.  Make the most of the time you have left.

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