In a column about relationships, it's easy to overlook that the number one person you must always relate to is yourself. Yet, sometimes, when circumstances make us veer off our usual course, we get irritable, pessimistic and just plain old down in the dumps. Here are some tips to help you strengthen your positive coping skills, gain a perspective, a sense of control and feel better.
1. Be aware, know your physical reactions. Make friends with your body. Be on the look-out for your body's personalized ways of signaling you that you are stressed. Do you get headaches? An upset stomach? A racing heart? Do you feel as though an elephant is sitting on your chest? Knowing and recognizing your somatic symptoms will allow you to get into solution mode quicker.
2. Link your physical reactions with your emotions. Now that your body's warning signals have put you on alert, name the emotions that usually trigger these reactions. For example, if your stomach churns every time you have to give a presentation, you know that you are feeling anxious. Or, if you feel listless after a negative review or fight with your partner, then you know that you are feeling depressed.
3. Identify similar situations and physical reactions that have happened to you in your past. To paraphrase the famous philosopher and writer, George Santayana, if you can't recognize your past situations, you just might end up repeating your unpleasant emotions and not be able to change them. Our present--and future--is connected to our past, whether we like it or not. Imagine, for instance, that all your negative experiences with bosses are lights that are strung on the same chord. When one bad experience happens, your other unpleasant ones light up, too. Of course, the brain-body connection does not work quite that simply, but many memories and the feeling associated with them get activated in the brain. When you can identify past similar situations, you are more able to develop targeted strategies to adjust your mood.
4. Make a list of the successful steps you took in the past to change your mood. If a technique worked once, it might work again. When one of my clients became depressed after months of job searching, she realled a similar time in her past. She remembered how she volunteered to build her resume and connections. She also recalled that she sent out many more queries than she sent out this time. Apply any successful solutions that worked for you previously. Adjust them to fit the current situation.
5. Develop positive self-talk. If you have been successful in the past with similar situations and negative moods, make a list of the solutions that worked. Make a list of all your accomplishments and positive attributes. Think about all the words of encouragement you used to make you feel better. Usually, these pep talks address two distinct processes:
Restoring a positive self-view
Getting a perspective
In the example where my client was not seeking employment productively, she restored her self-view by making a list of her educational and career accomplishments and her positive characteristics. She felt good about completing college and a masters degree while raising two children, and she reminded herself that she is hard-working and ethical.
She also recalled her parents' criticism of her. They said she was "not the smart one." By connecting her past to her present mood, she was able to lessen the impact of her parents' words by saying to herself, "They were wrong."
She got perspective by recalling how long it took her to find a job in the past and how she is not alone. Millions of people--good, decent, smart people are also out of work.
These pep talks prevented her from giving up--or beating herself up emotionally.
6. Smile and laugh. Read the funnies, recall fun times, look at photos from vacations or holidays. In other words, activate the pleasure centers in your brain and use them to jump-start positive feelings. When we feel happy, we beat the blues and become more productive.
7. Connect. Call a friend, send an e-mail. Social support soothes us. Join a support group or develop a buddy system where you can call a friend who can empathize. And one of the best medicines is to do volunteer work.
8. Do a task. Sometimes bad situations overwhelm us so much that we can't get anything done. Set a goal to do at least one task a day. The act of completing a goal can make you feel more in charge.
9. Change your setting. Get up, go for a walk, take a hot shower, run an errand. Changing your environment signals your brain to activate different neural connections. People often, for example, come up with ideas and solutions when driving or taking a bath.
10. Develop gratitude. Make a list of all the things that make you feel grateful. You might think about your health, your family, your job or anything that makes you feel luckier than the people you hear about in the news. Sometimes, when we realize that we are lucky, we are also motivated to give back.
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LeslieBeth Wish, ED.D., MSS is a noted psychologist and lic. clinical social worker, specializing in relationships. For her book about women and love, she welcomes women to take her 17-20 minute online research survey at www.lovevictory.com.