Origin: a Latin derivative
meaning "Gift of the Earth."
As much as you are told to look at the glass half-full, the reality is the brain is hard-wired to focus on the negative. Psychologists Paul Rozin and Edward Royzman have focused their studies on what is known as the human “negativity bias”—the idea that, all things equal, negative emotions/interactions/events tend to have a greater effect on psychological processes than positive ones (1). This makes it easy, and even natural, to be stuck in a spiral of negativity that leads to progressively higher levels of overall mental distress. The key to overriding your natural inclination to emphasize the negative is to be mindful, to be acutely aware of all of your thoughts and emotions, when they occur, so that you can stop those anxious feelings in their tracks.
1. Practice Meditation
Meditation is one of the most evidence-based ways to increase mindfulness and support overall mental well-being. Researchers from Harvard have shown that regular meditation may alter gene expression, which in turn has the potential for positively benefitting your ability to overcome various physical and mental challenges (2). Start your day off with five minutes of intense focus on breathing, and nothing more, being keenly aware of when your mind wanders, so that you can immediately refocus only on your breathing flow.
2. Use a Mantra
There is a part of the brain that generally uses much of its resources to focus on self-judgment and reflection: the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). Research has shown that repeating a calming word or phrase may actually inhibit activity in the PCC, which in turn may help you re-center and refocus your thoughts (3). When the mind moves towards negativity, try repeating a favorite reassuring phrase five times to redirect cognitive resources.
3. Write Things Down
Have you ever noticed you learn better when you write things down? Multiple clinical trials have shown that physically writing something down (not typing) forces the brain to alter its cognitive processing (4, 5). The studies conclude that because writing something down takes time and requires increased focus, it forces your brain to work, improving your comprehension and retention abilities. Take a few minutes to write down your thoughts on a piece of paper and remarkably, they will appear less chaotic.
4. Be Present
Mindfulness is all about being present, not thinking about the future or the past, but only what is happening right here and right now. Your control of the past has come and gone, and the future has yet to happen, so use your mind to focus only on what is occurring in the present. If you find your mind wandering into anxiousness about past events or what might happen in the future, take a second and deeply examine what is happening around you in that moment.
5. Do Something
It is easy to be stuck in a negativity cycle when you aren’t concentrating on anything else. Break the cycle. Get up, go for a walk, do some pushups, or text your best friend. Any action that immediately turns your attention away from negative thoughts gives you an opportunity to regain control and redirect your thought patterns to something constructive and positive.
6. Put Down the Candy
Research has shown that high levels of sugar intake may increase anxiety and make it harder to redirect because of how the body physiologically responds (6). Researchers postulate that the quick spike in blood sugar caused by dietary sugar intake can make one feel uneasy, essentially mimicking how one feels when experiencing a panic attack. It may also induce a cascade of hormone reactions. When you are overtaken with negative thoughts, try pouring yourself a glass of water instead of grabbing a chocolate bar.
7. Say Them Out Loud
Anxious feelings often have no basis in reality and that may become evidently clear when they are stated out loud. Immediately stop what you are doing, look yourself in the mirror, and talk through those negative thoughts. Even better if you have a trusted friend there who can point out the logical fallacies in your harmful self-views.
Laughter truly is the best medicine. There is an abundance of research showing how a good chuckle has similar effects on the brain as exercise. Laughter inhibits the release of stress hormones such as cortisol, induces the secretion of dopamine, and (as research has shown) this physiological phenomenon even occurs when the laughter is faked (7). Cue up some funny cat videos and laugh those anxious thoughts away.
9. Go For a Run
Speaking of exercise, regular exercise is one the best things you can do to support mental health long term, but it also works acutely. Like laughing, vigorous exercise activates the endocrine system to mute stress hormones and amplify those “feel good” hormones, and huffing and puffing can be the perfect distraction from negative thoughts. Either aerobic or strength training will do. Remember, the best exercise is the one you will do.
10. Therapy Through Aroma
One of the most researched properties of essential oils is their ability to influence emotions (8). Due to how the olfactory system interacts with the limbic system, specific potent aromas have the ability to promote feelings of calm and relaxation. Adaptiv™ Calming Blend was developed specifically for this purpose; however, responses to aromas are highly distinctive so go with what you know and like. Put a few drops of your favorite essential oil into your diffuser to promote a calm and centered mindset.