Stress? Anxiety? Had A Bad Day? Give Yourself a Thumbs Up!

Well, five thumbs up, actually.

An article in this month’s Common Ground explains how thinking five positive thoughts can turn-around a foul mood. The focus of the article is on language — words. How words like, “No,” “poverty,” “illness,” and “death” trigger the release of dozens of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters inside our bodies.

Yikes, right? If just one word can trigger a chemical response in our bodies, imagine what repeated negative words, thoughts, and scenario-running does to our bodies! The article, “Words Can Change Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Communication,” written by Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman, shares this: just seeing a list of neagive words for a few seconds will make a highly anxious or depressed person feel worse, and the more you ruminate on them, the more you can damage key structures that regulate your meory and emotions.

Double yikes. Did I take my Celexa this morning? Oh, no. What if…?

If you’re prone to anxiety, you’re already doing the math on this information. The connection between words/thoughts and how your mind processes them is wreaking right havoc in your system.

Now, the good news is that the chemical stress/anxiety response can be turned-around — by thinking five positive, affirmative thoughts as soon as you become aware of the “downer” thoughts, your ruminations, your what-iffing all over yourself. Say you had a frustrating interaction with someone. Say your boss seemed disappointed about an aspect of a project you’re running. And you leave her office like a dog with a new summer cut and your tail between your legs. So, on the way back to your desk, you begin to think GOOD things:

#1 I really handled that conversation well
#2 I’ve got some seriously comfortable shoes on
#3 I love my dog, he’s the best dog ever
#4 And now I’m smiling at the person right there, “Hey!”
#5 I got a seat on the bus today, that was nice

Frankly, visualizing the word SUNSHINE and a beach and hearing the sound of waves works equally well. Once you get the first two positive thoughts out, the rest will just…come. You might even laugh to yourself. If you’re really struggling, this is a fail-proof move: spread then flap your arms while saying – as loudly as possible: “This is fun! This is fun! This is fun!” The result will shock you.

The positive thoughts you come up with don’t have to be perfect, nor totally realistic, or rational — they’ll still work. You can think, “I love pink cupcakes!” Whatever. It’ll work.

How beautiful is that?

An additional tool explained in the article is to get in the habit of asking yourself this:

IS THE SITUATION REALLY A THREAT TO MY PERSONAL SURVIVAL?

The sooner you can ask this question and register a response, the sooner you’ll derail a harmful stress response before it goes full-fledged in your body. Your answer, which will be 9 times out of 10, “Not at all,” will put your lizard brain at ease. Ahhhhhhh!

Thumbs up, thumbs up, thumbs up, thumbs up, and thumbs up.

The authors’ blog is on the Psychology Today site, where the Neuroscience of Communication is explained is easy-to-understand, layman’s terms.

Be kind to yourself.

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