3 Mindful Strategies to Increase Positivity During Hard Times

Limit Exposure

  • Limit the time you’re exposed to the situation. Be informed, but limit the amount of news, media, social media, that you take in. For social media, you can choose to follow and unfollow certain accounts and channels. Use social media to build yourself up, promote positivity, and connect with non-toxic people. Social media is a fantastic tool when used this way.

Practice reframing thoughts

  • Reframe your negative and distorted thoughts. Read about cognitive reframing here. To begin dealing with negative thoughts, we must recognize when we have one. Next, is to identify what triggered the emotion. Our thoughts and emotions are linked. Notice whether you are ignoring, minimizing, or exaggerating the situation. Challenge your thoughts, be curious about them. Keep in mind that thoughts are just thoughts and not fact. The final step is to reframe. Rewrite the thought so that it is no longer negative, personal, permanent, and pervasive. With the practice of reframing our thoughts, over time, positive thinking becomes a biproduct.

Allow yourself to feel peace

  • Let peace begin with you. What can you do or think that makes you feel peaceful? A few ways to begin feeling peaceful may include, guided meditation, going for a hike or walk, drawing, working on a puzzle, journaling, etc. Allow yourself to feel peace and notice what it feels like.

Limiting exposure to news and social media, reframing thoughts, and finding peace are 3 mindful ways to increase positivity, but there are other paths out there, as well. Participate in 2 to 3 mindful activities for a few weeks or a month to see what you enjoy. Build a mindfulness skillset to use during hard times.

If you would like to work on this with someone, reach out to a professional counselor who can help.

Would you like some positive affirmations? Visit a past article, Positive Affirmations to get through a Crisis or Difficult Time and download my free sheet.

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Live Now

One way to lift your spirits (taken from the book High Hopes by Patrick Lindsay)

‘Live Now’
Refuse to let time dictate your day. Lose track of it. Immerse yourself in whatever you’re doing. Surrender yourself to the activity. Commit your full attention. Notice the difference.” ~ Patrick Lindsay

“The happiest of all lives is a busy solitude.” ~ Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet) (1694-1778)

Learn about the book here.

Idea for if you work with teens

Years ago, I worked with teens at an inpatient home as a milieu counselor. I did this for two years. We had a big white board and I would pull something appropriate from High Hopes and write it on the board. The teens enjoyed that and would sometimes write it in their journal or decorate around it using dry erase markers.

If you work with teens, I have found that this gentle approach to engaging with teens is easy and can be inspiring. Some days, something I would write seemed to spark people who appeared to be really struggling, as I’d catch them looking at the board and writing in their journal. Occasionally, I observed a boost in positive emotions and peer interactions following.

You don’t have to use this book, there are plenty of good books to pull inspiration from and share with others. I do prefer this method over looking up quotes online. Quotes online seem to repeat themselves and you don’t always know the credibility or who said what. High Hopes is a small book, so it fit in my full bag that I’d take into work.

I hope that this article inspired you.

Be well.

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Be a Beginner Every Single Morning

“Be willing to be a BEGINNER every single morning.” – Meister Eckhart

Being a “beginner” can mean:

▪︎ Feeling rejuvenated or refreshed

▪︎ Ready to try and/or learn something new

▪︎ Not always playing the role of the expert

▪︎ Ready to start fresh

Moraine State Park, PA

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Why are you in such a hurry?

Take things in shorter strides and enjoy the journey of life.

Shorter strides doesn’t always mean slower.

Sometimes we rush to get to where we’re going because the journey is long and stressful, we want to just get there! It can also be stressful to rush.

If we look at the journey in sections, it can be less stressful or daunting. Break it up and take time off if you need to.

Enjoy life differently, as it happens, as it unfolds.

Being Fearless, Accomplishing a Dream

Think of something that you’ve always dreamed of doing. Travel? Opening a business? Contacting someone you haven’t talked to in a long time or ever? Dumping an unhealthy habit that you have been clinging to? It can be anything. It is probably overwhelming to think about and you might be afraid of the process. I’m talking about really stepping outside of your comfort zone and tearing down the protective barriers. Think about how freeing accomplishing that dream could feel… YOU DID IT! Think about all of the possible benefits of that accomplishment, like further opportunities, boost in self-esteem, feelings of gratitude and happiness, and reconnection.

Fear and Anxiety Holds Us Back

Being honest with yourself, what has kept you from doing that? If it is anxiety, you’re not alone. The feelings of fear and anxiety are there to protect us on a primitive level. These emotions help us to survive and make better choices. If we didn’t have these feelings, what would be stopping us from doing something dangerous? These are normal, healthy emotions and we can’t make them go away. We don’t want them to go away.

Our thoughts that hold us back can seem to come out of nowhere at times. Thoughts are naturally occurring and will come and go. Know that thoughts are thoughts and not reality. Just because we think something, doesn’t make it true. Identify the thoughts that hold you back, reframe them to better use, and learn how to better manage your anxiety. Even though we can manage anxiety, we can’t get rid of it, but we can keep it at bay.

What was that dream accomplishment that you thought of earlier? How can you make it work? What small steps can you take to get the ball rolling?

My Real-Life Example

Here is a simple example of a long-term goal of mine and thoughts that I struggle with. This is in regards to participating in the BADWATER 135 ultramarathon (I am a seasoned ultrarunner). This is a goal that has been several years in the making and there are a few more years to come in this journey before I stand at the start line. Many doubts have popped up in my mind over the years. Doubts that I’m not good enough, and doubts that details would never come together to make this dream a reality. Anxiety comes and goes. I experience anxiety over what people might say or think if I ever bring up wanting to run The World’s Toughest Footrace, so I rarely talk about it. Anxiety over becoming injured and never being able to run ever again. These thoughts have been bothersome, coming and going, since I got started. I want this goal bad enough, and I’m going to give my best effort, so the thoughts aren’t going to keep me from doing what I am passionate about.

Reframe Fearful and Anxious Thoughts

The unhelpful thoughts are identified, now let me show you how to reframe this fearful way of thinking. The doubt that “I’m not good enough” can be reframed to, “I am hardworking and have been thoughtfully and skillfully working towards this goal for years. I have grown so much, not just as an athlete, but as a person. I’ve come so far, I’m not going to give up now.” And “things won’t ever come together for me,” to “continue to be patient, every year you are steps closer to this goal, and you are diligent in catching all of the preparation details.” As for the anxiety, “I can’t ever tell anyone without being judged,” to “who cares what people have to say about it, this is something that I love.” For anxiety over injury, “I’m worried that I’m going to get injured in a freak accident on the trail while training,” to “I’m a careful and skilled runner. I rest my body and care for it enough, so that I can do what I do. My running coach is also mindful when it comes to injury prevention.” That is how to reframe, think realistically.

More Anxiety Management

There are multiple ways to manage anxiety. Self-care should be the top priority because it is the base from which we build upon. This includes proper diet, exercise, and sleep. Use the reframing skill from above. Learn Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy coping strategies. Talk with a licensed professional counselor to have support in sorting out the details and find what works for you. Practice yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises. Practice these things consistently overtime to create helpful habits. The process isn’t always easy, there are challenging times, stick with it, and give yourself grace. It is a true learning process. I have been using these strategies consistently for years and they work. As you do the strategies, you will find favorites and learn when to use which strategy, as one will be more helpful than another in any given scenario.

When Your Dream Becomes a Reality

When the time comes to tackle that dream, reflect on your journey. How does it feel to be where you are, today? What is the biggest thing that you learned in those smaller steps? How can you apply what you have learned in the future? Continue the helpful habits that you have established or are continuing to work on. Honestly, the work never ends, and having a healthy mind is a ton of work, but we absolutely need to nourish it.

When that dream becomes reality, be connected and in the moment with it. Take it in. What does it feel like physically, emotionally, and spiritually? What is the greatest part of the experience? How proud do you feel? What have you learned? When it’s all over, would you do it again? It is important that we acknowledge the benefits of the hard work and perseverance. There is a mountain of experience to take away from accomplishing a dream.

I hope that you found this article insightful and are perhaps examining anxious thoughts that are keeping you from achieving your dreams. Incorporate the strategies that I have discussed into your day-to-day life and notice the benefits. Keep striving towards accomplishing your dreams, soaking in that journey.

Badwater Basin, CA

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Potential and Possibilities on Bad Days

Your day is still full of potential and possibilities even if:

  • The weather is nasty and you’re stuck indoors.
  • Your car got a flat tire on the way to work.
  • You received a negative report that was out of your control.
  • You didn’t get the job or raise.
  • A major household appliance broke.
  • You received bad news.
  • It seems like you’re not getting anywhere, no matter how hard you try.
  • You feel like you will never be good enough.
  • You forgot to pay a bill.
  • It seems like multiple things are going wrong at the same time.
  • And this list can go on…

Tell Yourself

  • This day is full of potential and possibilities.
  • Your day can improve.
  • You can get outdoors another day.
  • A car tire can be replaced.
  • Good news will come soon.
  • You will find a job, this is only temporary.
  • Household items can be repaired or replaced, hang in there.
  • You have already achieved some goals, keep up the good work, you will continue to achieve.
  • Things can and will go right.
  • Not everything is bad, things are okay.
  • You have everything that you need right now, in this moment.
  • Come up with your own positive affirmation.

Take Action, Make it Happen

  • Adopt a positive mindset, it is a powerful tool.
  • Look for alternatives. Find the potential and possibilities. Write them down as a reminder.
  • Make a list of things that you can do and then start doing. You can use your creativity.
  • Focus on the things that you can control.
  • Remind yourself that ruminating on negative events and worries doesn’t help and that you can do something about it.

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How to Get Through the Day When the World Seems to be Falling Apart

These 12 tips are specific to living through a pandemic (COVID-19) where there are multiple tragic events and crisis occurring at once on a worldwide scale.

A brief overview of the destruction that COVID-19 has caused

• People are ill and dying from a virus.

• People are socially isolated from family and friends.

• People are restricted in where they can go and what they can do.

• People have lost jobs and are financially unstable.

– Connected to all of this is the person’s identity because people identify themselves through going out and participating.

• Political issues, finger pointing and name calling are a big part of this pandemic.

• People wear face masks to reduce spread of the virus, but the mask also hides smiles.

• Anxiety, depression and suicide is on the rise.

• People are silently hurting.

The benefits of these tips are (but not limited to)

• Increased happiness

• Connection to others

• Raising awareness

• Fostering positivity

• Finding value and meaning in life

• Learning coping strategies

• Finding help

Keep in mind that this article isn’t telling you to ignore, dismiss, or minimize what’s going on around us. It is important to sit with the difficult emotions and thoughts, to process, and personally grow from what’s occurring in our lives. We can’t run, there needs to be a resolution to do something about it, but there needs to be a balance and healthy approach.

Let’s cover the tips on getting through

1) Limit your time on social media and watching the news. Be informed and have proper understanding about what’s going on around the world, but don’t allow the information to overwhelm and carry you away. The information on social media and the news shouldn’t occupy a good portion of your day.

2) Mute or unfollow people on social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram if they are posting unhelpful information on the pandemic or are posting frequently on the pandemic. Always check the resource of what they post to make sure it is true and accurate. There is a lot of information being shared that is inaccurate or highly one-sided. Be your own researcher, fact-checker, and it is beneficial to try to see from both sides of an issue. Widening perspective allows us to have a more open mind and gives us a little more breathing room.

3) Use social media and technology to your advantage. Since we have to limit being around others or can’t be around people at all, use social media to connect and to lift up others. Post something kind or funny. Post a beautiful picture. Have an engaging conversation, but leave out the pandemic and political issues surrounding it. You can lift someone’s spirit and your own!

We use video platforms on almost a daily basis now, continue to use it to connect. Talk to a good friend who you haven’t seen in a while. Use video platforms to check-in with a person’s mental health, you don’t know who is suffering in silence.

Are you feeling unsure about how to check-in? This link will lead you to check-in questions:

https://finishstrongercounseling.com/2020/05/29/just-checking-in/

Do you have a favorite hobby or interest? Join and follow social media groups and pages to motivate and fuel your interests.

4) Virtual tours, adventures and visits. If you are looking for something new and interesting to do without leaving your house, take a virtual trip to a National Park, zoo, museum, etc. Think of somewhere that you’ve never been and would like to go. Read about it, look at pictures, watch videos, and take a virtual tour. This is fun activity to do with kids and it’s educational.

If you’re religious or spiritual, consider attending a virtual service or practice.

5) Teach someone about your hobby or trade. Write, blog, create social media content, and make a video to do so. Engage with people, answer their questions, and provide them with credible resources so they can learn more.

5) Increase your self-care. Do more of what you enjoy and try new things, even if you don’t feel like it. Take care of your body and mind. Try to keep to a normal schedule, this includes proper exercise, diet, and staying hydrated. If you’re overwhelmed with work, schedule in self-care. Slow down, read a book, take a bath, watch a movie, call someone you care about.

6) Make a vision board to stay focused on your long-term goals. Read how here:

Vision Board

7) Journal. Read about journaling here if it interests you:

The Benefits of Keeping a Journal and Journal Prompts

8) Practice mindfulness, breathing and or meditation. Find someone who provides these services online if you need help getting started. Create a YouTube playlist of relaxing music and sounds that you can practice to. Don’t give up if these exercises don’t immediately benefit you in an impactful way, it takes time to learn them. It’s a process.

9) Use online presence to raise awareness or funds for a cause that you’re passionate about. Help people learn more, support people who need it the most, connect to others who care about the same thing as you. Feel good!

10) Use positive affirmations and practice them regularly. Read more and find examples here.

11) Have a safety plan and an emergency plan. For the safety plan:

• Write down what triggers maladaptive behaviors.

• Write coping strategies for each trigger that you can participate in right away.

• Write down three positive affirmations or favorite quotes.

• List three people whom you can trust to call and talk to and receive support from (Do ahead of time: make sure that they know they are on your safety plan list and tell them how they can best support you if you contact them.) (Ideas on how they can help: this can range from a phone call to recall favorite memories or to meet up for coffee.).

• If your situation turns into an emergency, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 or your local mental health crisis lifeline. Add these emergency phone numbers to your safety plan.

Here’s a simple example of a safety plan.

12) Speak with a professional counselor. They can teach you several coping strategies and powerful tools like cognitive reframing. They are someone who will be present with you, be non-judgmental, listen, and provide feedback. They will support you and give you space for you to process your strongest emotions and thoughts.

Check out these other benefits to seeing a counselor:

The Value of Seeing a Therapist: what does your therapist do when they’re not in session

Give teletherapy a try, it is convenient and you receive the same mental health benefits as you would during an in-office session.

If you’re not sure where to find a counselor, use a directory like Psychology Today or TherapyDen. There are several other counselor directories out there.

These are only a dozen tips on getting through a pandemic and crisis. Share your ideas and tips below. Please share this article to reach others.

Be well!

Baker Trail, Cook Forest State Park, PA

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IMPROVE Skill (Distress Tolerance from DBT)

IMPROVE

IMPROVE the Moment is the next skill. The acronym IMPROVE makes life a little bit better when it is not going so well.

During a crisis, you have two options. You can sink into the distress or invest in behaviors that might improve how you feel in the moment.

The acronym

I: Imagery
M: Meaning
P: Prayer
R: Relaxation
O: One thing (or moment) at a time
V: Vacation
E: Encouragement

Imagery

Imagery is powerful because your mind can convince your body that you are elsewhere. A good example is being at the beach. When you’re actually sitting on the beach, your muscles are relaxed. When you imagine yourself at the beach (and you’re elsewhere), you can still get your muscles to relax, you convince your body that you are sitting there.

Ideas for imagery

Use an app or purchase a recorded guided imagery. You can also just use your own mind and create a guided imagery.

• Forest path
• Walk on the beach
• Favorite place
• Safe place
• Sunflower field
• Stroll by a stream
• Waterfall
• Garden of butterflies
• Sunset
• Star gazing
• Mountain summit hike
• Sitting by a campfire

Practice and enjoy the benefits! Also, imagine yourself doing well and practicing your skills.

Meaning

Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), one of the founders of existential therapy, once said “If there is a why, then a person can figure out the how.” [Look him up, his life was remarkable. He wrote the book “A Man’s Search for Meaning,” which is about being a psychologist in a concentration camp. He is well-known for this book, but he has several other accomplishments.]

List and contemplate your “whys” for working on any problem.

Examples: Why stay safe?; why practice your skills?; why improve your self-care?

Having meaning motivates you; your whys will motivate you to act.

Prayer

Prayer is a calming ritual, it also provides connection, guidance, and peace.

Pray where you are at, or go to your place of connectedness or worship. This skill is useful anywhere and at anytime. Connect to your spirituality.

Relaxation

Everyone needs relaxation. What do you do to relax? What do you think could be relaxing that you would like to try?

Schedule in some of those relaxing behaviors every day. Keep in mind that relaxing also takes practice.

Tips for practice: Be mindful of your breathing; be mindful of tense muscles and release the tension; sit in a quiet place.

One thing (or moment) at a time

Take on only one thing in the moment. When we try to juggle or do too many things at once, we become overwhelmed and or shut down completely.

Example: You don’t know how to make it through your day, but you know that you can make it through the next hour, or through the next 5 minutes. Focus on what is manageable.

Vacation

Take a break from your stressors or crisis. These breaks need to be planned, like scheduling a walk in the park in the evening, or watching your favorite movie before bedtime. Taking quiet time to reflect, meditate, or do deep breathing exercises are also good ideas.

Allow yourself to take a break when you feel that you need it.

Encouragement

You need encouragement during those tough times. The things that you say to yourself matter, they influence how you feel.

During your self-talk, say affirmations, coach, and cheer for yourself.

Write down 10 affirmations you can repeat to yourself throughout difficult times.

• This crisis will pass.
• I can do this!
• I have everything that I need to get through this.

Download affirmations to help get through a crisis here

Connoquenessing Valley Heritage Trail, PA

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Wise Mind: ACCEPTS Skill (Distress Tolerance from DBT)

Wise Mind: ACCEPTS

The ACCEPTS acronym has skills that helps keep you busy and distracted when you would typically be preoccupied by a crisis. It is easy to dwell on what is going wrong, by focusing on the ACCEPTS behaviors, you can get yourself through hard times.

The acronym

A: Activities
C: Contributing
C: Comparisons
E: Emotions
P: Pushing Away
T: Thoughts
S: Sensations

Activities

Activities keep you busy and your mind off of problems and behaviors. The behaviors that you are focused on are healthy and helpful.

To start practicing this skill, write a list of activities you enjoy when life feels better. If you’re unsure or need ideas, go online and search for activity lists.

Add the pleasant activities into your schedule and mindfully do them.

Choose an activity and enjoy it now!

Contributing

Contribute to others. It is a way to take your mind off of your own problems, to feel connected and useful, and to create positive feelings.

Examples

Do a favor; acts of kindness; write a thank you note; bake brownies to share; volunteer locally.

Create a list of ways to contribute to others and begin right away.

Afterwards, journal about the experience, reflecting on your thoughts and feelings.

Comparisons

Draw healthy comparisons between yourself and others. There are people living without necessities, who have gone through tragedies, or who have tremendous obstacles to overcome. Remembering that other people are also suffering, often in worse ways, allows for you to gain perspective of what you’re going through. This perspective also increases your feelings of gratefulness.

Emotions

Emotions arise from the things we do. You can change your emotion by changing your behavior.

When you’re depressed, do behaviors that lift your spirits. When you’re anxious, do ones that are relaxing. When angry, do ones that are calming.

Check-in with your emotions in the moment, and if you find that you want change, then choose to participate in a healthy behavior to change your emotion.

Pushing away

Pushing away means that you decide to revisit the problem at another time. Imagine putting the problem in a box, locking the box, and placing it on a shelf for later.

Thoughts

You cannot think about two things at once, so choose to direct your attention to the most helpful thought.

Some ideas to try, crossword puzzles, read an interesting book, have an intriguing conversation, watch an action movie.

Do something to occupy your thoughts away from depressive thoughts, worries, and problems.

Practice in the moment.

Sensations

Direct yourself with healthy sensations.

Things to try, dance to loud music, eat a sour lemon slice, take a hot or cold bath, smell a strong scent, like peppermint.

These things wake up your senses in an invigorating way. Notice any changes in your experience.

Another idea, create a sensations toolkit, using your favorite ways to wake up your sensations. Use your tools.

Resource

Lane Pederson, PsyD, LP, DBTC

Occoquan Trail, Bull Run Regional Park, Fairfax County, VA

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Dialectics (DBT)

What are dialectics?

Dialecticss relate to our theories and ideas, in terms of the OPPOSITE way we think. Here are some thinking patterns that we all experience, and get caught up in, it does us no favors to become stuck!:

▪︎ “All-or-nothing” thoughts.
▪︎ “Either-or” thoughts.
▪︎ “Black-and-white terms.”

Instead of thinking this way, we should think in terms of seeing the shades of gray, between black-and-white thinking. Practice being flexible and find middle-ground options in your behavior. Trying to see the opposing side.

Examples

▪︎ When in conflict, find something to agree about in the other person’s perspective.
▪︎ Instead of procrastinating on a task, break the ice with one or two small steps.
▪︎ Make a list of at least five positive qualities you (or someone else you are down on) have.

If you’re stuck in the above thought patterns, try the opposite.

Look at the other side of things. We often default to the negative side of situations or ourselves. We can be critical and harsh. Look at the opposite side of the dialect.

Ask yourself

▪︎ Is there a silver lining or hidden opportunity in the problem that you are facing?
▪︎ What strengths, skills, resiliencies, and resources do you have? Play to your strengths.

A favorite quote of mine by Arthur Ashe, which is relatable, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

▪︎ What skills can you improve to better manage a crisis? Aim to be more skillful, trying a new skill can be helpful, too!

See other perspectives

There is no position in existence that accounts for every perspective. Think about other people’s perspectives and ideas that are the opposite of yours. Look for the pebble of truth in those perspectives and ideas. Where is the middle ground between the opposite perspectives?

Make gradual changes

Changes are often more gradual than dramatic, life changes slowly overtime. Reflect on a problem. If the problem were less severe or resolved, what are some behaviors that others would notice you doing?

To begin making gradual changes, practice those behaviors.

Examples

• If you’re feeling depressed, add daily exercise.
• When struggling with social anxiety, initiate a conversation with someone.
• When isolated, reach out to friends and family to talk.

Exception rule

This dialectical technique supports positive change. Think about your history and the times when helpful and healthy behaviors were prominent. Do more of those helpful and healthy behaviors now. Do more of what works!

Examples

• Keeping a planner or journal.
• Make self-care a priority.
• Engage more actively in your social support.

Embrace the things that are not problems

We’re easily preoccupied with our problems. You could write a “Gratefulness List,” or you could write a fun list including hilarious and dramatic problems that you don’t have.

“Not a problem” list examples

• I am not kidnapped and being examined by aliens.
• I don’t have smallpox.
• I am not lost in the desert.

Having compassion

It’s easy to feel powerful emotions, such as anger and disgust towards people, especially if we don’t like them because of mean, rude, and unskillful behavior.

The next time you’re in this situation, it can help to practice compassion by imagining what circumstances lead that person to be unkind and unskillful.

What unhappiness exists for such people?

Try practicing compassion the next time you feel hurt, upset, and wronged by somebody.

Being flexible

Our thoughts and feelings are often too rigid, causing us misery. Learning to be flexible and to “go with the flow,” will bend and not break those thoughts and feelings.

Consider other perspectives and practice being more flexible in situations, flowing with reality rather than imposing your will against it.

Resources

Lane Pederson, Psy.D., LP, DBTC

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