Having an “attitude-of-gratitude” is a positive state of mind and a great stress-busting tool. In my private practice I often share this “mood-altering” tool from my book, Stress Reduction Journal. Feeling grateful for having shelter, food, clothes, money, and people that care about us is a healthy gift to our minds, bodies, and spirits.
On the other hand, it is common to over-focus on what’s not right in our lives. Can you relate? After all, we humans are equipped with complex brains… that are wired to solve problems. However, when we feel nothing is ever good enough, we may habitually yearn for what we don’t have and become stuck in a negative cycle.
Meanwhile, if an active “inner critic” lives in our heads, then we may add to the stressful pattern by having recurring thoughts like, “I’m not young enough, smart enough, or attractive enough.” Occasional comparisons are one thing, but chronically feeling “less than” can be a sign of low self-esteem. When we’ve lost sight of our inner value and become overly focused on our outer value, we may find ourselves sleeping poorly and waking up in the middle of the night worrying.
Believe me, I understand worry. Worry and I… go way back. Thankfully, when I catch myself on an unproductive “worry track” these days, I reach for some stress-reducing methods ASAP.
Here are two popular tools from my book:
“What’s Buggin’ Me?”
Even though “positive thinking” is good for the mind, body, and spirit—DENIAL—is not. That’s why I start my mood-shifting process by first exploring what is bothering me. Otherwise, if I go straight for the “Attitude-of-Gratitude” tool, I’ll be slapping white paint on the wall and ignoring the “mildew” growing underneath. So here’s a way to see if there’s wisdom…or an important message that the “mildew” is offering.
- I begin by asking myself, “What’s buggin’ me?” I often journal a few paragraphs to vent about what’s up with me. I pay attention to angry or resentful feelings and explore below the surface to uncover any vulnerable feelings like fear, sadness, or guilt. In this venting stage I write freely without concern for spelling, punctuation, or “being nice.” In other words—I let it flow (with a fully-functioning shredder nearby).
- After venting through journaling, I then think about whether there is some constructive action I can take. If something comes to mind, I go for it. Or, if it’s 3 am, I make a list of some “action steps” I can begin taking the next morning. I also consider doing research, getting advice, support, or whatever will help me get over and beyond the challenge that is worrying me. Taking action usually gets me out of the helpless mode and onto…an empowered and productive track. After the “mildew” has been explored and any wisdom retrieved, I then reach for the following tool.
The good news is: fear, anger, and sadness have difficulty coexisting with positive feelings like gratitude. And, focusing on positive feelings moves us out of the victim role. So, to continue shifting out of my worry cycle, I often practice this simple three-step process by doing the following:
- Pulling out a pen and a piece of paper or writing directly in my journal.
- Taking a few abdominal breaths to get “out of my head” and deepen my connection with my body.
- Making a list of people, places, animals, and things for which I feel grateful. Yep, this may sound too simple, but it can affect our mood and outlook. If my brain resists shifting gears and nothing comes to mind, then I start exactly where I’m sitting. I mindfully look down to see if I have clothes on my back and shoes on my feet. If so, then these are the first things I write down. Is there a roof over my head? Great, then that means… I’m both clothed and sheltered.
In addition, acknowledging the special personality traits—in our loved ones and ourselves—is a wonderful way to clarify what we’re grateful for. When doing this exercise, I look for qualities like compassion, tenacity, honesty, creativity, and playfulness.
The good news is, once we move out of the worry cycle, the positive juices usually start flowing. Embracing these two tools, “What’s Buggin’ Me?” and “Attitude-of-Gratitude,” are great stress-BUSTERS when we want to shift away from worry. And, using them can serve as an invitation for improved sleep.
Finally, the goal is to move from our heads into our hearts, and these exercises offer a SIMPLE ROAD MAP for going from north to south… without ever having to get into our cars.