We all had those days when everything just seems to fall apart. As the saying goes, “when it rains, it pours!” I had one of those yesterday—I just couldn’t catch a break!
But, thankfully, there are way we can protect our mental health during tough times, which can actually make a bad day, or bad week, better! As I discuss on this week’s, whenever I find myself struggling, I use these 4 mental strategies to help me control my thinking and face the challenges at hand:
Spend time reflecting on past times when you have overcome bad situations, and how you dealt with them. Write down what you did, using it as a narrative (as though you were going to tell someone this story), and read it back to yourself with animation and expression. Self-regulate: take note of your bodily reactions, facial expressions and how you are thinking, feeling and choosing as you read this narrative, and write down your responses. Take note of how you overcame that situation, what you did, what worked and didn’t work, and so on. See how you can possibly replicate these steps in your current situation.
This helps shift your mindset. Rather than dreading something bad, imagining the worst and living into this reality by building it into your brain, you control how you are thinking and feeling, which allows all the good chemical and neurotransmitters to flow, which, in turn, helps you think clearly and with wisdom. Instead of panicking, you can remind yourself that this time will not last and that you are able to overcome whatever you are facing because you have done so before. Just like the last time, you will get through this!
Once you are in a better state of mind, do a “mental autopsy.” Analyze the situation like a doctor would analyze a body. What went wrong? What are you dreading this week? Why is this so bad? Is it really as bad as you think? Ask yourself lots of “why/who/what/when/how” questions! The key to a good “mental autopsy” is understanding. When you start to understand your experiences and mindsets, you can reconceptualize them (or redesign them) and learn from them, which helps you stop overthinking (for more on this see this) and learn from past experiences (as I spoke about in a recent and ). A mental autopsy helps you move forward and succeed in life, no matter what happens during the day or week.
Do not deny your experiences. Be honest with yourself, and explore your own expectations. As I discuss in my book,, expectancy produces real, neurophysiological outcomes in our brains and bodies. If we have a positive “expectancy mindset,” we can strengthen our brains and bodies, increasing the chance that what we hope will happen actually happens. When we learn to expect good things, good things start to happen, such as better mental and physical fitness and performance. However, the opposite is also true! Thinking bad things are going to happen often allows bad things to happen! Fear is real and can build negative learned associations in the brain, which can affect the strength of our mind and negatively impact our future thoughts, words, and actions. Anticipating the worst moment can literally create the worst moment! How have your expectations affected this particular situation? How can you use your expectations to improve this situation?
Remember, your expectations create realities. Remind yourself that bad days or weeks won’t last forever, and plan to celebrate when they are over. Let the anticipation of a reward help you enjoy the process of facing the week’s challenge.
When it comes to tough times, it is so important to focus on the “NOW” moment (the present); don’t fear or dread future, and don’t ruminate on the past, especially past failures and mistakes! When we focus too much on future fears and worries, we lose sight of what is happening now, and how to make the “now” work for us and not against us. Indeed, focusing on the past keeps you stuck in the past and you will not be able to deal with the now, or even enjoy the present moments. By fearing the future or regretting the past, you build those neural networks in your brain and can create mental chaos. In the midst of a bad day or week, focus on the present: what can you do to make the situation work for you right now, what can you learn, what is your mindset?
Take action! Don’t marinate in your feelings. This will only make you feel worse, and affect your mental and physical wellbeing. In fact, ruminating on bad thoughts is one ofof mental distress and anxiety!
This is why it is so important to reconceptualize negative thoughts. Reconceptualization is seeing things from a different angle, or redesigning a thought. You do this using your choices: you choose to see a situation or experience differently, and give yourself a new way of understanding it. If you don’t reconceptualize something that is holding you back, you will stay “stuck” in a toxic situation. But, as you start looking at this situation or experience differently, all the chemicals, hormones and so on start flowing differently, and actually change the physical structure of your thoughts! Think about how you want your day or week to look. This will activate your mind’s natural resilience and help you meet the challenges you are facing.
During this reconceptualization process, talk to someone you trust, and take the time to do something you love for a few hours, such as spend time just reading a book or watching a TV show, going to an exercise class, daydreaming and so on. Build in mini-rewards and mental health breaks throughout the day or week like a date night or a meal you are excited to cook, and watch your mental health improve! When we go into a directed rest state (that is when we are intentional about taking a break from work!), we enhance and increase the effectiveness of our thinking, which increases the brain’s resilience and helps us deal with hard times and reconceptualize negative thinking patterns.
My new app Switch is a great tool for helping you through the reconceptualization process. It is based on my 5-step program, which is designed to help you identify and eliminate the root of your toxic expectations, and help you build a healthy new thinking habit. You can also find out more on toxic thinking and how to change negative habits in my book Switch On Your Brain.
If you would like to learn more about how to improve your mental health and overcome mental health blocks, join me at my Mental Health Solutions Summit this December in Dallas, TX! This conference is for everyone: teachers, CEOs, students, parents, doctors, life coaches...everyone! For more information and to register click.
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