We’re all familiar with the destruction a negative thought can cause, quickly turning a happy moment sour. But mastering how to think positively doesn’t mean you have to be in a good mood 24/7. “Optimism sometimes gets a bad rap because the mainstream perception of its meaning is that an optimist permanently feels great, which isn’t possible,” claims Dr Deepika Chopra, an optimism doctor and visual-imagery expert. Chopra says the first hurdle in reframing negative thoughts is redefining what optimism is; and, for her, it’s about resiliency. “An optimist is someone who can recognize something that’s bringing them sadness, fear or anxiety – or even anger – and be able to respect and acknowledge their feelings and hope that they will get better,” she explains.
Be kind to your mind
Some of our collective stress can be pinpointed to the constant stream of self-doubt, criticism and worry we put on ourselves, says dermatologist Dr Howard Murad, who has conducted a four-week study examining the stress created by negative internal monologues. “They can be extremely debilitating, and I wanted to show how positive self-talk can generate positive emotions, which can reduce stress and result in profound effects on overall wellbeing,” he adds. After repeated daily readings of simple, positive affirmations and journaling their thoughts, participants were found to have a lower heart rate, lower blood pressure and – an additional bonus – higher levels of skin hydration.
“There is a direct connection to our limbic system from scent that helps to improve your mood, enhance your memory and create positive behavioural and emotional changes that reduce stress and anxiety,” says aromatherapist Hellen Yuan. She recommends creating dynamic ‘smell-scapes’ using aromatic inhalers, mixing essential-oil blends into the palm of your hands (and inhaling deeply), or using diffusers.
So which scent specifically targets negativity? Yuan likes citrus essential oils that elevate the mood, such as grapefruit, lemon and tangerine. Also green, woody scents like myrtle, tea tree, cypress, laurel and eucalyptus, which connect you to the earth and, ergo, help you stay grounded. Try Aromatherapy Associates Forest Therapy Wellness Mist. More than anything, though, it is important to choose something you really like, says aromatherapist Melissa Medvedich. “If you find an aroma off-putting, you’re less likely to enjoy any positive effects, whatever studies might show.”
Shelve the to-do list
The pressure to complete a forever-growing, daily to-do list can lead to a spin cycle of negativity, self-doubt and frustration. Instead, says Chopra, craft a ‘ta-da list’. “It’s about focusing on what you’ve already accomplished, rather than being overwhelmed by what you still have to do,” she explains. “Starting the day by making a list of all the things you’ve already achieved, even if they’re small, is a way to build self-mastery, self-confidence and resiliency.”
Move your body
The benefits of exercise are well-documented but, often, when we’re in a slump, finding the motivation to work out can prove challenging. So, says Chopra, think smaller: what’s critical is simply moving the body, but that doesn’t have to mean traditional exercise. Chopra’s interpretation? Dancing around her bedroom to one or two songs when she wakes up in the morning. “There’s a lot of research that shows that whatever your mood is in the morning really impacts your mood for the remainder of the day, so getting in a few minutes of something that makes you feel good is a positive ritual,” she says.
Much like exercise, spending time in nature can have a profound and stabilizing effect on our mood. Regular mountain hikes may not be a reality for most of us, but getting out in nature can be as simple as heading to a local park or community garden. “Research shows that spending time outdoors for just two hours a week is all it takes to boost mood and decrease cortisol levels,” says Chopra.
Diversify your news consumption
While ignorance is definitely not bliss, Chopra says the desire to read news non-stop can trap many in a negative mindset, and affect your sleep, so it’s important to also actively seek out content that is inspiring (such as Tanksgoodnews, Upworthy and Good). “Knowledge is power – and being aware is really important, but so is having boundaries in terms of how much you consume stimuli like news,” she says. “There are a lot of beautiful, miraculous things going on in the world that we need to know about as well!”
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