I just read The Science of Happiness: Why complaining is literally killing you, an article by Steve Parton.
Though I am generally a positive and optimistic person, last winter I succumbed to a surge of overwhelming negative thoughts. At the time, I was so “in it” that I didn’t know how to stop my mind’s thoughts. I felt trapped by these very thoughts that were now defining my new reality. This reality was contributing to me behaving like a victim; I felt unlikeable and unsuccessful. I was demotivated and lethargic, suffering from insomnia.
Irrational thoughts spiralled out of control as I lay awake each night.
As Steve Parton states in his article, “your thoughts reshape your brain, and thus are changing a physical construct of reality.”
My default personality was morphing into a negative one—and I didn’t know how to stop or change it.
My life coach/mentor provided the compassion and support I couldn’t provide for myself. She allowed my process to unfold even though it felt unbearable for me at times.
She offered me the space to feel what I needed to feel at the time, without any judgement.
To be fair, there were several factors contributing to my state of being last year, and for the sake of transparency:
- My family was going through financial challenges. At the time, my husband and I decided to sell our home. This contributed to me becoming quite anxious, depressed and feeling powerless.
- I was physically sick for over six weeks. My regular routine of daily exercise was eliminated and I was not getting the endorphins that I was accustomed to.
- I had insomnia.
- Unbeknownst to me, I was suffering from hypothyroidism. Little did I know that some of the symptoms I was having were related to my thyroid.
This painful experience has enabled me to have a broader and deeper view of the power of our thoughts and how they can impact our behaviours and personality. If we are genuinely optimistic to begin with, we most likely will continue to draw upon this default personality to help us through the more difficult times.
In some cases however, like mine, the circumstances can be so overwhelming (kind of like a system overload), that our thoughts take over and create a new default personality. It’s critical to have people you can feel safe and vulnerable with to help support you during this time.
Without people in our lives to support us when our negative thoughts are out of control, our brains will reshape and our default personality will change. As Parton states, “the synapses we have most strongly bonded together (by thinking about more frequently) come to represent our default personality.”
It is now a whole year later, I am on a thyroid medication and I feel like I am back to myself. I’m healthy and sleeping 8-9 hours a night.
My life coach helped me during this difficult time to be present to what was going on but, at the same time, to challenge the negative and powerless statements that were not a reflection of who I am. I now have a renewed energy for life and wake up every day with the same enthusiasm and optimistic nature that I had before.
Here are the lessons I learned on how to deal with negative thinking:
1. Surround yourself with optimistic people and feed off their positive energy.
2. Find people that you can trust to be vulnerable with.
This might be a life coach, counsellor/therapist, friends and/or relatives who really believe in you.
3. Challenge the negative thoughts before they become your new construct of reality.
4. Consider circumstances and/or factors that might have changed.
5. Nourish body, mind and soul.
Examples include reducing sugar and liquor, exercise, sufficient hours of sleep.
6. Practice mindfulness.
Devote time to yoga, meditation and/or journaling.
7. Be compassionate with yourself.
Author: Andrea Shalinsky
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Aditya Doshi at Flickr