Transcending Negativity

We all have those days where we feel like we’ve woken up on the wrong side of the bed. We all have those moments when we’re frustrated and are convinced that the world is out to get us. For some of us, however, this becomes a daily struggle. We wake up dreading work or wishing we could fast-forward to the weekend. We complain about small, trivial upsets. We feel surrounded by drama. When plans get canceled or someone backs out on us we perceive it as a personal attack, and we succumb to feelings of anger and disappointment. Some of us cannot get our minds to stop racing before bed and are unable to sleep soundly. We live with fatigue and lack motivation. We gossip, judge, compare and create a world of separateness, “us” versus “them”, which only serves to strengthen our negative thought patterns.

Trapped in the cage of negativity, our pain becomes too great for us to face directly. We feel hopeless and without purpose. We look for distractions, ways to numb our pain. For some of us we turn to alcohol or other substances, while some spend hours in front of a TV or cell phone, seeking reassurance and attention from others, exercising excessively, counting calories, compulsive eating, etc. Our happiness becomes dependent on external factors, and when the things and people we rely on inevitably change we are immediately faced with anxiety and despair. Often times, we don’t even realize that we are living in a clouded reality.

These destructive thought patterns ultimately ended up coloring our world. When we perceive other people as enemies, we will surely encounter enemies. When we worry about failure, we will experience situations in which we believe we have failed. When we believe we aren’t able to move forward, we invite stagnancy into our lives. Our level of doubt and sense of self-worth influence how we make decisions and how confident we feel in making changes in our lives. Negative thoughts become habits, and we all know habits can be difficult to break.

However, you CAN transcend your negative thought patterns and develop a sense of empowerment and flexibility. Once you break free you will see life in a completely different way. You learn to accept that the present moment is all that truly exists, and therefore is the only thing that truly matters. You will live feeling inspired and grateful. Your physical health will re-balance and begin to reflect your new positive mindset.

 
Everything we do is infused with the energy with which we do it. If we’re frantic, life will be frantic. If we’re peaceful, life will be peaceful. And so our goal in any situation becomes inner peace.
— Marianne Williamson
 

Drawing from my own personal experience, I have identified the 10 most effective changes I have made that helped me to break my negative thought patterns and live life more passionately. Read through them, and pick what resonates with you. Start to incorporate them into your daily life.

 

10 Simple Ways to Transcend Negativity

1. Acceptance + Non-judgment

 
See if you can catch yourself complaining, in either speech or thought, about a situation you find yourself in, what other people do or say, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather. To complain is always non-acceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.
— Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
 

Accept every situation as if you had chosen it, and begin observe your reactions in every situation. Practice non-judgment by seeing each experience as neither “good” or “bad”. With practice, this awareness will start to re-shape how you perceive your reality. Catch yourself when you are feeling angry, hurt or sad and observe how your vocabulary and tone of voice changes. Rather than reacting from these temporary emotions, choose instead to accept and move forward. Awareness alone can be enough to initiate changes in the way we think and behave.

Acceptance also involves letting go of expectations and being adaptable to the ebb and flow of life. If you expected your drive to work to take 20 minutes, but it ends up taking 40 minutes due to traffic, how would you feel? Would you complain and begin to feel anxious, even angry? Remember that you can CHOOSE to accept that traffic varies and is something we all will deal with at some time during our commutes. Just as much as you expect it to take you a certain amount of time to get somewhere, you should equally expect the opposite. Plan accordingly, and remind yourself to accept whatever comes your way.

 

2. Practice Gratitude

Take a few minutes each day to sit or lay quietly with your eyes closed and reflect on the things in life you are grateful for. Rather than focusing on what about yourself or your life you dislike or you’d like to change, this practice shifts your focus towards being content with the way things already are, bringing with it a sense of peace and calm. The more consistently you practice gratitude, the more profound the effects will be and the more easily you will be able to find acceptance when challenging situations present themselves.

 

3. Get in Touch With Nature

Nature has a way of reminding us of our connection to each other and to other living beings. Taking a minute to appreciate a sunrise or the movement tree branches in the breeze can help us dissolve feelings of separation or isolation. Natural environments have a calming effect on our minds and bodies, so take advantage whenever you can! If you are unable to get outside for a significant amount of time each day, see if you can take a few minutes to sit next to a window or even just watch a video with nature scenes. Connecting with nature in some way each day helps us learn to appreciate the beauty that we often take for granted.

 

4. Hydrate!

Hydration, in my opinion, should be included in every post related to health and well-being. Too many of us are unaware of the fact that we are chronically dehydrated. We all know the common suggestion of 8 glasses of water per day, but I encourage you to try for even more, especially if you are a coffee or soda drinker. Caffeine is dehydrating; the more we consume the more water we need to take in. I find it easiest to drink two big glasses first thing in the morning. That way, if my day gets hectic I will have at least started my day hydrated!  

If we are frequently feeling tired throughout the day, have dry skin, poor digestion, food cravings, headaches or muscle cramps we definitely need to up our water intake. These symptoms can also contribute to negative thoughts about our health and well-being. It is hard to feel vibrant and driven when we are lacking energy due to dehydration. When you are hydrated your mind will feel clear and sharp, and your body will be able to keep itself healthy and balanced. This is the foundation for living a passionate, healthy life.

 

5. Take a Break from TV + Mass Media

It may not seem like TV and the media have that big of an impact, but if you are someone who leaves the news on while you are eating or doing things around the house I encourage you to experiment with leaving it off. Much of the information being broadcast is inherently negative and violent. Gossip and political slander are prevalent. Commercials are designed to make you feel a sense of lack and therefore, a sense of need. Be conscious of what you are listening to on the TV, radio and elsewhere. Likewise, be aware of what you are reading and seeing through social media. When what you see and hear on a daily basis is negative, angry and violent the overall tone of your thoughts and feelings will be influenced.

Try a short media “detox” by choosing to keep the TV off for a week and limiting your time on social media. Take note of how you feel afterwards. Having canceled my TV service over two years ago, I can say for me personally that I feel I have much more control over what I choose to see and listen to. Even if you aren’t ready to give up TV altogether, at least start to develop awareness around the overall message of the material you spend the most time watching or listening to.

 

6. Ditch the Phone Before Bed

This is especially important for those who have trouble falling and staying asleep. A good rule of thumb is to put the phone away at least one hour before bed. The light from our screens stimulates the brain and can affect normal sleep patterns. I also recommend installing an app that filters out the blue light from the phone, as the blue light is what is most harmful. Turn the blue light filter on early in the evening, and keep it on until you put your phone away for the night. It may take some time to get used to, but sleeping without your phone (and preferably having it in a separate room) can help you begin to feel less anxious, stressed and restless. Give it a try!

 

7. Create a Morning Ritual

Set your alarm for the same time every morning as often as possible, and leave yourself some extra time for self-care before heading off to work. A ritual can be anything you want it to be and could be anywhere from five minutes up to an hour. Rather than waking up as late as possible and rushing off to work, take some time to yourself to do something you enjoy. Whether it’s a hot shower, yoga, a workout, sippin’ some coffee, reading or focusing on gratitude, having a morning routine is a great way to center yourself and set an intention for the day. It can also help you to feel a sense of accomplishment if your routine involves exercising or working on self-development in the morning.

 

8. Uplift your Home Environment

Fostering a more positive approach to life involves creating an inviting and comfortable atmosphere at home. For me, the biggest factor at home that was affecting my stress levels was clutter. I really do believe that a tidy home helps to calm the mind. Take a walk around your house and see if there are items that can be thrown out, donated or simply stored away. Creating space in your living environment can help you feel more at ease.

I also like to have plants around the house to cleanse the air and to bring a little bit of nature indoors. My favorite plant is the heart leaf Philodendron because it doesn’t require a lot of light or water, it easily adapts to most indoor settings and it grows quickly. The best part is, you only need to buy one of them because clipping off any of the stems and placing them in fresh water will sprout roots for a new plant! How cool is that?

Some other ways you can uplift your home environment include Himalayan salt lamps, photos of loved ones and artwork. You could even create an altar or other space where you can keep special items and sit near to reflect or pray.

 

9. Evaluate Personal Relationships + Interactions

We have all people in our lives who drain our energy or who create stress in our lives. Begin to identify who these people are, and be kind enough to yourself to respectfully create some distance. If we associate with people who constantly complain, gossip or who are generally pessimistic we too will start to take on those mental patterns. When we get to the point where day-to-day life seems like a chore, and we no longer enjoy what we are doing or just simply feel stuck it could be time for to step back and evaluate who we are spending time with. If you are looking to develop a healthier relationship with yourself and cultivate more joy and inspiration in your life, you must surround yourself with others who share those same values.

 

10. Begin a Meditation Practice

If none of the other tips resonated with you, I hope this one will. Meditation is your most valuable tool. Not only does it help steady and calm the mind, it also affects the body on the physical level. With consistent practice you will notice that my first tip (acceptance & non-judgment) come about naturally. Over time, you will develop a better understanding of and control over your emotions. Spending time to reflect and focus inward reminds you that your happiness exists within. When you can find contentment right now, under your current circumstances you will notice a sense ease and effortlessness infusing themselves into your life.

Meditation can be done most simply in one of two ways, guided or silent. There are several apps that provide audio recorded meditations ranging anywhere from two minutes, up to an hour. These can be useful if you are new to meditation and are having trouble focusing. However, you should eventually move away from guided meditations and practice sitting in silence with a soft focus on the breath or a mantra. Again, be kind with yourself. The mind will NOT be quiet and still at first, and you may only ever experience complete stillness for a few brief moments. You will struggle with keeping a steady focus, which is exactly why it is called a practice. Start with a few minutes each day (morning ritual?) and then increase over time as you become more comfortable. You will notice the most change if you dedicate yourself to a consistent, daily practice, even if it is short!

 

Negative thoughts, words and behaviors create physiological reactions in the body. Our immune systems become compromised, our digestion slows, and we may experience other symptoms such as inflammation, cravings, headaches and fatigue. Over time, high levels of stress cause the body to become unbalanced, opening the door for disease. It is easy to fall into the cycle of negative thinking, where worries, stress and the incessant need for more reign supreme. These steps have become a part of my every day routine, and I am a completely different and much healthier person because of the changes I have made. I hope that these tips can help you in a similar way. 

Lessons from a Diamond

In October 2015 I traveled to a small island in the Gulf of Thailand to spend a month immersing myself in a Yoga Teacher Training. At the time I was engaged to my now husband, and I decided to leave my diamond ring at home where I knew it would be safe. As a replacement I wore a teal silicone ring. It was sturdy, flexible and inexpensive. It held very little value, both intrinsically and emotionally. Unlike my diamond ring, I was not afraid of losing it.

I learned through my training and through reading some of the most important texts from ancient India a completely new ideology about my life on this Earth. I have never gravitated towards or been attracted to religion in the traditional sense, but the practice of yoga opened new doors for me spiritually. Through further study into the history and philosophy of yoga I was introduced to the concept of maya, which means "illusion” in Sanskrit. The illusion is that we falsely identify with our minds and the physical world that we perceive through our senses. We become attached to objects, people and our identity, which are ultimately ego-based. This is why we feel upset or saddened when you lose something or have something taken away. It is also why we tend to cling to the past and worry about the future. It is why we are constantly seeking to have more money and possessions and also why we place so much value on our social and economic statuses, level of education and career paths. But do the things you own and the names you call yourself truly define you? Do your thoughts define you? Stripped away of those, how would you identify yourself? This is the illusion.

We forget that the reality we experience is temporary. Our own bodies are temporary. We refer to certain objects or people as “mine” or “yours”, and then because we have a sense of possession we set ourselves up for disappointment and suffering when our temporary conditions change. Everything you think you own is temporary….so are is anything really yours? In the same sense, our emotions are also temporary, yet we often allow them to consume us.

It is through Yoga that I learned concept of vairagya or non-attachment. Vairagya comes from an understanding that your True self is never-changing. It is the mind and its emotions that are constantly shifting. It is our bodies that experience pain and sensation. If this is difficult to comprehend, an easy way to begin understanding is to pay attention to the thoughts in your mind. Notice how you are able to observe your own thoughts. Who is doing the observing? Who is aware of these thoughts? This awareness allows you to separate yourself from your emotions. You still experience emotions, but you no longer identify yourself with them. This profound understanding creates a deeply rooted sense of peace from within, which in turn leads you to the practice of non-attachment. When you are not attached to outcomes, objects, people or other temporary conditions you free yourself of unnecessary discomfort and sadness. You learn to live in the present moment without being distracted by your past experiences or worries of the future. However, this is much easier said than done.

These ideas resonated with me, and I immediately began practicing more self-awareness, observing my emotions rather than allowing myself to get caught up in them. As we prepared to move we got rid of over half of our possessions, and I donated over half of my wardrobe. Childhood toys and clothing that I had kept for sentimental reasons I finally decided to part with. Clothes I hadn’t worn in well over a year I chose to give away. I thought I had internalized the practice of non-attachment and understood it on a deeper level, but I was about to be taught a much bigger lesson.

Two weeks before our wedding we moved into a smaller home. We had hired movers to help move furniture inside, and I had taken my engagement ring off so that it didn’t get damaged while lifting heavy objects. I had put it in its case in the bathroom, only to discover several hours after the movers had left that it was no longer there. I turned the house upside down searching for my ring. I even had my husband go through the pipes under the sink. I dug through the garbage. We looked EVERYWHERE. I cried off and on for several days. The ring had not only monetary value, but also a lot of sentimental value. I had just gotten my wedding band and was looking forward to wearing the two rings together in just a couple of weeks. It was only then, through the heartache and sobbing that I realized the ring had become a symbol of my relationship and my status as a soon-to-be wife. I didn’t lose Mike, so why was I so upset? Was it because I unconsciously felt like the diamond had increased my sense of self-worth? Or was it because I secretly enjoyed having others look at and compliment my ring? Was it really the metal and diamond I was attached to, or was it way I believed it somehow enhanced my identity? The ring itself was just that….a ring. Why did I place so much importance on it? Yes, it was expensive, but I was not crying over money. I was crying because (and it is hard to admit) I liked having a shiny, outward symbol of my relationship. It wasn’t until it was gone that I realized I had been in some ways identifying myself with my ring. It was that sense of “mine” that led me to feel utterly victimized when it was stolen, similar to how a child cries when their favorite toy is taken away.

 
Do certain things induce a subtle feeling of importance or superiority? Does the lack of them make you feel inferior to others who have more than you? Do you casually mention things you own or show them off to increase your sense of worth in someone else’s eyes and through them in your own? Do you feel resentful or angry and somehow diminished in your sense of self when someone else has more than you or when you lose a prized possession?
— Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
 

I thought I had grasped the idea of non-attachment, but it wasn’t until I was forced to live it that I truly understood how to let go. Slowly I moved on. The joy and love surrounding my wedding day was in no way diminished by a missing ring. After all, marriage has nothing to do with external conditions and objects. The love I shared with my husband was, and is, all that truly matters.


Even now the lesson continues. Some days I still do miss having a diamond on my finger, especially when I see other women with rings like mine. The difference now is that I understand that that longing comes from my ego, which seeks to strengthen its identity through material objects and validation from others. It seems so silly to me now. My wedding band is dainty and simple, surely nothing that I feel like I am “showing off” to anyone. Since our wedding in July, I have fully accepted my circumstances and am actually quite grateful for such a powerful lesson. Had I not been so attached to an object that was temporary in nature I would have not felt such intense grief in its absence. In reality, I created my own pain.


The more time I dedicate to regularly sitting alone in silence, the more I find value from within and the less I worry about losing someone or something. I accept that everything in my life is temporary, and that is a part of the beauty of it all. Flowers bloom and then inevitably dry up and fall to the ground. Have you ever felt saddened by this? …Probably not. Instead, we focus on their innate beauty while they are in bloom. We find delight in their different colors, sizes and shapes. We appreciate them in part because of their temperance. Why should we live life any differently? Enjoy and celebrate the beauty of life and the things we have, but work towards not allowing yourself to become attached to things themselves. Only though awareness and practice of vairagya can we begin to find a sense of inner peace that is unaffected by daily circumstances and interactions.

 

 
Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything - anger, anxiety, or possessions - we cannot be free.
— Thich Nhat Hanh
 

Anxiety Feels Like This...

I wake up from a good night’s sleep. It is a bright, sunny day, and I feel great.

But then I spill coffee on my freshly cleaned clothes, and there it is…that little twinge of irritation. I start moving faster almost without realizing. I pinch my finger in the door. Why is this making me so upset? It didn’t even really hurt. I walk into the bedroom and see that my husband has left his dirty socks on the floor…again. I know it shouldn’t bother me the way it does, but it adds yet another layer to my irritation. By now my breath has become trapped in my throat as my chest starts to tighten. I begin to sweat. Now every little noise or mess is frustrating me further. He sees the blank stare on my face and asks me if I’m okay. Yes, I’m fine.  The wall I have so carefully built up around my most feared emotions crumbles, and my mind runs wild.

I don’t want to start my day this way.

Why do I feel like this?

What did I do to deserve it?

Maybe I do deserve it.

Maybe I deserve to be alone instead.

I am over reacting.

I continue on the best I can. At this point I still look like my happy self on the outside, besides the red flush that is setting in on my skin as my temperature rises and blood rushes to the surface. Inside my mind is engaged in mental battle. I (the real me) is trying desperately to stop this from going any further, yet there is this distinct sinking feeling as I drift further away from reality, from who I was when I woke up this morning. I start to forget who the real version of me even is, and by now my mind has convinced me that I am worthless. I am not good enough. It’s a destructive mantra that keeps repeating itself over and over. These thoughts rush in from somewhere, but they can’t be mine…right?

I manage to get dressed. Wait, why am I crying? I had plans today. I had places to go. But suddenly the thought of leaving my house seems terrifying. I’m late, but I force myself out the door anyway. Immediately I wish I was back home but know that being home will only make this worse. There is no escape now; I have become a prisoner of my own mind. The person in front of me is driving too slowly. I get caught at a long red light. I deserve it. I’m furious. Ten minutes ago I was afraid. I am losing control of my thoughts, but I have been through this countless times before. I know how to hide it.

I engage in pleasant, casual conversations with strangers at the grocery store. Maybe I’m fine. I sound fine. But did she look at me weird? Did I say something strange?  Can she tell I’m just barely holding myself together? I should not have worn this shirt. I look terrible. My pants are suddenly too tight, and I’m so uncomfortable that it’s almost unbearable. I race home.

I get through the door. My dog steps on my foot and her nails are sharp. That’s the tipping point. All the sorrow and pain I have ever experienced comes rushing in all at once. There is no telling when the sobbing will stop. I fluctuate between being intensely afraid, to being angry …but mostly I’m just sad. I’m afraid because my chest hurts, and I feel overwhelmed, angry because I am wasting so much time, and sad because there are horrible, uninvited thoughts racing through my mind. My whole body is tingling as if I am somehow electrocuting myself from the inside. I can feel my heartbeat in my eyes, ears, throat and chest all at once. I am hyperventilating, and it’s making me nauseous and dizzy. It’s like I’m drowning while everyone around me is breathing. I have all of this energy, but nowhere for it to go so I cry until I am exhausted. Finally, the heaviness starts to lift.  I take a long, hot shower and hope that my eyes aren’t noticeably puffy.

Eventually the dark clouds break apart, and I can once again think coherently. I feel like myself again only I’m so tired…and numb. For now I am okay. I know there were more chores for me to finish around the house, but my motivation to do anything got washed away with my tears. I put on some music and lay with my dogs. I do anything but what I’m supposed to do. I cancel my plans to meet with friends later because I feel too vulnerable and drained. It’s only 4pm, and I’m ready for bed. I feel ashamed, yet know that I need to take care of myself a little bit better. I find the strength to pick myself back up, but I know that it is going to take at least a day for me to replenish my energy.

Every day is a struggle between trying to connect with myself and others while simultaneously monitoring and managing the persistent feelings of anxiety that I have lived with for as long as I can remember. Every day I fight to stay in the present moment when my mind has a never-ending supply of irrational worries to constantly pitch into my conscience. Some days are easy because I feel strong and motivated. Anxiety takes a back seat. Other days, sometimes with no warning, I feel the extra weight more intensely. Then something happens to light the fuse, and there’s no going back. It grabs on, holds me tight in its grip, and I have no idea when it will decide to let go. And so I wait, just like I always do. I try my best to focus on my breath until it passes.

Anxiety disorders affect nearly 18% of the U.S. population, with twice as many women being affected as men. These disorders are also closely linked to depression and other disorders such as phobias, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), PTSD and eating disorders. They originate in the mind, but have real physiological effects. The entire body suffers from these conditions.

I am not looking for pity, and most certainly do want to be judged. What I do want is bring the discussion of mental health out into the open. We openly talk about weight loss and workouts, but rarely do we talk about how to keep our emotions healthy. There are too many of us who struggle on a daily basis to get through seemingly normal, everyday activities, and there are definitely way too many of us who feel ashamed and embarrassed. There are too many of us who keep our internal conflicts a secret.

You are NOT your anxiety. You are NOT your depression. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is buying into the belief that your identity is embedded in these mental conditions. The other mistake is comparing yourself to the external conditions of others and convincing yourself that they are normal and are happier than you.

The best thing you can do is work towards acceptance and forgiveness. Accept where you are at each moment, both mentally and physically. That doesn’t mean you have to like it, but it does mean that you have recognized the discomfort and are accepting it rather than constantly fighting. Do not waste your energy fighting with yourself. Forgive. Be gentle. Remind yourself that your current mental state is only temporary and that it is not YOU. Your true self is always calm, peaceful and happy. That is your true state, and you WILL return back to it so long as you don’t forget it is always there. Focus on your strengths and talents. Do not be afraid to ask for help!

Most importantly, you can be happy, positive and motivated and still struggle with anxiety and depression. Suffering from a mental illness does not mean you have to live a life of despair. For those who are not familiar with anxiety that seem contradictory, but my point is that you cannot tell just by talking to or looking at someone what goes on inside their heads. Before you judge someone for their behavior I ask you to pause and remind yourself that maybe they are hurting inside. Maybe they were rude because they are feeling insecure, not because they are a bitter, angry person. Before you call someone “crazy” or “clingy” or “flaky”, consider the possibility that maybe they are dealing with intense emotions that are out of their control at the moment and that maybe they need support and encouragement rather than criticism. Don't we all need that?

I have kept this hidden from most for many years, and despite how vulnerable I feel putting this out there I feel strongly that it needs to be shared. I know I am not alone, but I have often felt that way in the past. I don’t want anyone else to feel alone. Please, please reach out if you are struggling. Even just talking to someone can help to get you out of your head. And even if there is no one around to talk to, remember that you always have your breath. Focusing on your breathing forces you back into the present moment, a place anxiety cannot exist.

Next time you feel disconnected, overwhelmed, frightened or depressed, exhale completely and say: All of this is temporary.

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