LCSW, CAP, CCTP, CCISM
Anxiety is increasing due to overexposure to news and social media. This causes people to assume that only bad events are taking place in the world. At the same time, we are constantly looking at our friends’ posts of amazing experiences. This creates a sense that bad news is happening all of the time while only good is happening to those we know. Except life doesn’t look quite like that. It is helpful to remember we simply have greater access to bad news.
Changing the Story
Here are five strategies to help counteract the effects of negative experiences, whether they are happening to you or someone else:
Change the story. When we worry, we are overwhelmed, often coming up with a story not based on true events, telling ourselves it’s not going to work out or coming up with the worst-case scenario. By focusing on a specific story, our other thoughts follow suit and allow for it to feel like the truth. It’s up to us to flip the script. Choose a more realistic story instead. Rehearse it. Share it. Make it visible. Remind yourself of it always.
Find the other track in tough situations. People often think of life in terms of seasons. We assume good and bad scenarios cannot happen at the same time. When we deal with losses or difficult situations, we are waiting for the season to be over. Look at life as two sets of train tracks instead, the good and the bad running side by side. Sometimes when great events are happening to us, something else comes along and messes it up. This also can happen when we’re struggling. Look toward the other track — the good one — and you’re likely to find a reason to be thankful in the midst of all else.
Establish a support system. Albert Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them.” Find someone to speak to regularly who gives you encouragement. Having that presence can be extremely helpful. We can often have a sense that we’re going through everything by ourselves. In reality, there are many who have gone through similar situations. They can be an invaluable support. Reach out to them.
Do for others. Find ways to give back. We get so caught up in our worries that we become self-centered. But you find more optimism in collaboration than you do in isolation. When you serve others, you get a lot more out of it. There are so many ways to give and volunteer throughout the year. There is value in serving others.
Rely on your spiritual resources. Understand that difficulties do not happen to you, they happen for you. There is a higher purpose and meaning in our struggles. When we seek ways to find it, life can appear differently to us. Joy and peace can be experienced regardless of current circumstances.
Free Your Mind
When we are inwardly focused by our own anxiety, we don’t have room to enjoy our lives. By working on increasing optimism, we free our minds to take care of more. It even allows our brains and immune systems to function better.
This doesn’t mean pretending that everything in your life is great. It means you are choosing to look at your situation in a new way. It does take work, but optimism is an attitude. When you truly work at it, optimism can be the anchor to hold you down during your storms, one that doesn’t allow you to drift.
Increase the Good
Remember, we are wired to feel anxious. It is a survival mechanism that pushes us to take action. We just need to know how to manage it. It’s like having a pit bull as a pet. It can be a friendly dog to have, but if you let the dog control you, it can be dangerous. Tame it and it will protect you.
Please reach out to others for help and support when you need it. Anxiety often tells you that no one cares, that no one will understand and that your problems will only get worse. That’s a lie. You have a two-track life and it is worth living it with joy!