Let's face it-life is tough. Regardless of your circumstances, everyone faces personal and professional challenges. Even the most successful amongst us struggle. As Albert Einstein once said, "Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater." As human beings in the 21st century, we find ourselves constantly bombarded with harrowing news from the international world, while we struggle with our own uncertain political times. We are continually taunted by social media, cell phones, emails, and need-it-yesterday deadlines. In addition, we have our own hard wired internal distractions that keep us questioning and comparing ourselves to others and their accomplishments. With all of this noise, it is only natural that we have periods of suffering. I assure you- it is not just you-we all have periodic visits to the dark side. Here are five ways to pick yourself up, stay positive and head towards a better state of mind.
Take five. If you find your muscles getting tense and your mind wandering towards the negative, take a moment and press pause. You can do this anywhere-at your desk, at a meeting, or even on line at the bank. Start by taking three long breaths. Count to five during inhalation, pause for 2-3 seconds, and then count to five while you exhale. Pay attention to where you feel the breath the most. Perhaps it is when you feel the air enter your nose, when your abdomen expands, or as the air leaves your body. Wherever you feel it the most, pay attention to the sensation. Allow your breath to return to normal while you paying attention to the sensation. Do this for 3-5 minutes. Taking time to connect with your breath helps to lower levels of the stress hormone, Cortisol, and gives you the necessary time needed to regain perspective.
Jump up and Down. It might sound crazy, but if you are in a poor mental state, jumping up and down five times can literally shake you out of it. It is a reset maneuver. Most of us cannot ruminate over our problems-no matter how big-while we jump up and down. We all have the ability to project our worries into the future, or create worse case scenarios that dwarf our actual challenges. Jumping takes us out of our head and into our body. Sometimes this is really all we need to regain perspective.
Be Grateful. It is easy to forget about all of the good when you are swimming in the bad. Regardless of what is going on, it is possible to find things for which to be grateful. If you were able to walk to work this morning, think about how lucky you are to have two working legs. Anyone who has lived or spent time in a wheelchair knows that this is not a right but a privilege. The same could be said for the sense of smell, sight, and hearing. If it is helpful, move beyond these basics, and try to think of three fortunate incidents that occurred that day. Think small-like kissing your spouse or children goodbye, feeling the sun on your shoulders, or getting a seat on the subway. This is not an exercise to make you feel guilty for having low moments. Instead, it is a simple tool to refocus, and open the door to hope and equanimity.
Put on your headphones. Take a moment and listen to one of your favorite songs. Music has an uncanny way of changing our mood. Maybe it is a song from a particularly positive era in your life, or just one that makes you smile. Choose a tune with uplifting lyrics that can bring perspective to the moment. My favorite is "I Got a Feeling" by the Beatles. It helps to shake me out of the doldrums every time.
Come back to the moment. As Mark Twain once said, "I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened." Again, we are all capable of blowing our problems out of proportion. This often happens when we become overly focused on the future or the past. We begin to manufacture "what ifs" and "what onlys." Once you start to use this language, you have left reality and are inadvertently making your problems worse. Center yourself by bringing your attention to the here and now. Sometimes it helps to focus on the breath using the Take 5 technique listed above. Other times, it can help to "unitask." You can accomplish this by fully immersing yourself in the task at hand. Remove all distractions, shut off your phone, and work on whatever project you are worrying about. If your attention wanders, bring it back to your work. Most of us create much larger concerns in our head than what actually awaits us in real life. Come back to moment-it is where you can engage in real problem solving which is what is needed to resolve whatever difficulties you are experiencing.