Are you struggling with negative thoughts or anxiety? With our collective worlds shaken by current events, many of us are struggling to keep from ruminating on negative thoughts and letting them spiral out of control.
The good news: Research shows several practices can provide powerful stress and anxiety relief, allowing us to sleep better at night and go about our days without feeling overwhelmed. While some coping mechanisms can be relatively quick and easy, others take more time. All are backed by science that increasingly shows these as strong additions to our emotional toolboxes during times of stress.
Besides the obvious health benefits, exercise can be an effective mental health boost because working out releases endorphins, known as “feel-good hormones.” According to the American Psychological Association,1 exercise can help reduce depression, lower stress and even improve cognitive function. Don’t have time to run 10 miles? Research indicates that even small amounts of exercise can go a long way toward alleviating negative thoughts.
As with exercise, getting an adequate amount of sleep is known to rejuvenate us both physically and mentally. Besides increasing our ability to think more clearly, a full night of rest helps most of us keep negative thoughts at bay, making it an especially important way to improve overall well-being. While the National Sleep Foundation2 says there is no “correct” amount of sleep for everyone, experts recommend making sleep a priority during times of elevated stress.
Consider channeling your nervous energy into action that brings positive results. Gil Luria, D.A. Davidson’s Director of Institutional Research, finds it effective to focus on supporting younger colleagues. “Many of them are dealing with their first global crisis, are worried about their security, and are often living in close quarters,” Gil said. “Reaching out to them and witnessing their courage and perseverance is helping me put things in perspective.”
From gratitude journaling to thanking our medical professionals, expressing gratitude is strongly linked to improved happiness and well-being. In a 2013 study,3 the world’s leading researchers of gratitude found that practicing thankfulness can be a “healing force” that improves sleep, lowers blood pressure, alleviates loneliness and promotes overall feelings of positivity.
By helping others, we often are helping ourselves. Researchers have repeatedly connected volunteer work and feelings of satisfaction, with one large study4 finding that people who volunteer feel more fulfilled, experience less stress and even tend to live longer than non-volunteers. Depending on the nature of your volunteer work, you may also experience the benefits that come with being physically active or sharpening your intellect.
Laughing makes us feel better in the moment, as we focus on ideas other than our troubles, while also providing longer-term benefits. By releasing beta-endorphins which are natural pain suppressors, laughter can help us manage pain that is both mental and physical. A good laugh has been found to break the cycle that many people experience between pain, sleep loss, depression, and immunosuppression. Patch Adams, a physician, clown and comedian, famously promoted humor and love as important aspects of a medical professional’s bedside manner.5
While we all breathe naturally and almost constantly, we also tend to tighten up and breathe less deeply when under duress. Taking the time to breathe deeply is a proven relaxation technique. By extension, practicing meditation can have calming and stress-relieving benefits such as clearing your mind for better sleep. You can try deep breathing on your own or use one of the many apps available for breathing exercises or meditation.
Feeling overwhelmed by everything you read and hear? Remember, it’s not always necessary to keep up on the latest news — nor are you expected to. Experts suggest that we all take occasional breaks from news and social media to clear our minds. You may find that you miss it less than expected.
Regardless of what technique you use to improve your mindset, the pandemic of 2020 and the resulting negative news point to the need to make self-care a priority. While the tools outlined here cannot change circumstances, they can help you worry less each day.
1 Stress and Exercise. American Psychological Association. 2013.
2 How Much Sleep Do We Really Need? National Sleep Foundation. Feb. 2020.
3 Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention. Journal of Clinical Psychology. June 2013.
4 Older Adults Find Fulfillment as Volunteers Who Help the Young, USC Study Finds. University of Southern California. July 2015.
5 Patch Adams. Gesundheit! Institute. 2020.
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