Learning to trust ourselves to solve our own problems is one of our greatest gifts to ourselves. And it’s the essence of therapy, really. Having a supportive, non-judgmental guide is great, and all, but during our darkest days we have to figure out life for ourselves.
Because when it comes to mental health, we all have a daily choice: Practice peace or practice stress. As a psychotherapist, I am commonly asked for solutions to the following questions:
- How can I be happier?
- How can I learn to trust myself and others?
- How can I get rid of anxious thoughts so that I can focus on my priorities?
While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, hunkering down and working on the basics of creating a meaningful life can go a long way toward achieving mental peace and emotional well-being. The following tips can help with this practice:
1. Happiness is largely determined by how you handle stress. Listen to your fears, and spend time every day quietly thinking about them. Sit with them, and maybe even thank them. Ask yourself: What lesson am I supposed to learn?
And be patient with the slow pace of problem-solving. Time moves fast when we’re having fun, but life and its problems are meant to be savored. The beauty of sitting in the muck is knowing that you’ll find your standing posture eventually. Transform your fears into faith that life will turn out OK.
2. Security. Know that the world is basically a safe place, where most people possess good will. When you trust in that, you believe that things will work out the way they are supposed to. Most important, you trust yourself to solve problems. While it can be hard to find the good in the world, especially given around-the-clock access to bad news, the truth is there are more positive events every day than dangerous, scary or negative events. (And not that you asked, or that you’d do this, but this literary gem was published on PsychologyToday.com a couple weeks back, and the flack I got when the editors graciously posted it to their Facebook page. #Ugh. So please take note of the almighty ‘most’ in italics. Translation: The world is an inherently safe place. Not every day. Not in every corner of the world. But mostly…)
3. Direction. Listen to your thoughts; they are the cornerstone of your mental health and the key to executing a healthy plan of action. Try this three-step process to deal with your stress:
Reframe. When negative thoughts invade your brain with catastrophic “what ifs,” make a conscious effort to look at the big picture. The Helicopter View exercise can help: Imagine that you’re looking down at your problem from a helicopter. As the helicopter takes off, rising higher and higher, the view zooms out to reveal a bigger and broader picture less focused on the ground-level details. When you pull back from an emotional situation, you can see things more clearly and rationally.
Relinquish the need to control a situation or another person: The “my way or the highway” mindset and other inflexible, rigid, or concrete behaviors keep you miserable and stuck. Letting go provides you with the clarity and direction necessary to focus on the things within your control and let go of what you cannot control (such as people, weather, and traffic, for starters). Put your energy into what you are able to influence and be OK with being powerless over other situations. In short, stay out of your own way.
Reset to relax: Take a “brain break” and experience a lighter sense of being. You are neither a prisoner nor a passive participant in your life. Seeing yourself as an active, capable member of society means you’re not confined to playing defense and waiting for the other shoe to drop. On the contrary, playing offense means your actions are calm, confident, measured, proactive, and purposeful. (Mindfulness-based exercises can help you change your mindset. Click here for a short video on the basics of meditation.)
The difference between peace and chaos can be as simple and profound as committing 10 minutes a day to practicing better mental health habits. It can help you let go of stress and clear space for peace of mind, happiness, and more fulfilling relationships.
To overcome relationship stress, and symptoms of anxiety and depression, check out The Happiness Course.
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Yours in believing the world is a mostly safe place,