Shifting Positive on a Stressful Day.

“Every day might not be good, but there is something good in every day.”

In psychology class this week, I teach one of my favourite subjects – Stress, Coping, and Health Psychology Chapter 11 in my psychology textbook.

I purposely teach this topic during the height of midterms. Raising awareness about the healthy (and not so healthy) ways students manage stress is critical for building resilience.

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Shifting Negative ⇒ Positive

One of my top 10 techniques for shifting students from stress to strength is to share what’s going right even (especially) when things are going wrong. Small uplifts in the course of the day change everything. Fleeting. Unexpected. Goodness.

Based on my experience as a school psychologist, I will never deny the stress students are under. Witnessing adversity is an essential part of moving through itHowever, I choose not to remain in the territory of “what’s wrong” for too long.

What We Focus on Expands

Once we acknowledge what’s wrong. We open our eyes to the grace that takes place throughout the day.

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“Good things are always happening. The key is to notice them.”

Students make the shift from powerless to empowered by sharing ordinary joys happening in their lives.

A radiant smile from a fellow commuter. Free coffee at McDonald’s. An unexpected A on a paper. A sweet parking spot. Spending time with an old friend. A surprise compliment from a stranger. Laughing out loud with fellow classmates. A really good night’s sleep.

And I’m the fortunate professor who gets to hear all these uplifts at the end of a long, rainy day. One more reason why I love working with students.

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How do you shift positive on a stressful day?

Related Post: Put a time limit on negativity.

The stories we tell ourselves.

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Flooded with helplessness.

A friend of mine recently returned home from vacation to find his newly constructed house flooded.

The feelings of helplessness that followed were magnified by the story he was telling himself on repeat. That he was an idiot. Naive. A loser. Stupid for not knowing better.

 Loss of control.

This was something completely beyond his control. Yet there he was battling Mother Nature head on.

Making himself entirely responsible for the deluge of rain. All powerful. Yet completely powerless. Imprisoned by his thoughts alone.

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He and his wife had only lived in their new home for 18 months. A dream house built for retirement.

Every aspect of the design painstakingly conceived. Which only amplified his despair.

Infinite Rumination.

But in that moment, the story in his mind was filled with self-accusation and punishment. Second guessing on repeat.

The loop in his head based on the assumption that he was all-mighty. At the epicentre of the universe. Fully in charge of Mother Nature and her actions.

This is what happens when we lose control of external circumstances. We attempt to control it internally.

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Overcome by emotion.

Logically, he knew that it was not the end of the world. That there were far worse things that could have happened and have happened in his life.

But in times of panic, our emotional brain (the amygdala) hijacks our thinking brain and we can no longer think rationally.

And that’s ok. Because in order to heal, we must first bear witness to our pain. Only then can we move on and beyond.

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Breathing space.

It has been four days since the flood and thank goodness the overwhelming feelings of helplessness have subsided for my friend.

Time heals. And so does a wife’s love. The support of neighbours. And a mom’s embrace.

It happened. He is strengthened. He will thrive.

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Change the story.

Now when he passes the construction zone in his house, instead of chastising himself, he thinks of how lucky he is to have a basement renovation just 18 months after moving in. Same basement. Different narrative.

This story makes him smile. 

Breathe and Receive.

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When I’m struggling to get through a difficult day, I look to the trees for inspiration and refuge.

All they do is give.

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And all we need to do is receive.

Again and again.

With every single breath.

And every single step.

 Peace lives here.

Mindset changes everything.

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The Resilience Mindset

What we believe matters. As it’s our mindset that shapes our physiological and emotional response to stressful circumstances. Ultimately, determining our ability to bounce back after adversity.

For example, when a relationship ends, if we view it as a personal failure, from a place of blame and shame, we are less likely to try again. Afraid to risk the pain, reluctant to venture beyond our comfort zone.

“Obstacles do not block the path. They are the path.”

On the other hand, if we perceive the same breakup as an opportunity to learn. To begin again. To start over. Fresh. Renewed. We are more open to meeting someone new.

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Today I am grateful for all of my relationship failures. For if it weren’t for the loss, the heartache, and the lessons, I never would met the wonderful man that I am married to today.

Trust the Process.

It was not easy at the time. Challenge rarely is. But if we just keep our eyes to the sky, and trust that no matter what we are going through, it will all be worth it in the end.

I hope you find comfort in your discomfort. And beauty in the stars.

Related Post: Lay down your burdens.

Better to bend than break.

Flexibility is essential for resilience.

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When life changes direction, are you able to change with it?

Are you flexible and open to new experiences?

Are you able to break free from old patterns and habits?

Or do you struggle to adapt to anything new and different?

In this video clip, I describe how the flexibility of palm trees helps them adapt and ultimately be strengthened by hurricanes.

Applying this Post in Everyday Life

“Do the opposite of what you normally do.”

  1. Wake up one hour earlier to enjoy some unexpected quiet time.
  2. Exercise at night instead of in the morning.
  3. Try gluten-free or vegan to support a dear friend.
  4. Swap your favourite hobby for something brand new.
  5. Sit in a different spot in the classroom than you’re used to.
  6. Drive a different, more scenic way home tonight.
  7. Meet three new people in your community this week.
  8. Trade television for library books for one month straight.
  9. Go to sleep on the opposite side of the bed.
  10. Spend the weekend silent and completely word free.

Change one routine today and open up to unforeseen freedom and opportunity.

Just Breathe.

Sometimes it’s the smallest things that have the greatest impact on our happiness.

Something so close, so within reach, we often forget it was there in the first place. The good night’s sleep we’re yearning for; waiting patiently at the end of each day. The connection to nature we’re searching for; available 24/7 just beyond our front door. That extra deep breath;  we frequently forget to take.

You possess a power so magnificent, so liberating, right under your nose.

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The deeper the breath. The deeper the peace.

Breathing is one of the few physiological functions that can be controlled both consciously and unconsciously.

When everything feels out of control, breathing is the one thing that will always be within our control. The times we’re under the most amount of stress is the exact time we need to expand our breathing – not restrict it.

We must become conscious of breath.

The next time you’re under any kind of pressure. Stuck in traffic. Rushing from class to class. Dealing with a difficult customer at work. Desperately trying to recall answers on a final exam. Wake up to the formidable power that exists within you. Right here. Right now. Right under your nose.

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Inhale peace.  Exhale pressure. 

What’s your mantra?

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This is my mantra.

I write it on my bathroom mirror. I post it on my refrigerator door. I tape it to my office wall. I speak of it every time I teach.

These 4 words remind me to focus on what’s good, what’s working, what’s infinitely possible. Even (especially) when everything is going wrong.

Focus on the good.

Because if I can find one good thing in the course of a day, I have found my reason to live, to love, and to lead.

Sometimes the blessings are obvious. Sometimes they’re hidden. Sometimes it’s simply breathing. Other times “it’s the moments that take my breath away”.

Mantras wake us up.

Mantras work because they wake us up. Snap us out of it. They carry us from the perpetual loop of our worries to the equanimity of present time.

For we all need a gentle nudge in the right direction. A loving reminder to come back to reality.

Or we’ll all be too busy looking down that we miss the beauty of what’s right in front of us. Life itself. 💙

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What’s your mantra?

Related Post: Happiness in one word.

Are you a highly sensitive person (HSP)?

The first step to compassion is understanding.

Do you experience more stress than the average person? Are you overly sensitive to external stimuli. Chances are, there is nothing wrong with you or your coping strategies.

Instead, your brain may be more sensitive to stress than the average person. You may in fact, be what Dr. Elaine Aron has coined “A Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP).

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Neurological differences found in HSP’s.

Brain scans show that HSP’s have “heightened activity in empathy-related brain regions” including the anterior insula (insular cortex), highlighted in the brain scan below.

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The intensified response of highly sensitive people (HSP) to stress is not a choice – it’s biological. HSP brains are wired differently than the average person. This fact has been clearly supported by scientific research.

Self Test: Are You Highly Sensitive?

  1. Are you easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby?
  2. Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time?
  3. Do you make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows?
  4. Do you need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room or some other place where you can have privacy and relief from the situation?
  5. Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations?
  6. Do you notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art?
  7. Do you have a rich and complex inner life?
  8. When you were a child, did your parents or teachers see you as sensitive or shy?        

Source: HSP Self-Test                                                                                            

Harnessing HSP’s Strengths.

The main challenge for most HSP’s is to acknowledge their heightened emotional sensitivity, understand their unique emotional needs, and finally to employ distinctive strategies for coping with stress.

Helpful websites and resources below –

  1. A Guide to the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) by Dr. Judith Orloff
  2. Coping Strategies for the Highly Sensitive Person by Dr. Ted Zeff
  3. How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Dr. Elaine Aron
  4. Highly Sensitive People in the Workplace by Janine Ramsey
  5. With Care, You and Your Sensitivity Will Flourish by Deborah Ward

Cherish your sensitivity. It is your superpower.

You were born to thrive.

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Do not fear challenge or adversity.

Run towards it. Not away from it.

Use it consciously. As a stepping stone.

To ascend. To soar.

To propel yourself forward.

To begin again. 

For strength is ultimately built from challenge, from difficulty, from overcoming.

You were born to thrive!

Watch my video for helpful strategies on how to thrive.