Politics at work? Unexpected run-in with someone from your past? Family on your case? Taken on a disproportionate amount of responsibility as a "reward" for being so damn competent? Had a great date, but thought you would have heard from them by now?
There’s a seemingly endless list of triggers that can send you spiraling into a negative headspace, but far fewer things to pull yourself out.
While advice to “stay positive” or “be grateful” might be well-intentioned, faking positivity or forcing yourself to compartmentalize your feelings can distract from real-life problems that need your attention.
So, what to do instead?
We’ve been thinking a lot about what true self care looks like—beyond the wine-laden bubble-bath—and we’ve determined that it's knowing how to take care of yourself emotionally, especially when you’re deep in the emotional weeds. It’s knowing how to talk your higher-self off the proverbial ledge before that bad mood or toxic thought takes on a larger-than-life role in your day, week or even year.
Here are 5 go-to tips for resetting your thoughts when those moments strike, and the corresponding messages to keep you on track every step of the way.
1. Write it out.
You don’t need to become a professional journaler, or even write a particularly eloquent note-to-self. You just need a piece of paper and pen— or a blank note on your phone— where you can start writing and see what comes out.
We’ve found that sometimes the things we know on a deeper level can get drowned out by anxiety, stress, fear or self-doubt, but once you give them permission to make themselves known in written word, they’ll emerge to guide you along the right path. Or, at the very least, they’ll show you that the thing causing negativity is not the thing at all, but rather, your negative thoughts about the thing.
So, just start writing down whatever thoughts come to you about what’s stressing you out and see what they tell you.
2. Treat negative thoughts as questions, not facts.
There’s a school of thought that believes that anything you do out of anger (or fear or anxiety) is justified. This belief assumes that everything you feel is fact, but that’s simply not true.
This isn’t to say that whatever triggered you doesn’t need to be addressed. It’s more so that you need to understand how your emotions are influencing your unique experience of what’s happening before making your next move.
Since emotions are inherently a function of your very specific, personal life complexes, structures and conditioning, try to address negative thoughts not as empirical life truths (“This is not right.” “This person did something to me.” “They were thinking this way when they did it.”), but as questions (“Why do I feel like this?” “Is there another way I could feel?” “Is there a past trauma that’s compounding my reaction to the current situation?”)
A genuine examination of your emotional responses allows you to see a situation from a new perspective and often to escape an emotional space so you can operate at a higher frequency.
3. Don’t act quite yet.
If you’re anything like us, you want to take control and/or “fix” the situation as quickly as possible. This could be for a million different reasons. Maybe you don’t want to sit with the negative feelings for even a second longer than you have to, or you simply feel out of control. It could also be that you hate confrontation, rejection or ‘not knowing’ an outcome so much that you just want to get it over with and move on with your life.
Consider an alternative to all of these things: do nothing. At least, not yet. Moving to fix or resolve a situation too quickly often results in solving it from an emotional place. It also assumes that the situation is yours to fix, when often times it’s not.
Acting on knee-jerk impulses might feel good, but usually doesn’t result in the optimal conclusion.
Challenge yourself to sit with the feelings and be vulnerable even just one more day than is comfortable for you. And keep doing that until you can control your thoughts, rather than the reverse.
4. Take some physical space.
Our minds love patterns and quickly create emotional associations with certain spaces. If, for instance, you walk into a space where you previously experienced a strong emotion, you will likely re-live some of the same feelings. That’s why trips back to your hometown can make you feel like a teenager again—relishing in old joys, revisiting old angsts.
So, though it might seem like a cop-out to walk away from a negative situation, removing yourself from the location associated with it will force your brain to break its thought patterns and see things more clearly.
You don’t need to plan a last-minute vacation though; sometimes it’s just as effective to take a walk outside. But make sure to leave the headphones and phone at home. We’ve talked about the benefits of truly being alone with your thoughts. One of those is being in the moment and creating mental space for new, creative solutions to emerge freely.
5. Make a plan.
If what you’re feeling is less of an interpersonal issue than it is just feeling overwhelmed, consider an old favorite… The magic of a to-do list (or a to-do spreadsheet, if you’re like us) is that it lets you see everything in one place, ensuring that things don’t fall through the cracks while simultaneously freeing up the mental space you were dedicating to remembering tasks. It lets you distinguish between big-ticket items (for us: ‘design entire new collection’ or ‘redecorate new office’) and the easy wins you can cross off your list with little effort (‘respond to a few pending emails’).
You can also prioritize things that need to be done Right. This. Moment. from things that are less urgent. Perhaps most importantly, you can figure out where to ask for help or delegate tasks that can (or should) be done by someone else.
And we all know there’s just something so satisfying about crossing things off your to-do list.
Do you have other tricks for escaping a negative mindset and embracing a new narrative? Let us know in the comments!