by Ali Weinberg
Have you ever heard the expression, “That which you focus on, grows”? This is an important concept in the work that I do as a wellness coach. I see many of my clients focusing on the negative things in their lives, and consequently they are left feeling unhappy, defeated, anxious, angry, and depressed. Some examples I see are the following:
-Focusing on feeling depressed just makes me hate my life and feel more depressed
-“Focusing on “feeling fat” just makes me feel unattractive and then I reach for foods to soothe myself, and then I gain more weight
-Focusing on pain/illness in the body increases stress levels and may then increase my symptoms
What this leaves us with is this constant nagging voice in our head, telling us we are not good enough as we are, in this moment. What if we focused on making the best of what we have right now, in this moment? When we compare ourselves with others, we are in this constant mode of wanting more, and feeling miserable with whatever is in front of us. In graduate school for psychology and in my training for wellness coaching, we learned to work with clients from a strength-based model, based on positive psychology. As I began to work with my clients, many of them would talk about all of the negative things that had happened over the course of the week. I would watch their body language as they reflected on their multiple stressors: slumped shoulders, furrowed eyebrows, tired faces, and drained overall demeanor. As a therapist, I began to feel stuck; most of my clients were not seeing the changes they hoped to see in themselves. I began to do a lot of research on positive psychology, and truly began to learn that you create your own reality. Though it is important to acknowledge daily stressors and personal trauma, if we focus solely on these things, those problems seem to grow. When I began to learn about using a strength-based model, I began to see shifts in my clients and also in myself.
During this time, I personally was battling an autoimmune disease that felt like it came out of nowhere, and that suddenly turned my world upside down. As months passed, I felt myself slipping into a dark state as I anxiously Googled my condition, medications, therapies, and other patients’ experiences. I hit rock bottom with my negativity, anticipatory anxiety, and depressed mood before I decided started to shift my mentality. I decided that though I no longer felt in control over what my body did our how it responded to the medications that were fighting my illness and allowing me to function, I did have a choice in how I would react to this loss of control. My body was something I always took for granted, and it was something that I always felt in control over. I could run, dance, walk, teach my fitness classes, eat what I pleased, and sleep when I wanted to. All of a sudden, all of those things were beyond my control. I was upset and annoyed, and felt very lost. Am I still angry that I got sick; despite the great lengths I have always taken to care for my health? Of course! We are all entitled to our emotions, but I did not want to become my illness and let it define me. I allow myself to be angry at the situation, and then I started to think about what I did have control over. I read a lot about how people who express gratitude have less illness, more positive outlooks, and longer and healthier lives.. I decided to start the day by writing three simple things that I was grateful for.
Other things I recommend to my clients who are trying to be more positive and let go of negative stuck emotions include breathing visualizations. When I inhale, I think of positive energy filling my body. When I breathe out, I envision negative stuck thoughts exiting my body. Some people find it helpful to envision a sparkling light coming in on the inhale, and dark clouds leaving on exhale. Breathing and mindfulness in itself can create powerful shifts only in minutes. When we are stuck and speaking negatively to ourselves, we tend to breathe shallow and short breaths. When we do this, we send the message to our brain to go into panic and anxiety mode, and the chemicals in our brains then secrete stress hormones. I like to advise my clients to “fake it ‘til you make it” So when you are feeling very anxious, take at least 3 minutes to deeply slow your breathing down, which will elicit the message to your brain to slow down, and calm down.
Other techniques to reverse negativity?
-Get out of your hole! Sometimes it seems easier to curl up on the couch, but this tends to drag you deeper down. I like to get out of the house, whether it be to walk my dog, or to read at a coffee shop. Bonus points if a friend comes along. Being social with a close friend who knows what I am going through can reverse a funk.
-Exercise! Start to stimulate those endorphins by moderately exercising. Studies have shown that exercise can be more beneficial that antidepressant medications.
-Seek help if you need it! Whether it be a therapist or a coach, it helps to talk to a professional.
-Feed yourself! Keep your blood sugar stable and focus on whole, real foods. The less garbage you put in your body, the better you will feel.
-Focus on what is positive! Pick one thing that is going well for you, and reflect on that thing.
Remember, what you focus on grows!!
Ali Weinberg is a certified health and wellness coach and licensed psychotherapist in the Boston area. She is Director of Wellness Coaching at Engin Coaching (www.engincoach.com) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ali specializes in women with eating disorders, anxiety, compulsive behaviors, and health issues. She meets with clients both in person, and by telephone or Skype.