Staying Positive in a Negative World

-By DEFINE’s Emotional Wellness Expert, Jessica Pass, LMFT

Feeling helpless or even hopeless about negative things going on around you? Understand where it could be coming from and take action to change your perspective, practice positivity and instill hope to those who need it the most. 

4a034bae4daf0332baaa82431a5cf617You know that overwhelming sense of sadness, anger or frustration you get after watching the news? Or the anxiety after watching a repeated series of constant negativity? Or find yourself focusing on your glass being “half-empty” after hanging out with friends or loved ones that constantly focus on what’s not going well?

If so, you are definitely not alone! It’s so hard to continuously be exposed to negativity and maintain a positive outlook on life. We are affected by what we take in, what we surround ourselves with and what we allow into our minds (consciously or not.) Unknowingly, the media has played a huge role in this department by constantly delivering news that (at times) paralyses us with a sense of helplessness and lack of control with all of the heartache, pain, strife and distress that gets the most attention. How often is it that the news is full of inspiring stories of resilience and strength? Or perseverance in the face of fear? Not very often at all, but when it does it’s quite refreshing. It reminds us that we too can overcome, bounce back and give hope to others.

Many researchers have studied the affects of the news on its viewers, highlighting that as humans we are wired for negative input. They have shown that our brains actually produce a chemical reaction when we view aggression, violence and drama that creates a feeling of wanting to continue to watch even when we feel uncomfortable or upset (like watching a train wreck, you can’t help but watch even though you don’t want to). They’ve found that the brain likes this chemical reaction and the more negative input it is fed, the more it wants. Also, they’ve found that with increased exposure to tragic events (aggression, violence, natural disasters, death, social injustice, etc.) anxiety increases and depression can set in, creating a strong sense of helplessness and if not addressed, hopelessness for those who feel like they are unable to make a difference (How often does this happen to you?)

Learned helplessness is one way to describe this phenomenon that is created when we are continually exposed to situations that we have no control over. Leaving us with the belief that we are powerless over our circumstance and causing inaction even when a solution is possible. These days social media, the internet and other means of technological communication exaggerate this feeling of helplessness with constant exposure through status updates, tweets, pictures or links. Even bullying has become an online epidemic, with tragic stories of teens taking their own lives after being assaulted through social media. How awful is this!? It’s appalling and needs to change… quick.

Similarly, like I highlighted in the post last week, Lessons On Love, it takes one negative interaction or comment to counteract five positives. Or, if you prefer, it takes five positives to balance out one negative. When you combine the availability of negative input (the news, in person or other medias) with our societal draw towards criticism, gossip and aggression (think about the average reality TV series or embarrassing photos of celebrities that are passed around) the end result can be devastating. We’ve been socialized to highlight our weaknesses, focus on mistakes and criticize others. We use what hurts others to feel better about ourselves. We dismiss our strengths and put ourselves down. We exercise self-doubt, feel worthless and struggle to accept compliments or positive feedback, making excuses for how we lucked out or succeeded by mistake. As sad as it is, we, as a society, are grossly affected by negative input and allow it to inform who we believe ourselves to be.

Depressing!

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So what do we do? How do we counteract our pull towards drama and negativity that has a tremendous effect on our personal and societal wellbeing? How do we utilize the benefits of understanding negative events to create change and move forward without falling victim to learned helplessness or allow the pendulum to swing too far in one direction? What can we do now to counteract feelings of inadequacy, insignificance and inability? What can we do to show others respect, love and positivity? And how do we go about creating lasting change when the problems seem so big and overwhelming?

(Photo: Shea Kohman, January DEFINE charity , LLS )

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Action, action, action… I’ll say it again, action.

We act in simple, strategic and significant ways daily to balance out our draw towards negativity by focusing on things we can change and what builds others up; producing a sense of empowerment, control, self-efficacy and pride. If all we do is sit in front of the TV or observe unjust acts and focus on the overwhelming problem at hand (for example: the global problem of suffering) we will get discouraged and burn out.

However, if we reach out to just one person, hug a child, send a thoughtful note, donate to a charity, give compliment, randomly share an act of kindness or find a way to get involved in a solution for the greater good, we disengage from our helplessness (whether it is related to the source of stress of not) and feel empowered to continue to demonstrate positive movement and direction. This affect literally re-wires our brain to focus on the “half-full” glass; shifting from a position of pessimism, negativity and cynicism to optimism, hope and happiness.

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(Photo: Generation Heroes, July DEFINE charity , LLS )

It is unrealistic for our pull towards negativity to completely diminish, but we do have the ability to teach our brain to crave positivity by engaging in activities that produce endorphins, adrenaline and  the feel good hormone, Dopamine. In the same way our brain experiences a chemical reaction through a negative event, it also experiences rewards through positive events and input. When dopamine is released our mind feels happy, motivated and encouraged. Which would you rather feed your brain, anxiety or happiness?

So – If you’re finding yourself increasingly upset, anxious, pessimistic or depressed after watching the news, engaging in negative conversations with friends and family or watching drama filled TV shows, try these four tips to feel better and change your mindset from negative to positive:

1 ) Understand that this is a normal reaction. You are not alone and it happens to virtually everyone that is exposed to an abundance of negative events, comments or situations. Take note of when this is happening to increase your self awareness and ability to recognize it in the future.

2) Implement steps to counteract your feelings of being overwhelmed by identifying simple tasks that will produce feelings of competency, effectiveness and ability. For example, try accomplishing small goals, offering to help a friend in need, lending a helping hand to a stranger or engage in an activity that you find enjoyment in. Look for a solution that works for you, one that draws you out of yourself and helps you focus on tasks that are external and provide immediate gratification once achieved. This will remind you how powerful you really are, how you can change your circumstance and how you can have a positive affect on those around you.

3) Make it a point to keep positivity and encouragement around you daily. This could be having inspirational quotes where you can see them, setting reminders on your phone that have positive messages or listening to up-beat music that brings joy and happiness. Keep people around you that inspire you to reach out to others more or that push you to get outside of yourself and practice selflessness. Surround yourself with those who practice optimism, gratitude and embrace lifestyles that promote health and happiness.

4) Find a way to get involved in your community.  If you’re looking for more ways to get involved, DEFINE highlights different charities of the month and hosts donation classes to raise awareness and promote positive social change through fitness, mindfulness and action. Let us know if you have a charity that you would like to host a class for. Take initiative to educate others on ways they can make a difference and practice modeling how to go about it.

We all play a part in bringing about change that our world desperately needs and it starts right here, in our community, with those around us and those we love most. Just think, if you take action today and someone else experience the positive affects of your selflessness and turns around to pass it along to another deserving yet overlooked individual, how much of an impact we could all have as a whole, linked together in our determination to promote positivity, hope and healing.

If you feel inspired by this post, let us know. Take action by leaving a comment and letting us know what part you can play today in promoting hope. Tell us about a charity that you are connected to or volunteer for. Or maybe you have experienced the positive and life changing effects of someone reaching out to you (big or small) and it made a difference, leave your story here. We love hearing from you and want to continue to foster a community that strives to empower through personal wellness and reaching out to those in need of hope and healing. You’ll be amazed just how powerful you truly are in combating the hopeless epidemic that is created when we sit still and wait for someone else to create movement. Start today, start now.

JessicasHeadshots001DEFINE’s Emotional Wellness Expert, Jessica Pass, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Instructor at DEFINE body & mind. She has a private practice in Houston, Texas, specializing with children, adolescents, individuals, couples and parents. Jessica’s approach incorporates mind-body integration, education and practical strategies to improve emotional wellness, emphasizing all aspects of who we are to live fully and thrive in our relationships.

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