I got a phone call this morning; it was bad news. Not even 9 a.m. and I was already upset and discouraged, dreading the next 8-hour workday. I thought about crawling back to bed to escape reality with some captivating Netflix show. In the past few years we have heard more and more about the benefits of gratitude, and how it can help boost our well-being. While I have been an avid student of gratitude practices since my college days ten years ago , I have to admit it still does not come as easily as I would like it to.
That’s where everything I have been learning in therapy comes in handy. Every now and then my therapist assigns me some writing or drawing activity that proves to be most effective when I am navigating every day life setbacks. The thing about life and jobs is that they tend to keep going at full speed regardless of how we feel. So it has become more and more important for me to be able to shake off feelings of helplessness, anxiety, or stress in order to continue on with my day in a healthy manner. I am not talking about shoving down your emotions and suppressing them so you can get to work. This is about working through them with efficiency so you can bounce back as soon as possible, and exercise that resilience muscle.
When something gets you in a negative mood, don’t pressure yourself into feeling grateful. I’d suggest exercise, but we don’t always have that kind of time. Instead, ask yourself: “What do I have?” While similar to the gratitude practice, asking yourself, “What am I grateful for?” simply won’t come as easy when immersed in sadness or worry. I found that “What do I have?” allows me to focus on concrete things in front of me. “What do I have to work with today?” shifts the focus from the things I am lacking to the things I can actually count on to make this day a good one. This can also be known as the abundance mindset. This is step one.
The next step would be to draw your answers on a piece of paper. You do not have to be an artist! Just doodle concrete things you know for sure you have today that make your your life easier and lift your mood. Don’t worry about complex things like “love” or “health.” I often find myself drawing things like a house, yoga mat, bed, candle, tea, until I feel like I have more things in my favor than against me. As I doodle away, naturally and without any pressure, feelings of gratitude sprout.
If you are not into drawing, then handwrite them clearly. This gives you something concrete to look at and touch. You are making these positive aspects of your life tangible by putting them on paper. Picking up a pencil and doodling can relieve stress, depression, fear, and reduce physical pain. Feel free to really go all out with your masterpiece whenever time’s abundant. Having a creative outlet will allow you to calm your body and even help reduce blood pressure. I am personally beginning to color in my mandala book before bed, just to make sure I am regularly channeling feelings into art.
Other great ideas would be to start a journal, a sketch book, or collage book. However, our responsibilities will often force us to get back on our feet in a few short minutes, which is why I love to keep this exercise simple and quick. After I got my bad news on the phone, I was able to recover my mental strength in less than 20 minutes. I was not just back to okay, but I was actually pretty pumped about life and ready to tackle goals with a new positive outlook. While life did not feel perfect (when does it?), I knew I had everything I needed to have a great day, and I had the “paperwork” to prove it.
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Photo: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash, Trent Szmolnik on Unsplash