The weight of negative emotions fall heavy on many of us, yet few of us are able to recuperate from the enormous pressure that comes with these feelings. Negative emotions are more powerful than positive emotions, and the chemical reaction that comes with them can wreak hazard on our body. The stress hormone cortisol is produced with extreme negative emotions when body begins to feel fear. Fear is an emotion that brings us back to primitive years, and we still react as if we were cavemen, or women, with the fight or flight response. The difference is, in today’s day and age, there likely isn’t a severe reason for fear I.E. being chased by a lion, so the release of cortisol, which would previously help you run from said lion, has nowhere to go, it accumulates in our body, producing belly fat and excess stress, which in extreme cases leads to death.
The Buffer Blog reports a study on the “Tetris Effect”, which was produced by Harvard. It incorporates the feeling your mind gets after playing a game of Tetris. Most participants still felt they were playing the game, long after they shut down their computer, over 60%, reported dreams of images of Tetris. This study led Harvard to discover that neurons, nerve cells, in your brain make connections over time, and they communicate through synapses. When you learn something, you change those neural connections, and when you repeat them over and over again, you have the opportunity to change your behavior for the better through the impact of practicing and retaining a more positive thinking pattern. There are three main keys to develop a more positive thinking pattern, gratitude, meditation and replacing your negative thoughts with counter, positive thoughts.
Beginning with gratitude, which has swept the nation as the new ‘black’, as studies continue to show its positive effect on negative emotions. The Buffer Blog tested out the “Tetris Effect” theory in a positive way, by having their participants write down three good things that happened to them at the end of each day. After only one week, participants felt happier, and after one month, less depressed. At the core, building a habit that becomes more automatic is the goal of the ‘three things’ theory, once repeated for over 28 days, from personal experience, the brain starts to look for the good in every situation. A great way to begin is by keeping a gratitude journal, one may choose to journal three things per day, or begin with just one, over the course of roughly a month, the brain begins to ask itself, “What was my favorite part of today?” Gratitude then seeps into every human experience we have, showing it not as an uncomfortable emotion, but as a teaching moment, therefore, seeing the good in all emotions and reducing our negativity thought synapses and replacing them with positive ones.
Another way to increase positive emotions, is the tried and true method, Mindfulness. Rosenthal notes in his article “Reducing Anxiety through Mindfulness” that there is a specific way to look at an emotion to bring your attention to the current moment without an influx of negativity. First, deliberately pause what you’re doing. Next, take a deep breath and mentally take a step back. Turn inward, noticing your feelings without diving too deep into them, suspending your judgement, observe without evaluating. Next, label the emotion, “I am feeling X.”, observe the emotion as if a friend was going through it, next, watch the emotion subside and redirect your attention to a pleasant focus. In personal therapy experience, therapist have suggested identifying your emotion with a color, just by paying attention to your emotion rather than “stuffing” it down, it will subside faster. Noting to yourself at the end of your mindfulness exercise something positive, will help train the brain that negative, or anxiety producing situations are OK and that you will survive them, thus reducing negative emotions around anxiety or unpleasantness.
Shen writes in “How to rewire your Brain for Happiness”, that we can replace each emotion we encounter with an opposite one. For example, if one is feeling overwhelmed, their negative emotion would inform them they were very stressed out, and overwhelmed. Shen suggests countering this negative thought with a positive one, such as, “I am lucky to be involved in so many activities, and so many people I care about lives.” Conversely, when you have a positive thought, you should counter negative thoughts you’ve had prior. For example, if you were having a moment where you enjoyed the business of everyday life, you may say to yourself, “it is so nice when I’m busy, I’m happiest when I have activities to do.” This helps retrain the brain for positive emotions.
Lao Tzu says, “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” With mindfulness, gratitude and extra attention to our thought patterns, we can cultivate a more positive experience for ourselves in this life. As an additional bonus, the more tinted our rose colored glasses become, we can influence those closest to us, and around us to do the same, therefore, literally, making this world a better place. Taking steps to train our brain to look for the good by writing down one to three good things that happen each day, is our first step in cultivating gratitude. Pausing to notice how we are feeling in our bodies is the first step in mindfulness, followed by steps to understand what emotions we feel, and to look for the good in even the most anxious or seemingly unpleasant of situations. Finally, replacing our negative thoughts with positive ones, and reinforcing our positive thoughts by replacing our negative thoughts, will retrain our neuropathways to become more positive. To achieve different results, we must think differently.
How To Rewire Your Brain For Positivity: 4 Steps. (n.d.). Retrieved June 02, 2016, from https://www.alwaysgreater.com/achievements/how-to-reprogram-your-mind-to-think-positive
Rosenthal, M. (n.d.). Train Your Brain: How to Reduce Anxiety Through Mindfulness and Meditation. Retrieved June 02, 2016, from https://www.rewireme.com/explorations/train-your-brain-how-to-reduce-anxiety-through-mindfulness-and-meditation/
Shen, W. (2013). How To Rewire Your Brain for Positivity and Happiness - The Buffer Blog. Retrieved June 02, 2016, from https://blog.bufferapp.com/how-to-rewire-your-brains-for-positivity-and-happiness