Maybe you’ve been having a tough time getting to sleep lately, or you wake up in the middle of the night with your mind racing. Perhaps you find yourself “doomscrolling” on social media.
If so, you’re not alone. At NVA we learned being an essential worker can be rewarding, it also poses extra challenges, especially nowadays: wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), added disinfection protocols, longer hours. So it’s easy to let negativity creep in. In fact, humans have something called a negativity bias. This means that we tend to register (and focus on) negative events, information or emotions more than positive ones. Psychologists theorize that this bias may have provided an evolutionary benefit; once upon a time, humans survived by continuously scanning their surroundings for life-threatening danger. So even though most people no longer have to fend off wild animals, humans remain hardwired to focus on threats — real or perceived.
But by allowing our brains to focus on the negative, we invite stress and worry into our lives, unknowingly squandering precious energy that could have been geared toward more productive and meaningful actions.
If you find yourself feeling stressed out and worried, take a tip from Turpin Mott — NVA’s dedicated chief community officer — who believes that meaningful outcomes result from taking a step back , paying attention to and prioritizing emotional wellness and self-care.
Here are five simple ways you can clear those negative thoughts and adopt a more positive mindset:
1. Focus on your “why”
Especially in the confines of current events, it’s crucial to treat yourself kindly. Understanding what’s truly important to you is essential to finding fulfillment in even the most mundane or complicated tasks. Focusing on your purpose — the reason why you do what you do — helps generate energy and excitement that can pull you through almost any challenge.
As a community, NVA’s “why” is “for the love of animals and the people who love them,” but your personal “why” should be unique to you. Ask yourself: What inspires me? Why do I get up every day and do what I do? Spend time each week reminding yourself of your purpose, jot it down where you can see it, and make a plan for how you will live your “why” the following week.
2. Spend more time in nature
You may feel like your to-do list keeps growing and the emails never end. Escaping your work space for a walk outside can seem like a luxury at times. But even the busiest people need to take breaks to commune with nature. Nature has a way of decreasing stress and boosting positivity. Getting fresh air, walking through a park or strolling on a beach can quickly rejuvenate you and help you refocus before your next big task.
Schedule a break every day and spend some time enjoying nature. You don’t need to hike through a forest; just sit under the nearest tree or take a long look at nearby flowers (even a plant in your office). Allow your attention to shift away from your work to admire nature’s beauty and the grander scheme of things. A small amount of time — even two minutes — might be all you need.
Deep breathing settles your nerves and can reduce anxiety — but it takes practice. Here is a simple process called “4-7-8”:
Inhale for a count of 4.
Hold your breath for a count of 7.
Exhale for a count of 8.
Follow this sequence 10 times.
When stressed or consumed with negative thoughts, people tend to breathe erratically, as early humans would when faced with danger in the wild. By exhaling for longer than you inhale, you will force more carbon dioxide from your lungs. This allows space for more oxygen, energizing your blood and refreshing your body. To see an example of this breathing technique, as well as other ways you can stay in touch with your body, check out this video from Turpin Mott.
4. Disconnect from electronics
Today’s technology is designed to demand your attention at all times. The buzzing in your pocket, the flashing on your wrist, the blinking and blipping on your desk — they constantly alert you to new tasks or information. When you are already engaged in a task, these interruptions divert your attention, triggering stress levels, tension and negative thoughts.
Here’s a tip: Turn off your notifications. Switch off pop-ups, mute your computer, silence your phone (even vibrations) and close your inbox. Set aside the time you need to complete your tasks without electronic interruptions. Checking these alerts while trying to meet a deadline (or enjoying time with family or friends) encroaches on your time and focus. Even if you need to be on call for work, not every app requires your attention. Turn off notifications for the ones you don’t need. Carve out no-screen time, especially an hour or two before bedtime.
5. Find a loving challenger
It’s comforting to surround yourself with agreeable people; they provide assurance and boost your confidence. But everyone needs to hear the hard truth sometimes — especially when negative thoughts creep in.
Find a family member, good friend or colleague who has your best interests at heart but isn’t afraid to be frank with you. Share your goals, your “why,” and your work-life challenges (along with your plan to overcome them). When you’re feeling stressed, ask for that person’s support. Schedule calls, lunch or coffee breaks to chat about what’s bugging you. Their perspective could surprise you. These “loving challengers” can help you see what you can’t. They can motivate you, remind you of your commitments, offer constructive feedback, or give you the push you need to get out of that negative space.
A final note: practice makes positivity
Before providing progressive and compassionate care to animals, you first need to pay attention to your own needs. If you succumb to negativity and allow the stressors in your life to dictate the way you act, behave and think, it affects your career, your relationships — even your immune system.
Countering negativity means adopting a positive mindset, but it doesn’t happen overnight; you have to use the above practices regularly to really see a difference. And as a member of the NVA community, you also have access to a range of other tools and resources for self-care, including workshops and retreats. So the next time you are feeling a lot of pressure from work or life, ask yourself: Do I want to focus on the negative today or motivate myself to overcome this challenge? Do I want to complain about my obstacles, or do I want to get through this, knowing something great can happen when I do?
Your brain may be hardwired to dwell on the negative, but when you make a conscious effort to think positively, it can have a powerful effect — not just on your waking life but also on your sleep.