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Over the past year, we have collectively, as a country and global community, experienced higher-than-normal stress levels due to the global pandemic, political upheaval, and social injustices. This translates to many unique and challenging concerns for each of us as individuals.

Statistically, we know mental health has declined for a large portion of the population, manifesting in elevated levels of anxiety and depression. Practicing good mental wellness exercises can be a path to increasing our mental health both in the moment and preventatively moving forward, as well as our overall mental resiliency.

Having mental resilience can help us sustain challenging situations and recover from difficult times. We can grow our “resiliency muscle” with mental workouts, similar to how we develop our physical strength with physical exercise.

In Part Two of this three-part series, we’ll explore thought-shifting exercises that are meant to aide us in examining our beliefs and shift unhelpful thoughts. (Find Part One, on mind-body grounding exercises, here.)

The universal way we all encounter the world is through experiencing events, having thoughts about those events, having emotions about our thoughts, and then taking actions in response to how we feel. This may seem like an automatic experience that we have little control over, but that is not the case.

We are capable of slowing the process of how we take in the world, critically examining our thoughts and emotions, and then shifting unhealthy beliefs so we can have productive interactions. When you practice thought-shifting exercises like these consistently, it will help you feel more internally balanced and experience better outcomes in your relationships.

A good place to start turning to these exercises can be at times when you feel upset, stressed, or sad about an experience. These can be emotions that lead to difficulty and are worth examining to have a better understanding of what you really believe.

For example, if I’m feeling stressed about the pandemic, I might be telling myself that things are never going to get better, which is going to lead me to feeling depressed and hopeless, which might make me isolate myself and stop doing things I like to do. If I can examine my situation more closely, I can identify that some things are getting better, bit by bit, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. By making that internal shift, I can feel some relief and hope, and in turn, stay engaged in my life.

Following are some simple thought-shifting exercises to help you become more aware of your beliefs and emotions and shift yourself to a more helpful state. These can be used as tools for current issues, such as the pandemic, or daily personal concerns that consume your attention.

1. Manage Your Media Intake to Control Your Inner Drama Dialogue

Awareness of the drama dialogue happening in your brain is very important. The more you watch and take in negative information, the more it imprints onto your nervous system. Limit the amount of media you consume and when engaging, choose your trusted media sources and check in with time limits.

2. Level Set Your Thinking

Sit in stillness and acknowledge the thoughts that come up for you about the concern that’s consuming your mind. Write these thoughts down. Now ask yourself, “which thoughts are true?” Make a note. Then ask yourself, “which thoughts are helpful versus harmful?” Make a note. Finally, ask yourself, “what wise action can I take to address my thoughts in a responsive, not reactive way?”

3. Practice Rehearsing More Helpful Thinking

Tell yourself positive, true statements such as:

  • I am healthy now
  • I can make responsible choices for my health
  • I am doing what is in my power to take care of my life
  • I have access to a medical system that can help me
  • I work for a company that is thinking proactively about my well-being
  • I have people that love and support me

It can be helpful to write these statements out and post them where you can see them throughout the day.

4. Shift Your Perspective to See How Time is Benefiting You

What does the gift of working remotely, doing life differently, or experiencing a deeper connection to what’s going on in the world allow you to focus on? How can you choose to create joy in your day-to-day life?

5. Remind Yourself That Crisis Comes to an End and This is a Temporary Situation

You can even post a note on your computer, mirror, or somewhere else you pass by often that says: “This problem will end.”

Jen Elmquist, MA, LMFT

Jen Elmquist, MA, LMFT, is the director and co-creator of Life Time Mind, Life Time’s internal performance coaching program. She’s also the author of Relationship Reset.

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