Ten Ways to Keep a Positive Perspective

Everybody goes through rough patches, times when they feel very alone or perhaps misunderstood by the world. Rough patches can sneak up on you. Things are going along just fine, and then one by one the little things add up and all of a sudden life feels intolerable, a trap set by surroundings or circumstances beyond your control. What do you do when you don’t know what to do? How do you find your way back to a positive perspective when you have forgotten how?

Depression runs in my family and I am well-acquainted with the its defeating weight, with how desperate you feel when you’ve forgotten how to hope. But I have found ways to recognize early on when I have begun to sink, and ways to help me keep a positive perspective, even when things look bleak. Here are ten that work for me (most of the time!):

1) Recognize that what you are feeling is a feeling and not a way of life. Someone once told me that saying “I am depressed” is not ever true. You are not depressed or sad or despondent or rejected or misunderstood. You may feel those things, but they do not define who you are.

2) Recognize that all feelings come and go, and this one will, too, if you let it. Try to remember a time when you felt hopeful and positive about your life and relive it in your mind. It may feel false to do this, but it is a gentle reminder to your soul that you will feel this way again.

3) Breathe. Right now, this second, you are fine. You have all you need and probably most of what you want. Relax and breathe again, and every time that those feelings of desperation rise up within you. Those few seconds of pause throughout the day can keep everything in perspective until hope returns.

4) Feel gratitude. List five or ten things or people or circumstances for which you are grateful. Keep a notebook by your bed and do this every night before you sleep. No other habit has been so effective as this for helping me to remember how truly fortunate I am.

5) Envision where you want to be, how you want things to change or grow. Spend a couple of minutes in meditation every day envisioning in as much detail as you can how you’d like to feel and what you’d like to be different. Everything starts with an idea.

6) Do something, anything, to move you closer to where you want to be. There is something about taking action, however small, that reminds us that we are in fact the active agents of our own lives. Life isn’t happening to us if instead we are making our lives happen.

7) Get a little more rest. So often a down mood really just stems from being overtired. Treat your self to a nap.

8) Be nice to yourself. Treat yourself as you would a friend who was feeling down. You wouldn’t berate a friend and tell him or her to get their act together, and you wouldn’t tell them they were hopeless and they might as well give up. Talk to yourself as you would a good friend and see how well you feel.

9) Take care of yourself. Get some exercise and eat healthy foods. Just like rest, these habits improve your well-being both inside and out.

10) Spend some time in nature. Few things can calm the spirit so well as a walk in the woods or on a beach.

When things aren’t going your way, sometimes the only thing you can do is keep it all in perspective and know that this, too, shall pass.

Simply Say Thank You: Gratitude Journals

With the cold and gray days of winter lingering, it is easy to fall into a bit of a funk. Winter seems so long sometimes, and everything takes more effort, more energy, and definitely more clothing! It is gray outside and at this time of the year, I often feel gray inside, too. One way to feel hopeful again, and to stay on the brighter side of the remaining weeks of winter is to keep a gratitude journal.

I know, I know, you’ve heard this all before and it seems either too cheesy, too time-consuming or unlikely to be something you stick with for any length of time, so why start? And did I mention it sounds a little cheesy?

But if you can keep it simple, a gratitude journal can be a five minute practice at the end of each day that will change the way you approach your life.

A couple of years ago, I moved into my current home. I had never lived on my own before, and while I was excited and really happy about my choice in a new home, I was also feeling very overwhelmed with the ‘what-ifs’. What if the roof leaked or I had an electrical problem? What if my basement flooded or someone broke in? Was I safe here (and of course that meant physically, mentally, emotionally)? It was easy for my mind to spin out of control as I imagined the infinite number of scenarios in which something bad could or would happen.

I knew that this way of thinking was harmful and that this negativity was keeping me from enjoying my new life. And besides, I was OK. Everything negative was in my mind. It stood to reason that if I replaced those thoughts with more positive ones, my approach to this new life would change, too.

I began a simple habit that I still use almost daily to make sure I stay focused on what matters. I keep a small pocket sized notebook in my nightstand, and each night before I go to sleep, I list five things for which I am grateful. On good days, I can think of specific events to list, good and serendipitous things that have happened. On the rest of the days, I can list the basics: my daughters whom I love so much, my special friends who care so well for me, my health, my job that pays the bills, my warm bed, and if nothing else, the fact that I can go to sleep in a few minutes and forget the day ever happened!

Five things… simple. If I spend a minute thinking about each one, that is enough to remind me of my good fortune, and to make every day, no matter how gray and wintry, one to be thankful for!

Smile, You Are Beautiful

I have numerous exercise DVDs, and on one of them, the yoga instructor talks about the connection between actions and feelings, and he says “You get to act how you want to feel.” In other words, you can act your way out of unhappy or destructive feelings, simply by behaving as if you feel in a more positive way. A smile, for instance, triggers something in the brain that instantly improves mood and so even if you have to fake it, that smile works to transform you in a positive way, which can have wonderful repercussions on your day.

I was reminded yesterday that the same is true of appearance. When you feel beautiful, you are, regardless of what you are wearing, whether or not your hair is done, or makeup applied. And one of the most beautiful, and beautifying, things that you can do is smile.

“Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful,” says Zen master and Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. I think with a smile, you also make yourself more beautiful.

Too many of us, weighed down with worry and responsibility, wonder why we look so tired and old. We look in the mirror each morning and catalog all the ways in which we have aged and deteriorated overnight. Focusing on the negative, we fail to truly see ourselves at all.

Yesterday my daughter reminded me how she actively and consciously tries to be nice to herself. It sounded a little strange at first, but what she says and does makes sense. For one thing, she looks at herself with appreciation, like she would a friend. The more time I spend with her, the more I see in myself the tendency to do just the opposite. One way I plan to grow this year is to appreciate myself more for who I am now. If I can learn to see myself as beautiful, I become more beautiful, inside and out.

Yoko Ono once said, “Smile in the mirror. Do that every morning and you’ll start to see a big difference in your life.” That is a simple enough practice that I plan to try this year.