Deep down, despite our differences as human beings, we all want the same basic things in life. The well – known Maslow Pyramid best defines our needs as physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Logically, our mental state greatly depends on whether these are met or not. If you have just lost your job or a loved one, it’s perfectly normal to feel a wide range of debilitating and toxic emotions. In fact, in an otherwise mentally healthy person, the period of grief will usually consist of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (On Grief And Grieving, Elisabeth Kübler-ross).
However, very often, negative thought patterns can take over one’s life even when they have all the boxes ticked in terms of their accomplishments and needs.
Why is this? Well, let me start off with the premise taught by my former pranayama teacher in Thailand, O. J. Tiwari , i.e. that the mind is negative by nature. In fact, both yoga practice & philosophy revolve around the idea of transcending the obstacles of the mind in order to be truly free. We can see these examples so clearly in certain wealthy & famous people who suffer from addictions and depression even though it doesn’t make sense from our perspective. I mean, they are rich, attractive, successful, what’s there to be negative about? Well here is the thing. Our personal traumas, family traumas as well as our own defense mechanisms are hard wired into our brain and nervous system, and as such, hijack our emotional state before we even have time to react rationally . These mechanisms are very hard to change without a conscious effort as they run deep in our unconscious mind. Also, our emotions are run by chemicals and hormones in the brain, which also play an important aspect of approaching our mental health. Women are especially sensitive to hormonal changes on a monthly basis and not to mention when they enter the stage of menopause. Add life’s pressures to the list, fears and disappointments, and here you are, either – an emotional time bomb ready to explode, or a resigned lifeless zombie just waiting for life to be over. So what can you do? Obviously, as mentioned previously, if your negativity has acute and justified reasons, you need to honour these emotions and give yourself time and patience to overcome them. Getting professional help is advisable.
However if you are chronically feeling bitter, pessimistic, angry or sad without an apparent reason, you may want to look into the following ways of transcending those demons that reside permanently within you.
- Evaluate your relationships- Misery loves company. The addict couple, the narcissist and co-dependent, the couple bonded by trauma, toxic friends who only gossip and belittle are just some examples of toxic relationships. Seriously, stop for a moment and evaluate your relationships. Are your friends/ family members / partner/s helping you grow as a person and lead a constructive life or are you stuck in mediocre and dysfunctional relationships? Are YOU a positive influence in THEIR life or are you consciously or unconsciously dragging them down? Are you mutually detrimental to your mental wellbeing or are you allowing each other to shine? Although it is often said that we recognize our true friends in difficult times, it’s also true that our true friends will be supportive of us when we shine, stand out and are happy. The idea here is not to put the blame on the environment, but to take note of the quality of your relationship dynamics. It may sound as a bit of a cliché, but the people around us mirror our inner state of mind. On a pragmatic level, if you smile at someone who seems to be in a foul mood, more often than not, they will smile back. In the same way, be the support you want to receive from others. However it is also important to set boundaries as we are deeply and continuously influenced by our environment. It is very difficult to go against herd mentality and sometimes the only way forward is to distance ourselves from what we perceive as a toxic surrounding. The same goes for personal relationships. If you do your part and work on being positive, the toxic friend, family member or partner will either change for the better, or they will organically disappear from your life. Let every relationship be an opportunity for growth even if at some point you need to move on.
- Limit your social media exposure – as mentioned previously, the mind does tend to jump to negative conclusions first and although this pretty much happens by default, you can become aware of this mental tendency and work WITH it, as opposed to against it. Social media is an especially fertile ground to generate and receive unnecessary toxicity. Although we all have beliefs and ideas to communicate at times, compulsive trolling or reading other people’s trolls only adds fuel to the fire. Select your content and don’t hesitate to block accounts and feeds that thrive on negativity. At the same time, select your words and be respectful. You can make a point without being smug and mean. Just remember that ultimately, your negativity will hurt you more then it will hurt the other person.
- Embark the path of healthy living – Nothing can wipe off a cloud of negativity as well as a good workout, yoga practice, walk , run or any other form of getting that body moving. Although there are times our body is compromised due to surgery, illness or disability to work out, more often than not, this is not the case. Do I need to remind you that Pilates started off as a rehabilitation technique in the 1920’s for hospitalized war soldiers and was later adopted by dancers healing from injury? So basically, there is pretty much always something you can do. Although yoga is the champion of refining the nervous system as a means to finding mental peace and wellbeing, I encourage you to find an activity that resonates with you and stick with it. You will notice there will be less agitation and more vital force running through your body. At the same time, do look at your diet and habits. Alcohol, smoking, caffeine, refined sugars and carbs heavily inflame and aggravate the body & mind. Stay hydrated, eat plenty of fruit & vegetables and avoid chemically processed foods. All these can contribute to your increased stress levels.
- Work through your traumas and limiting beliefs – I can’t stress enough, how important it is to go deep within and gain understanding of what affects your internal dynamics. Secrets, shame and painful memories can really weigh one down and not allow them to prosper. Are you carrying too much weight on your shoulders or are you mentally stuck in the past? No matter what your story is or what you went through, don’t let your past determine your future. However, it is necessary to integrate these events and not stigmatize them, as means to grow and evolve. The memories may never go away, but by putting things into perspective, they will no longer override your attempt to be happy. Sometimes the most trivial issues from childhood can affect how we look at the world today.
- Be constructive and not destructive – You have one life (and yes we can argue there are many more lives to come, but we are only 100 % certain about this one). In any given time we have a choice to be constructive or destructive. We all have that one friend who is constantly complaining about how horrible their job environment is and yet they never attempt to make a change. And then you offer them advice on how to go about changing their job, only to come across more rants and buts. The more you try to help and look for solutions, the more they look for additional obstacles and negativity. Perhaps that negative person is YOU, trying to sabotage any potential atom of light and positivity within you. If you have a friend like that, let them be and don’t waste your time on them as they will suck the life out of you. They obviously have their life path to follow. IF THIS IS YOU and you know being destructive isn’t working for you, you need to start training yourself to change these habits. Start with small things. When you get the next urge to criticize someone, instead, try to look for the virtues in that person. If you are stuck in a situation that depresses you, make a list of possible solutions. The idea is to do the opposite of what your destructive nature would normally do.
- Practice “the art of living” – it’s hard not to mention this crazy time of pandemic as a good example of cultivating love & light in times of turmoil. People are crankier than ever and it’s really challenging to maintain mental balance. Every time you feel stuck in your own head, go ahead and do something kind for someone else. It may be a family member or someone in need you barely know. Being selfish inflames the ego, being selfless dissolves it and as such minimises our suffering. Instead of complaining, count your blessings. The more you focus on what you already have and are, the more abundance you will attract. Let people be. Don’t explain yourself to anyone but don’t fall into the trap of trying to change others as you will only waste precious energy and be resented for it. Don’t waste time on envy. Instead, be inspired by those who have achieved what you always wanted. It means, it is possible. And for the love of God, don’t gossip. That is the lowest level of human nature. If you have issues with someone, speak to them about it in person or distance yourself from them but don’t speak badly of others. Every day, do, watch or read something that will make your laugh. Learn something new. Have projects and be diligent. Don’t have expectations and you may get pleasantly surprised. Love and own your life no matter where you are at this point. Say thank you every single day.