The human brain handles all the complex neuro connections that make us human. Your brain is the container for the soul, love, and your sparkling personality. It controls how we breathe, the speed of our heartbeat, how our senses react, and how we regulate our thoughts and emotions. Your brain is the supercomputer of the best creation ever made, YOU!
Your brain is subject to the environment you are in, just like the rest of our body. We stay in the water too long; we get soggy and gross. –Yup, we get raisin syndrome. And if we stay in it long enough, we feel like wet bread. EWW!–
When loving and accepting people surround us; we develop positive thinking about the world and ourselves. Negativity, hate, trauma, and grief surround us, and it will fill us with anxiety, depression, self-esteem issues, negative thoughts, and more.
These how to guide for positive thinking exercises were written by a former pessimist who used these methods to remove negative thoughts, and they can work for you too! -Have you guessed that the former pessimist in question is me yet?- These tips to achieve a positive mindset will start you on your journey to positive thinking, happiness, and feeling grateful about your life.
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How Stress Changes Your Brain To Be Anxious
My childhood was pretty great! I had great parents and amazing friends. But, I suffered a few traumas in my life. I survived a natural disaster, survived abuse from outside my home, and I survived my attempted murder during a home invasion.
Before, I was a happy, chatty, loving girl. But trauma changes you. It forces negative thinking (catastrophe thinking) to take a hold of your thoughts.
That happy and hopeful brain I had adapted to my situation and helped me thrive in a hostile environment. My brain was trying to keep me alive. But trauma isn’t the only thing that can change your brain chemistry.
High-stress jobs, stay at home parents, and caregivers are prone to prolonged stress. Your brain can become stressed from finances, social media, body chemistry, poor nutrition, and so much more.
Do any of us live a low stress life in this modern age? Probably not unless you live off the grid. -Me thinking about moving to a no name place with lots of land and dozens of pups running around. –
When you become stressed, the brain adapts. It can cause you to have symptoms like:
- Sleep Issues
- Negative or Intrusive Thoughts
- Exaggerated Startle Response
- Mood Swings
- Body Aches
- More Frequent Illness
- and more!
How to Start Challenging Negative Thoughts
Maybe you have had some thoughts similar to these before?
- Why am I like this?
- Why can’t I do things right?
- Nobody loves me.
- I am fat and ugly.
- If I don’t get this done, my boss will fire me.
- My partner deserves better.
- I’m a burden to everyone.
- Everyone I know hates me.
*If you are having suicidal or homicidal thoughts, please contact your Mental Health Care team or local Emergency Department. These thoughts are not normal and warrant IMMEDIATE treatment.* You can find mental health hotline numbers on the resource page. Please take care of yourself. YOU ARE WORTH IT!
You Anxiety is Lying, You Need to Reframe Negative Thoughts to Succeed.
Your thoughts are purely a chemical reaction to hormones released into your body when you experience stress. These chemicals flood the body so you can react to stimulus. Yup, that’s right, the good old Fight or Flight Response.
Our ancient ancestors needed the flight or fight response to react to danger in their environment. Think predators and environmental hazards that could kill them.
We have developed so much, yet our fight or flight response is still pretty primitive. And it’s this response that overreacts to stressors that are not really threatening our lives.
Facing a deadline causes excessive stress. Holidays are stressful because we feel rushed and overwhelmed. We get road rage when we are in traffic because we feel trapped. We end relationships when we feel vulnerable to another person and are uncomfortable pushing through.
Instead of communicating properly, we yell and become aggressive so “the threat” will end, and the cause of our stress will go away from us.
None of these things will kill us, but we are putting space between us and our stressors, so our brains will relax and stop the flood of stressful hormones. We are purely reacting to situations.
Ever get out of a long line that’s making you mad? That is a flight reaction. Ever yell at someone when you can’t take anymore? That’s the fight reaction.
You are not your thoughts. Make a choice to stop and take a breath and break down your thoughts. You’ll find that you really weren’t in real danger, but you were just reacting to a stressful situation. That there are other ways to manage stressors. This is how you slowly retrain your brain toward positive thoughts and you create a new, more positive attitude.
Positive Thinking Exercises & How to Use Them
I hope you enjoy these positive thinking exercises. If you have questions, leave them for me in the comments!
The A.C.T. Method and How to Use It.
When I was a positive reinforcement dog trainer with local rescues, I used the A.C.T. method to train my pups to make better choices. -Yeah, yeah. I know you’re not a dog but hear me out! It will be worth it!-
After my traumas, I was a mess. I was an E.R. frequent flyer for a fast heart rate. -At one point it was so bad I was referred to a cardiologist!- So I got the advice of a psychiatrist and a therapist. But my panic attacks continued to where I was agoraphobic, aka fearful of people and crowds.
My solace was the dogs that I was training. Their anxieties were slowly turning into confidence. Then it hit me. Why couldn’t I do the same for myself?
Born of positive reinforcement training, I used the A.C.T. Method to help me conquer my panic attacks and create positive associations with my triggers, just like I was doing for the dogs in my care.
It just so happens that this method also works when I have panic attacks and PTSD flair ups. This method helps me prepare my body and my brain for the potential stressors by creating new opportunities for me to learn.
Before we jump into how you can start thinking positively, download this FREE printable so you can follow along from anywhere.
How to “Anticipate” Stressors that Disrupt Positive Thinking
A negative brain automatically jumps into “what ifs” and “catastrophe” thinking. How do we get rid of these negative thoughts? We simplify!! Overwhelmed brains are not prone to use positive thinking exercises. You need to simply the process for positive thinking exercises to work for you.
Break Down Your Goals Into More Manageable Steps
When we are in elementary school, we learn to write through repetition. We learn in tiny steps to write individual letters. As we progress, we pair these letters together to form the words we will write all our lives.
Most of us do not learn best by jumping off into the deep in. We learn in steps. After my traumas, the stress of “diving in” turned me into a hermit. Fear paralyzed me.
With the help of a therapist, I learned to identify my emotions and what was causing me duress. I had high hopes that I could go into my city alone and not feel like death was waiting around the corner.
Breaking down my goal of being completely independent was crucial to my success. A trusted friend accompanied me to stores, grocery shopping, and helped me accomplish overwhelming tasks.
Short and smaller tasks helped me gain confidence. I learned to manage my environment. I practiced until I was comfortable. With time, I became the positive and independent woman I am today!
Having trouble breaking down your goals? Try this Goal Setting Worksheet.
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Keep a Positive Thinking Journal to Track Stressors
It genuinely surprised me about the simple things that created negative emotions.
This is the book that helped me love my home again and made it into a safe space so I could begin adding positivity to my life.
Write about what causes you to feel unpleasant. Break it down even further.
Example: I get angry when someone yells at me. > Why are you angry? > I feel hurt. > Why do you feel hurt? > I feel unloved and unimportant. > Yelling causes me to feel unloved and unimportant. Feeling unloved and unimportant is your core trigger!!
I’ll do one more. I hate Toyota. > Why do I hate them? > A man who raped me drove a Toyota. > Why does the Toyota trigger you? > They picked me up in the Toyota. I had to ride back home in it after my rape. I felt trapped in it. > Toyota vehicles cause me to feel trapped. > Feeling trapped is a core trigger for me.
Yelling is probably not a core trigger, but how it makes you feel. I do not feel my core emotions at concerts, stadiums, and cheering for teams, but if I am in bed and hear yelling, I feel a core emotion and become triggered. It’s your core emotions that matter. For me, yelling when I am in bed causes me to feel trapped. While yelling at concerts causes me to feel excitement.
Keep asking questions until you have broken it down to a core feeling. Your core feelings are your true triggers. By knowing that feeling trapped upsets you, you can take simple steps for prevention.
Get Positive Thinking Help by Creating a Support System
Humans are social animals. We live in groups, eat in groups, work in groups, and most of us play in groups. We love getting together! When we’re alone, we have anxiety and depression. Being social is in our DNA!
So why do we keep trying to go it alone? Society pressures us into being a powerhouse. If our ancestors had this mentality, we would be extinct. Why? Social creatures do better in life!
We live in a society where we depend on one another. And humans are THRIVING! Most of us wouldn’t be able to eat the foods we love today, decorate in fun cultural styles, travel to amazing exotic locations, online groups, team sports, and more!!!
Here are a few benefits of having a support system from the Mayo Clinic.
- Improve your coping skills
- Alleviate Symptoms of Stress
- Better Long Term Mental Health
- Better Self Esteem
- Improved Health
- Healthier Lifestyle
How to “Create” Opportunities to Train Your Brain
You will thrive if you create opportunities for yourself. Set yourself up for success and break down your goals into achievable steps. You’re allowed to need a smaller step. Failure helps you see what you need to work on. You can use your support system until your confidence grows. Keep practicing until you get it right!
How to Conquer Your Fears and Encourage Positive Thinking
Panic attacks come from feeling a complete lack of control and a strong sense of fear. Desensitization will help you calm your strong emotions with SLOW & controlled exposure to your fears.
If you have mild anxiety, you can probably try desensitization on your own, but I recommend adding a DR or therapist to your self care plan for stronger fears.
Desensitization takes time and patience. You can’t just have a fear of spiders and expect yourself to jump into a pit of them without consequences. It doesn’t work like that. Slow and safe is the way to do it.
Example: I would give you $100 to open a book and look at a picture of a spider. We would keep doing this routine of payment for looking until you enjoy it. You would get excited to hear about looking at spiders in books. Next, we’d take it to a safe place and look at real spiders, like the zoo. All behind glass, 100% safe, and for your reward, I would give you $500 dollars for each success because you are in a real situation. Eventually, being closer to spiders will be very rewarding for you.
That’s how desensitization works. You get rewarded for facing your fears. Those with social anxiety get to hit up the book store and stock a bag on their way home from a lunch with friends. -Yeah, that would make me want to go to lunch with a crowd for an hour-ish.- Point is, facing your fears gives your rewards! Rewards help you form POSITIVE associations to negative thoughts and emotions.
- Reward yourself for following through on your anxiety.
- Create safe instances for you to practice.
- Don’t do too much too soon. Less is better at first.
How to “Train” Your Brain To Have Positive Thoughts
Positive thinking is more than just flipping a switch and going from a negative Nancy to a positive mindset. It’s just another goal you need to break down! Here is what I do to hack my way to positivity.
Adding Positive Thinking Exercises to Your Day
You need to fight those negative thoughts with positive thinking exercises. For every negative thought, create 3 positive ones. Example: I am worthless.= I am having a hard time right now, but I am doing my best. My emotions do not define me. I am valued by my support system and offer love and friendship.
Talk kindly to yourself and give yourself some love. I tell myself what a good job I did when I clean and how I made my life a little healthier. Tell yourself how proud you are when you get a shower on a depressed day. When you’re anxious, tell yourself you will feel better soon. You cannot show the world love if you can’t show it to yourself.
This is my favorite of the positive thinking exercises because it helps me see the light in every situation, no matter how bleak.
Enjoying the Small Things Promotes Positive Thinking
Enjoy the little things. Revel in that cup of coffee in the morning that wakes you up! That 1lb you lost is amazing and you are one step closer to your goal! Your dog sits instead of jumping on you? Give that boy a treat! And do a happy dance. Every step is worth celebrating and will help you master positive thinking!
Best Positive Thinking Books to Grow Self Esteem
I love a good self-help book. And there are some wonderful texts by some amazing authors that will help you create positive thinking habits. Some are a workbook style, others are more clinical, and then there is just a fun and inspirational read. Here are some of my favorite titles! These are available as E-books and they offer a few on Kindle Unlimited!
The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourne
The Positive Thinking Workbook by Alexa Brand MS LMFT
Confidence and Self Love Workbook for Women by Robert Sanders
These are just a few of the books that have helped me conquer my anxiety and depression, and promote positive thinking. Not only have they helped me heal from trauma, but they set me back on the path to positive thinking. They have helped me take back my life, have a positive mindset, and feel confident again by helping me conquer my inner demons.
My Final Thoughts about Positive Thinking Exercises
I have been there. I was depressed, anxious, and traumatized for many years of my life. There were times I just wanted to disappear. I wanted to be someone else. I wanted my life to just get better.
These positive thinking exercises helped me create a life that I fight for now. A life that I love. And I can now show that love to the world.
With Love, Me hopes that these positive thinking exercises help make your life just a little bit easier.
What is your favorite positive thinking exercise? Leave a comment and tell me!
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