STAYING POSITIVE IN A CHAOTIC WORLD Lifestyle factors to change the way you feel about your world
IT seems like everywhere we turn, there are more and more horrible things happening around the world and in our own backyards. Between environmental destruction, animal cruelty, child exploitation, human trafficking, domestic violence, natural disasters, poverty, disease and human rights violations, it’s easy to feel despondent, hopeless and disillusioned about our world. Staying positive in a chaotic world is very important.
HOW TO STAY POSITIVE AND HOPEFUL:
It’s important to acknowledge that there are many profoundly troubling events happening in the world, over which we have little control. Being ‘positive’ doesn’t mean denying that these events are taking place or burying our head in the sand. Rather, positivity comes from transforming our feelings of helplessness into hopefulness for the future. From there, we can become proactive about improving the situation for ourselves and others, which puts us in a more empowered state of mind. There are four lifestyle factors that can significantly affect how we feel about our world and our place in it.
THE LIFESTYLE FACTORS FOR STAYING POSITIVE IN A CHAOTIC WORLD ARE: 1. Information overload.
We’re more connected than ever before and we literally have the entire world’s knowledge at our fingertips. We can access news and current events from all corners of the globe. And this is precisely where the trouble starts. It’s no secret that most of the ‘news’ stories we encounter are really ‘bad news’ stories - because negative headlines tend to capture our attention. Our brain is primed to identify potential dangers and the more shocking it is, the more we pay attention. It’s easy to see how our perception of the world can become skewed when we’re constantly feeding our minds with horror.
The solution: filter the information input.
This doesn’t necessarily mean unplugging from the digital world altogether (unless you choose to) - but rather, to simply reduce the information overload. This could be checking the news less frequently, turning off notifications and unfollowing websites and social media pages that focus on negative news. Our goal is to contain our exposure to horrific news and not keep immersing ourselves in the same unpleasant stories unnecessarily and repeatedly.
2. Dealing with discomfort.
Even when we limit our exposure, the unpleasant news stories of the day nevertheless cause us discomfort, like anger, frustration, sorrow, despair, revenge and fear. It’s tempting to avoid or suppress these feelings, especially in the Western world with our ‘just think positive’ culture. Many of us have been raised believing that anger or jealousy are ‘bad’ emotions, when in fact all emotions are simply feedback about what’s happening in our internal and external environment.
The solution: avoid suppressing our emotions.
By supressing emotions, they end up backfiring, because the emotions gain strength and eventually overpower us (e.g. when we lose our cool at a friend, family member, or stranger). When we identify and acknowledge our feelings, they lose power over us and we become better able to work through them and discover solutions to whatever gave rise to the feelings in the first place.
3. Cultivating positive habits.
Even though our brains are primed to
focus on the negative, there’s plenty we can do to shift our habits. This often means making a deliberate effort to focus on positive news stories, acts of kindness and generosity and to see the beauty in ordinary, everyday actions.
The solution: create new habits.
They are like pathways through our brain networks and the most well-worn pathways tend to be our most entrenched habits. To create a new habit always seems hardest at the beginning. We’re attempting to turn a rarely-used dirt road into a freeway, which takes effort and patience. One of the best ways to create a new habit is to tether it to an existing habit, like brushing your teeth or making a cup of tea in the morning. For instance, if your goal is to perform a random act of kindness, use those couple of minutes while the kettle is boiling to brainstorm your actions for the day.
4. Feeling gratitude.
Although gratitude is a positive habit, it deserves a special mention. Gratitude is perhaps one of the most well-studied ways to improve psychological health and wellbeing, with relatively little time and effort. It lifts our spirits and makes us feel more positive about ourselves, our situation and the world. Gratitude is a feeling of genuine appreciation for the things that we have. A common misperception about gratitude is that it’s something we must do, whereas it’s actually something that we experience. Gratitude isn’t frantically rattling off a list of things we’re grateful for, it’s actually experiencing the feelings of thankfulness and appreciation. When we make a habit of gratitude, our minds surreptitiously seek out other reasons to feel grateful, lifting our overall mood.
The solution: practice gratitude.
This can be practiced in many ways and like anything new, can be tethered to an existing habit. Gratitude could involve writing down five things each day for which we’re grateful, reflecting on one positive thing that happened today, or taking some time to express thanks to a specific person. Gratitude can be practiced individually or as a group. For example, just before climbing out of bed in the morning, or as a family or team at the dinner table. Move forward with these solutions for staying positive in a chaotic world.
Dr Ash Nayate is a clinical neuropsychologist specializing in brain function and resulting behaviour. Ash has almost 15 years’ experience working with children and families, supporting them to feel happier, more confident and resilient. To contact Ash please visit her website.