STAY­ING POS­I­TIVE IN A CHAOTIC WORLD Life­style fac­tors to change the way you feel about your world

Great Health Guide - - CONTENTS - Dr Ash Nay­ate

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.


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.


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.

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