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Coping With Stress: How to Lean Towards the Good

We’ve all had those times when we find ourselves spiraling into negative thoughts, pessimism, and dwelling on the bad stuff around us.
Sometimes, our situation is genuinely difficult and painful. Chronic stress, pain, and uncertainty are part of life.   And we might lose hope and stop noticing the positive things around us. It’s during these moments– when we can sink into negativity-  that it’s important to also see the positive, and mindfulness can train our minds to notice the good around us.

I'm not talking about ignoring or minimizing what we’re feeling. We need to make room for those feelings—acknowledge them, process them, and take care of ourselves. But we can also allow ourselves to see the positive things—because they are there too.
Mindfulness practice helps us focus on the present moment, reducing the tendency to overthink past events or worry about the future. By paying attention to current experiences without judgment, we can break the cycle of negative thinking and rumination.
When we are in chronic stressful situations, this can be very challenging. We might feel a loss of control, uncertainty, fears about the future, and simply run down and burned out.

Here are a couple of examples of living with chronic stress: 
Imagine someone caring for her elderly mother with Alzheimer's. She might feel overwhelmed with negative thoughts like, "This will never get better. I’m losing my life to this disease too."  There might be small moments of connection or seeing the ups and downs in her mother’s condition, but she feels overwhelmed by the constant caregiving and the nature of the disease. She struggles to appreciate moments of lucidity or the support from friends.
Or consider someone living with chronic pain, such as chronic back pain. They might feel flooded with negative thoughts like, "I’ll never feel normal again. My life is ruined by this pain." Despite having good pain management days and support from family, there is a struggle to see beyond the daily pain and limitations, not to mention the fear of future pain overshadowing any relief they might experience.

We end up becoming overwhelmed, lost in intense emotions, and fearful of the future. Mindfulness increases awareness of our emotions, making it easier to recognize and address them before they become overwhelming. Regular mindfulness practice helps develop a calm measured response to stressors rather than reacting impulsively.
Mindfulness also helps us accept things we can’t change, helping us cope with uncertainty and change more effectively.

Psychologist and author Rick Hanson developed a practice called “taking in the good” or tilting towards the good. He talks about the negativity bias, which means we tend to remember negative experiences more than positive ones. In the days of the cavemen, this was a good thing—it helped them see potential dangers and protect themselves to survive. Today, it’s less helpful. Focusing more on the negative makes us more anxious, depressed, and irritable. We also miss out on so much of the “good stuff” in our lives.
For most of us, painful experiences are more memorable than pleasurable ones. We’re very good at overlooking our blessings and dwelling on all the bad stuff. We might have a full day, and on the way home, someone cuts us off in traffic or the store is out of what we needed, and that’s what we tell our spouse or roommate. That’s what sticks.
Some of this is built into us, and some we learned growing up. 
How can we hang in there when everything around us is so difficult? How can we keep our faith or trust that things will work out when there is so much chaos around us?
Practicing to take in the good can give us a pause and help us cope with challenges. We might not even notice joy because we’re distracted or we get so used to our experiences and surroundings that they become ordinary. Consciously paying attention can help us appreciate things we didn’t notice.
And it’s a practice, so it’s good to repeat it. That’s how it sinks in. It’s not a one-time exercise.
The good news is that we can train our minds to notice the good and positive too. We can work with our minds and our thinking by making the conscious decision to notice our negative thinking but also notice something positive and incline our minds to the good. Over and over, just like we do in anything we practice or want to learn.

We are going to find something in real life, in real time, that is positive. Something we appreciate now.
Let’s start by taking a moment to get comfortable in a seated position, in a chair, or on a mat or cushion on the floor. Notice your breath. Not thinking about it, or breathing in a certain way, but really feel it coming in and going out. We can learn a lot by observing our breath. What do you notice when you observe your breath? 
Is your mind distracted? Are you thinking about the breath rather than experiencing it? Are you anticipating the next breath? Settle back and let the breath come to you. As many times as you need, remind yourself to let the breath come to you. Feel it.
This is how we can give ourselves some space to rest, which can help us deal with whatever life is dishing out. pause)
Another way we can deal with challenges is to notice the positive. Again, I’m not talking about ignoring or minimizing whatever we’re feeling. We have to make room for that—acknowledge it, process it, deal with it, and take care of ourselves.
Can you find something that is positive, joyful, or a blessing right now—kindness, love, or something else? Notice it. Notice something right now in your life that is positive. It could be anything. We overlook it when we dwell on the negative or bad. 
Take a moment and notice some things around you right now in the room or space you are in. As many things as you notice. (Pause)
Choose one and really sit with it and feel it. When you have it in your mind, let it sit or sink in. Breathe it in, imagine it, feel it, see it, and use whatever other senses you want, (Pause)
What are you feeling? Happy, moved, excited, content, at ease? Something else? 
How is your body responding? What sensations in the body are you noticing? What about thoughts? (Pause)
These blessings are right here in our everyday life. 

So here’s a challenge for you for the next two weeks: Actively and consciously train yourself to notice the blessings in your life right now, moments of joy, gladness, well-being, satisfaction, consciousness, kindness, peacefulness, comfort, ease, happiness—whatever word you like. Notice these as they show up in your life in real time.
And when you do notice such a moment, pause. Really soak it in. Notice how you feel about it emotionally. Notice how your body responds–, are you smiling? Are you taking in a slightly deeper breath? Sighing in pleasure? Do you feel more excited? Happier? Lighter? Moved? Pause and take it in.
Try this– six times a day. Every day. For two weeks.
Doing this six times a day, about 15 seconds each time, for two weeks, can counterbalance your natural negativity bias and ramp up your joy and resilience.
Take the challenge, and let me know how it goes!



The next mindfulness courses will be in September 2024. For more information (עברית):

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