Depression, self-doubt, fatigue, unhappiness, despair, failure, dejection, uncertainty, hopelessness, and self-loathing—these are the emotions too many of us nurture, cradling them close and feeding them like beloved children. We help them develop into the monsters that control us. We teach them our weaknesses and encourage them to take advantage of our failures. Why do we so tenderly foster the enemy this way?
Truth is—negativity is easy. It comes without effort, without goals, without having to stand up and fight for it. It at least lets us feel something, rather than the emptiness that we fear may overtake us. Negativity is also addictive in a way as we build up habits in our thoughts and emotions just as we form physical habits. Once we allow negativity in, it also becomes very difficult to free ourselves. It seems to grow, breed, and expand in our minds and our hearts until it overwhelms everything else. We drown in it, huge waves of sadness and self-directed anger crashing over us again and again until we feel we can never free ourselves. This is, of course, a lie. There is always hope.
That does not make what you or I feel any less real, tangible, or dangerous. You are facing a battle and it feels easier to just stay the course, let negativity take you wherever it wants. Don’t listen to it. Don’t you dare! You can be happy again. You can stand tall on a forest path, breathe deeply, and feel contentment roll through your entire soul. Take it from someone who has found himself in that ocean of self-doubt many times, bullied for being smart, for being nerdy, for being too skinny, too pale, too shy, and too much of a host of other things I’ve since come to realize had little to do with me and my insecurities as it did with those doing the bullying.
Growing up didn’t undo all the scars and trauma though. As an adult I’m still plagued with the stigmas placed on me as a child. I still see the skinny kid with braces, glasses, and the inability to tan to save his soul when I look in the mirror. I still find myself feeling small and alone when surrounded by people. I still doubt myself. I wonder if my writing will be good enough. I am afraid and often broken.
None of this stops me. None of it has kept me from writing books, imagining impossible worlds, and finding amazing moments of pure happiness. You are not alone. You can do better, be better. If I can, anyone can, because deep down I’m just a shy kid still trying to figure himself out. Here’s what I’ve found to help. Take whatever does the same for you.
Meditation – Meditation calms the mind and our raging emotions. It also brings awareness to our thoughts. Awareness lets you choose which ones to nurture and which ones to kick to the curb. Pick out the moments of joy, the positive thoughts, and bring them to the forefront of your mind. Push the negativity away like the parasites that they are.
Experience Life – Take time to smell the roses. This is an old cliché, but clichés often hold nuggets of truth. They are repeated over and over again for a reason. There is magic in this world, in the little things we often overlook. Take steps to enjoy the things that make you happy. Feel the sunlight on your bare shoulders, squish your toes in the mud, and inhale the scent of flowers, fresh mown grass, or apples and spices as they bake in your favorite café. Negativity can make it hard to see these, so it will require a little effort, but the reward is well worth it.
Accept – Situations will come along that are out of your control, that tear into any peace you may have found. Tragedy, mayhem, loss, pain, suffering, stress, these are a part of life. Accept that these situations will come along. Do not worry about them or stress about the “what ifs” that could have prevented them. You cannot go back, only forward. Take a deep breath and accept what just happened as a fact that cannot be undone. Only then can you see clearly, begin to fix it, and take steps to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.
Gather Positive Friends – Negativity breeds negativity and positivity does the same. Draw those optimists close. They may drive you crazy sometimes and you may never fully understand how they can see the world the way they do, but their happiness will rub off on you. On the other side of the coin, avoid those who are constantly complaining, the naysayers who feed your inner doubts. They are poison to people like us.
Affirm – Positive affirmations are super cheesy, awkward, and weird, there’s no denying it, but they work. So swallow your pride, look yourself in the mirror, and say something nice about yourself, your life, your job, or any other aspect of who you are. Doesn’t matter if you believe them or not. Doesn’t matter if they are completely true or not. The cheesier the better. Make yourself giggle at the cheesiness. Over time, you will start to believe them and they will become truth.
Make a List – Write down all the amazing, cool, fun, or awesome things you have done recently. No matter how small or large, these things will serve as a reminder that you do have your moments of pure awesomeness. Refer to this list often and add to it with every triumph.
Visualize – Visualizing is another cheesy thing that works. Athletes use it to train their brains to experience successes. Many studies have backed this up. Your brain cannot tell the difference between an imaginary experience and the real thing. The same neurochemicals are released either way, the same synapses fire, the same feelings of accomplishment rise up in your heart. If you have a hard time sitting down and imagining yourself getting that raise, talking to that guy you’ve been crushing on, or rocking that presentation, pick up a good book. Slay some dragons with the protagonist, travel through wormholes, vanquish the monster. Once again, your brain doesn’t know the difference. Books allow you to do things and experience success over and over again until you can create your own.
Develop Gratitude – Make another list of all the things you are grateful for. You will be surprised that the list continues to grow the more you think of it. We’re often grateful for things we even complain about. Little banishes negative emotion like true gratitude.
Laugh – Laughter seems like a hard thing to find during those dark times of overwhelming suckitude. It isn’t. Pick up your favorite movie that always makes you laugh. I have one and I’m sure you do too. Watch a silly animal video on the internet. I recommend the dog flying over the red ball, always funny. Find something or someone to make you laugh. Laughter releases a flood of calming and heartwarming endorphins to pick you up even at the darkest of times.
Find Silver Linings – Another cliché, I know, but another truth. Even the worst of situations has some layer of positivity, even if it is just the experience that makes you a more amazing soul having survived it all. The bullying I went through has made me compassionate, a peace-maker. As much as I would like to go back and keep the words, rocks, and even the punches from hitting their target, I am grateful I am the man I am today. Those helped me become this person who I have learned to love. I wouldn’t trade him away now. You shouldn’t either. Find those silver linings and embed them into your being. You will never regret it if you do.
Take Care of Yourself – It is easy to fall into a rut when you feel crushed and alone. All you want to do is sleep, eat ice cream, and wallow. You can lament your losses, but don’t mistake treating yourself like crap as mourning. Even if you don’t want to, make sure you eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep. Don’t let sleep consume you though. You should be getting your 8-10 hours and no more. Taking care of myself is one of the most difficult ones on this list and I often slip up, but I forgive myself and keep trying. It may feel like you are just going through the motions as you force healthy food into your mouth, do jumping jacks, set your alarms, and shower. You aren’t. These rebuild your damaged ego and help your body repair internally.
Get Help – Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a friend, family member, physician, therapist, church leader, or someone you trust. Going it alone is asking to fall deeper and deeper into yourself and spirals of self-deprecation. Not everyone will know how to help. Some will give you terrible advice, like “get over it” or “it isn’t that big a deal.” Know they mean well and just want you to be happy. Accept their advice as the love it is and talk to them about how you feel. Often the cathartic release of your words is the beginning of healing.
Help Someone – I’ve found nothing dispels negativity and depression like true charity. I’m not talking donating a couple dollars in the grocery store line when the clerk asks. Reach out to someone in need and do something for them. It doesn’t matter if it’s small. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have much to give. The simplest act of kindness will spark a renewal in you. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Leave a 5 dollar bill and a note on a stranger’s doorstep telling them to treat themselves to something fun and silly with it. Ring the doorbell, run, and watch their face from your inconspicuously parked car. Give someone a hug who looks a little down. Shake someone’s hand and pay them a sincere compliment. Put a post-it note on a coworker’s desk with a smile that tells them how awesome they make the workplace. Charity cracks even the numbest heart and fills it with warmth. Trust me. I use this one more than any other. It never fails me.
Good luck to you, whoever you are and however you feel today. You can be happy again. You can overcome anything this world throws at you. You and I are the same. We’re semi-broken at times. We’re sad and lonely more often than we admit, but we’re also survivors and we’re pretty awesome. Today we can step out of the darkness and do something different for ourselves.
You can do this. I have faith in you.
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