By Divya Singh┃Posted: January 28, 2018
What I love most about the new year is nature’s magnanimity, and how it gives us another chance at making our lives better. The quality of our lives depends hugely on the quality of our thoughts and state of mind. Isn’t this a perfect time, then, to allow the mind to release past emotions and renew itself with positive energy?
In this reflective post, I’ve shared some of my experiences, and the practices I’ve learned that help to clean the mind of the emotional clutter, bringing in a sense of calm, well-being & lightness.
Children as role models
As I sat down in my aisle seat of my Mexico-bound flight, I couldn’t help but notice a young child around 3 years old a few seats ahead of me. He was smiling and jumping in his seat, waddling up and down the aisle, and waving to everyone he saw. It brought a smile to every single passenger’s face. And of course, it would! Children are an expression of sheer joy and enthusiasm. They exude presence. Isn’t that why we are so drawn to children? No matter how stressed we are, or how terrible the day has been, a simple glance from a child can melt away all that stress.
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and one of my idols, cities advice from another amazing female leader, Ariana Huffington, in her famous book Lean In. Ariana speaks about how children can be our role models, especially when it comes to bouncing back from negative emotions related to past situations and events. A child lives totally in the present moment. It can cry one moment, and run off to play the very next moment.
As adults, we wish we could be totally unaffected by what others say. However, experience and research tell us that this is often difficult to do.
Dealing with negative emotions
“Pain is inevitable, suffering is your choice.” - Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Our mind has a tendency to cling to the negative. Like a stuck cassette, we keep replaying events from the past in our minds, and hold on to the related negative emotions for months or sometimes years. These emotions (anger, sorrow, regret, guilt) foster negativity, taking the mind away from being in the present.
Is this practice productive? Absolutely not! Does it help us to solve our problems? Perhaps not. Research says stress from negative thinking creates changes in the brain that may affect the likelihood of mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, and even schizophrenia.
Below are a few of the practices I have benefited from whenever I have felt negative, worried, or anxious. I hope to help get you started on your journey of decluttering the mind of negativity and reclaiming the happiness you deserve!
1. Ask for help
We’re not alone in our journey, no matter how tough life might seem. Trying to figure out things by ourselves can get extremely complicated and stressful. It’s okay to ask for help.
The good news is that today, we have access to several communities and nonprofits whose only mission is to help you alleviate those emotions and live happily again. 10 years ago, when I felt stressed in my job and was dealing with other personal emotional issues, I believed I could sort everything out myself, but in reality, I needed help.
My mom pushed me to take a stress management program with the Art of Living Foundation, and the resulting inner transformation I experienced not only pulled me out of the emotional mess I was in, but also equipped me with tools to remain resilient on a daily basis. The only regret I ever had was wishing I hadn’t taken so long to listen to my mother’s advice, but as the saying goes, better late than never!
Take that step and reach out for the help you need! Make that phone call, whether it is to that coach, friend, helpline, non-profit, or community. You’ll be surprised at how many avenues are available to help deal with your situation and provide you with strength and support when you need it the most.
2. Ask yourself whether this will matter five years from now
Each time I weigh the situation that is bothering me against this question, the answer is negative. My spiritual teacher Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says that looking at events in the context of time and space provides us with a bigger perspective, and helps us to let go and move on. He also says to look at the past as a happening, the present as doing, and the future as a combination of the two. That way you won’t regret what has already happened, brood over what is happening right now, or worry about the future.
3. Write it down
Sometimes using writing as a medium for expressing your emotions helps to alleviate them. Journaling or writing a diary has been an extremely beneficial practice to let go of negative emotions for me. I used to vent my heart out and then tear the paper into pieces. It has a strange decluttering effect on the mind. It’s almost like saying goodbye to negative thoughts and emotions. When we write down a negative experience and related emotions, we become a witness to the event and observe our feelings from a third-person perspective, which helps to release them.
4. Train the mind to take a break with meditation and breathing
Taking time to quiet the mind provides us with relief from the constant barrage of thoughts we usually deal with. This, for me, has been the most effective way of letting go. According to Research by Stanford University, negative thinking and constant complaining have an adverse impact on our brain cells, even causing the area at the back of our brain, the hippocampus, to shrink.
Of course, the mind is not the easiest thing to quiet. I was used to overthinking everything everyone said to me until I drove myself to high levels of anxiety and low self-worth. Meditation and breathing helped declutter my mind, and provided my nervous system with that much-needed break! These practices are now an integral part of my daily routine. They provide my mind with the ability to let go, and therefore feel more in control of my emotions.
Science has now validated what the ancients have known for centuries about meditation. Researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) have found evidence that mindfulness meditation helps to control negative feelings, not just in people who are naturally disposed to be mindful or well-practiced in meditation, but in anyone.
So if you’re anxious about never having meditated before, don’t fret! Even a single session of 15-20 minutes can leave you feeling deeply rested, happier and less stressed. If you’re unsure of how to start, find our introductory sessions at a location near you.
5. Practice gratitude
The ability to feel grateful in negative moments has the effect of a balm on the mind.
I took a strengths finder survey by the VIA institute a few months ago, and to my surprise, gratitude emerged as my biggest strength! Gratitude shifts our thinking from misery to fulfillment and brings a feeling of abundance, allowing us to let go of the negativity. So the next time you feel miserable about a situation, reflect on all those wonderful moments in your life and feel grateful for them. Keeping a gratitude journal and listing 3 things you are grateful for each day works as a great starting point.
6. Be kind
Often when we feel negative, we magnify the situation and worry excessively about the consequences. Engaging in acts of kindness or service gives us an opportunity to make someone else feel better, and that, in turn, uplifts our spirits. Some of the happiest and most fulfilling moments of my life are the ones I have spent volunteering or doing service projects. It has helped me shift my focus from worrying about myself all the time to making a difference for others.
I believe that acknowledging and working through negative emotions is far more effective, as opposed to resisting them or suppressing them. It might take some effort initially, but the resulting inner relief and happiness are invaluable!
Divya Singh is a meditation instructor with the Art of Living Foundation, an ICHWC-certified wellness coach, and co-founder of The Human Prism. Her mission is to support individuals in integrating well-being in their lives.