WE are now powering into the New Year and 2024. 

Last year may have brought trials and tribulations, a sense of economic worries and concern about the state the world is in. 

Environmental issues, the Middle East and increasing costs on basic items all add to the stresses of life… and stress affects our mental well-being through the limbic system, the emotional centre of our brain which is very much in tune with our nervous system. 

The greater our life pressures, the more our fear centres become activated and the greater the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, (the accelerator part of our worries). 

Mental health expert Fijaz Mughal

This may lead to tighter skeletal muscles, a general sense of unease, possible catastrophic thoughts and ultimately a low mood. (The latter symptoms depend on the length of time that stress affects the body). All of these create a positive feedback loop and just go on to heighten stress. 

So it is really important to think positively for your overall well-being. 

The more mentally flexible we can become, the better it is for our overall health, in particular for the brain, heart and nervous system.

And fortunately there are various tools that can help in this change. 

For example, ‘box breathing’breathing deeply into the lungs for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 4 seconds and then releasing for 4 and holding for 4 at the end of the outbreath, helps to regulate our nervous system and reduce stress. 

Take a deep breath. Photo: Adobe Stock

Doing this for five or six cycles, followed by a return to your normal breathing for 30 seconds can really help. (Remember to let your breathing return to normal in-between one cycle of the box breathing). 

The greater your ability to use breathing techniques to reduce stress, the less the chance of ruminatory ‘stuck thoughts’ and anxiety building up.

The key though is regular practice and making time to use such techniques to disrupt the chance of anxiety building up.

Another tool that can help people stay positive is to use what we call cognitive challenge to dissect thoughts that bring up catastrophic feelings and thoughts.

A great cognitive challenge, draw four columns with the first column listing the set of thoughts causing you to feel distressed. 

The second column is about ‘believability’ with 0 indicating that there is no real traction in believing a specific thought and 100 indicating you fully believe a thought. 

The third column is where the real work comes in and here, it is important you dissect the thought causing you distress. Questions to ask yourself are (i) is it actually true and (ii) could you be merely forecasting, fortune-telling, or catastrophising? Plus (iii) is there another way of looking at the issue in a way that resonates but is not self-blaming or threatening, and (iv) taking the ‘so what’ approach could bring up a whole set of alternative narratives for you. 

Write them down in this column and the fourth column should then reflect the score between 0-100 that the new, alternative thoughts get.

What this exercise does is provide a tool to reduce initial anxiety, train the mind to view intrusive thoughts in a different way and to realise that the ‘pull’ of negative thoughts CAN be reduced; there are ways of changing these mood-lowering thoughts.

Lastly, one thing that can help people in thinking more positively is to remember that thoughts are just that, thoughts. 

They pass and they have a short cycle of seconds if they are not engaged with. 

Just because you have a thought, doesn’t mean it’s true.

It’s a fact that so many people think that just because they have a thought, it must be true. This is just not the case. 

With these tools in mind, let 2024 be a year where you change your relationship with anxiety, worry, fearful and intrusive thoughts. 

In the end, you are ultimately in control and you can make the change. Let this year be the change that you want.

Give me a call or send me an email for more help and ways to improve your mood and think positively.

If you are in need of private therapy support, you can contact Counselling4Anxiety via info@counselling4anxiety.com.

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