Sometimes, like everyone else, I find myself feeling stressed and negative. I had been reading about affirmations, and thought I might try them on for size. According to the website dailypositiveaffirmation.com, “To maximize the effects, positive affirmations must be uttered and thought of repeatedly. Studies claim that repetition imprints the affirmations into a person’s subconscious mind. It is also a widely held belief that ideas or statements that have been stored into one’s unconscious or subconscious processes can easily affect your behavior.” Great, I thought!

So I found a great website, loaded with positive affirmations, filled two index cards with my favorites, and inserted them into the pages of a purse-sized photo album that I carry with me. Voila, I thought! An instant fix for when I am feeling down or beating myself up.

I may as well have written CHEER UP on an index card, for all it worked. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes they do the trick. But sometimes…sometimes my dark mood is more tenacious, less willing to release me from its fierce grip. According to an article at Suite101.com, this is normal, too. “At first, it won’t feel right to say “I am a lovable person” if there’s an inner mental voice that argues otherwise. But over time, and by fine-tuning the positive affirmations that are being used, it is possible to see positive results.”

On these more difficult days, I read the words on the cards in the order they’re written, and they may as well be another language for all they mean to me. I had to figure a way to get myself to a neutral – or at least a less negative – starting point.

So I started paying attention to what has worked for me in the past, so I’d have a useful arsenal of tools for beating the blues, the fears, the negatives…just to help bring me back up on down days.

Upbeat music almost always helps. It works even better when it’s paired with one of the following: either an open car window on a sunny day or energetic dancing. It’s hard to be crabby in either situation.

Being outside, weather permitting, can be soothing balm for a tortured soul. I like to go someplace quiet by myself, and just breathe, basking in my solitude and the beauty of nature. It can be the big rock in my back yard, the foot bridge over the local brook, or my favorite public garden, but communing with nature always calms me and helps put things in perspective.

When I’m in my Deep Pit of Despair, I tend to want to avoid other people – the opposite of what helps. Instead of retreating into a cave, if I get out among people, it often helps. Sometimes, a polite gesture: someone holding a door for you, a smile and a friendly hello, can bring you out of the darkness and back into the light. You can always call a trusted friend to “talk you off the ledge.” That is, after all, what friends are for.

If the weather is uncooperative and your friends are unavailable, pop a favorite funny DVD in the player. There’s nothing like getting involved in a good movie to help you forget your own problems for a while, and if it’s funny, so much the better. Not only does it take your mind off of things, by the time it’s over and real life encroaches again, your mood has been improved and you feel more able to tackle your obstacles head on.

A gratitude journal is a great way to keep things more consistently on a positive note. In his book Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, Dr. Robert Emmons describes research conducted on gratitude that consistently demonstrates that practicing regularly makes people happier. In his own research, Dr. Emmons had people write down 5 things they were happy for, once per week,  for the 10 weeks of the study. At the end of the study, these people were found to feel 25% happier and more positive than before.

Whether you write in a gratitude journal daily, several times a week, or only weekly, it helps you to see what’s right about your life, instead of just what isn’t perfect. The other great thing about a gratitude journal? When you’re feeling off, open it up and read your past entries. Seriously, just remembering the way you felt when you wrote the entry will change your brain chemistry for the better.

Once you’re on a more even keel, then you can look back at those affirmations, and really feel what they say, and follow them to the more positive place they want to lead you.

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