“In every life we have some trouble. When you worry, you make it double. Don’t worry, be happy.”
If life were as simple as Bobby McFerrin sang in his popular hit, there wouldn’t be so many depressions, anxiety disorders or addictions worldwide anymore. We could throw all antidepressants and tranquilizers in the garbage bin, we wouldn’t need a drink or drug to calm ourselves down and numb our feelings and we could leave that bar of chocolate in the cupboard if we feel emotional because of all the worrying. We would be relaxed, comfortable and at ease in any situation, feel good with ourselves and others and just go with the flow. Also we would feel free and light, confident and strong and we would easily adjust to any circumstance. Living in the present moment wouldn’t be an issue, since we would not care about the past or the future. We would all be mindfulness gurus that enjoy life to the max. Life would be as easygoing as a reggae song.
Unfortunately, things are not always that simple as they seem to be. Simply because we have thousands of thoughts each day, many negative. So it’s very easy to get caught up in a train of negative thinking, and once you got on that train, it’s extremely difficult to get off again or to make it stop. The end station is often a worst-case scenario, a panic attack or nervous breakdown. It is serious stuff and the foundation of unhappiness and a lot of emotional and physical suffering in this world.
Being stuck in negative thinking is like being locked up in a mind-prison where you end up without justification, having done nothing wrong. In fact, the negative thoughts are creeping in as unexpected and uninvited burglars and leave behind a mess of uncomfortable emotions that sabotage your best self. Even worse, the occurring feelings of helplessness and powerlessness make you feel like you’re on death row. The joy of life is slowly slipping away. It’s very hard to break out of this since it’s a vicious circle of misery and it feels there’s no way out.
When a general anxious, angry or unhappy mindset is being created, it is more likely that new negative thinking is being generated. We get stuck in the same old neural pathways, having the same negative thoughts again and again. So slowly we start to believe the stories in our head and identify ourselves and our sense of truth with it. It makes us feel our life is worthless and creates a lack of self-confidence and self-esteem. Since it’s coming back repeatedly it must be true and the circle is complete when our negative thinking leads to self-fulfilling prophecies.
If we repeat our negative thinking all the time, our thoughts become deeply rooted beliefs and we start to behave accordingly, eventually creating situations in which this negative thinking becomes true. For example, when you believe that you are a failure unless you do the things perfectly you’re actually building up a high level of anxiety and you worry that every mistake you’re making would mean the end of the world. You fear that people will judge you for who you are because you’re not able to meet expectations. This implies a very high stress level in your whole system and you’re never fully able to relax since you have to be alert all the time. Eventually you can’t keep this behavior up, because relaxation is needed in order to recover from hard work which leads to better performance.
You believe more and more that you are a failure, since you can’t meet your own expectations and you make mistakes. So you start to work even harder or you get depressed because you feel trapped by your own unrealistic standards. Your body is craving rest, your mind can’t keep it up, but you’re not able to relax and you feel unworthy and powerless. Alcohol, drugs and food might help you to escape and find some relief but just for an instant, because immediately afterwards you feel bad about yourself for taking these substances and being a failure. And then the cycle keeps on repeating itself, breaking down your self-esteem and self-worth. It seems there is no way out. The light at the end of the tunnel is gone and you only see the world through these dark glasses. There’s no energy left to make any changes. Everything feels like a huge deal and a big failure.
So, if we’re stuck in negative thinking we perceive the world in a different way than we normally would. Everything is overshadowed by big, black clouds. Our reality is colored by negativity which makes it an unsafe and unpleasant place to be—not only for ourselves, but also for others. We send out this message through our verbal and non-verbal communication and affect the world around us. The contagious effect of being negative makes people around us start to feel bad too and react negatively as well or distance themselves from the situation, i.e., you. Either way is not positive and makes the situation only worse and is a confirmation that the world indeed only consists of negativity.
“When you worry, your face will frown, and that will bring everybody down, so don’t worry, be happy.”
How to not worry and be happy:
- Become aware of your negative thoughts. Observe your thinking on a daily basis and how this make you feel. See if you can identify certain patterns in your thinking and what kind of negative thoughts are recurring. Also you can make a list of all the things that you worry the most about, how often you think of this and how it affects your behavior, feelings and mood.
- Depersonalize from your negative thinking. Realize that you are not your thoughts. They come and go. You could also give the “inner worrier” a name. This way you’re externalizing your thoughts. It’s not coming from you.
- Let go of judgments. Work on an acceptance-based approach towards yourself and the world around you. Everything is as it is. See if you can let things be without getting sucked in. Coming from a place of acceptance allows you to observe things more from a distance with a neutral perspective. As soon as we have any judgments about something, we’re off on the train of negative thinking. Also, don’t judge yourself for having negative thoughts. This is completely normal and how the mind works.
- Focus on the present moment. In the here and now there are no worries; they are all based on something that has happened in the past or might happen in the future. In the present moment everything is okay. Be in the here and now by opening up the senses, becoming aware of your surroundings and focus on your breath.
- Be more compassionate towards yourself and others. Become aware of all the expectations you have of yourself and others. Be honest and investigate if this is realistic or you’re demanding too much. Listen to what you really need. Focus on nourishment of the body, mind and soul. Be kind to yourself and others. Practice gratitude.
- Focus your attention. Everything you give attention will grow. If you keep on feeding the negativity it will become bigger and bigger. Therefore, when a negative thought comes up, see it for what it is (just a thought), allow it to be there (acceptance) and then decide to not go into it and instead focus your attention on something else in the present moment: e.g., the breath, your surroundings. Furthermore, create a couple of happy images for yourself—for example good memories, items on your bucket list, things that make you smile within. Focus your attention to that.
- Give yourself some worry time. Assign a certain fixed time for yourself every week in which you allow yourself to worry and think negatively about all and everything. You can save all your negative thoughts that come up during the week for this moment. By the time it comes, a big part of these thoughts are already gone.
- Release tension through deep breathing and yoga. Negativity causes a lot of stress in the body and mind and learning how to breathe properly and releasing tension through a yoga practice can be very beneficial in getting the it out of your system.
- Break out of your comfort zone. Do something crazy, outrageous, the opposite of what you would normally do. By doing this frequently, you will boost your self-esteem and it generates a lot of positive energy and endorphins, the hormones that make you feel happy and alive.
- Smile. Smile to others everywhere you go. Smile to yourself in the mirror. Even if you don’t feel like, just do it. Surround yourself with people that make you laugh. Laughing is one the best remedies to get out of our negative thinking. It helps to reconnect you with the body, the breath, the present moment and makes you instantly feel good. It brightens up the world and makes dark clouds pass by.
“Don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t do it. Be happy, put a smile on your face, Don’t bring everybody down like this. Don’t worry, it will soon pass, whatever it is, Don’t worry, be happy.”