“Stress is not a silent killer, if you don’t believe me listen to your self-talk.” Several weeks ago I posted this phrase on my personal Facebook page, and I’ve been thinking about it this week. Many medical experts agree, stress will kill you. It causes insomnia, high blood pressure, irritability, digestive issues, and more, depending on the level and intensity of the stress. It also can kill your will to live your best life by casting shadows of doubt and despair over your goals, your relationships, and your creativity.
Stress seems to be quite a dangerous influence over our lives, but is that partly because we give stress more power with negative self-talk? That’s the thing I’ve been thinking about as I look for ways to control my own stress levels. In the same way that negative people can suck the life out of you with their constant diatribe of “what if’s,” and “that will never work,” and the ten thousand bad things that happened when someone they don’t even know tried that. Our own self-talk can have the same effect.
How many times have you said to yourself, “how could I have been so stupid? Or “look at the mess I’ve got myself into!” Or worst yet, “I’m never going to get out of this mess,” followed by a million things that could go wrong. The worry that comes with stress builds an anxiety for the unknown future that’s staggering. Our imagination seems to take that ball and run away with it. If you are like me, you discover that none of the “what if’s” ever really happen. Of course, this is after weeks of sleepless nights. Okay enough of the downside. I discovered one way to turn my stinking thinking around that I would like to share. (Actually it’s an additional way because everything I’ve written before helps too!) It’s called a Gratitude Journal.
A Gratitude Journal forces you to look at and think about all the good things that are happening in your life. This is an easy journal. You don’t write paragraphs; you make lists. For example, if you are feeling sad, try making a list of 25 to 50 things (actual things) that make you happy. Don’t try to find big, extravagant things, just the simple things like playing with your dog, smooching with your boo, a cup of hot chocolate – if it makes you smile it goes on the list.
Another way the Gratitude Journal can change your self-talk and negative thoughts is by making a list of the things you are grateful for. If your life is anything like mine, you have lots of the things to be thankful for that you don’t really take the time to think about. (Partly because you’ve moved some of those things to your bucket list to think about later.) For example: looking at the sky in various stages of light and darkness fills my bucket, I’m really thankful for house with skylights. I’m really thankful for a dog that doesn’t chew on things and doesn’t bark a lot. (I had a dachshund once that literally chewed the baseboard off the wall.) I’m so very thankful for a husband who let’s me be me and loves me.
The more bogged down in stressful thoughts you are, the longer your list should be. Try it! 50 things you are thankful for right now. Then you can take your Gratitude Journal up a notch by adding some pictures (photographs or magazine cut outs). You could also add quotes, perhaps something nice that you heard or read, or maybe something a loved one said to you.
Your Gratitude Journal is a great exercise just before bedtime. It moves your mind to a more joyful place which will help you rest and sleep. We all know that stressful thoughts love to show up when we lay our heard on the pillow. Its really important to replace those thoughts with positive ones and shut the negative down.
Last thing – add a screen shot of one of your Gratitude Journal pages to your phone, tablet, or computer wallpaper as a reminder that everything in your life isn’t difficult. Most of us have a lot more going on that’s good in our lives than bad, but we’re bent toward focusing on the problems. It’s time to focus on the pleasure. Let me know what you think and of keeping a Gratitude Journal. I’d love to know if it helps to make a positive difference in your life.