It is a new year; but it is the same bad news when you read the papers and watch the content on TV and social media nowadays. And bad news, dear reader, is bad for your health.
So as we start this year, commit yourself to a lifestyle that does no harm to you. There are many ways to live a harmless life; and staying away from negativity and the bad news bears is highest among them.
In a part of our brain, deep in the limbic system, is the amygdala whose job is as an early warning system alerting us to any immediate danger in the environment. It served us well in that evolutionary stage when we were hunters and gatherers and needed to know if there was a saber-toothed tiger in the bush or another danger lurking. This part of the brain is wired to pick up survival and negative cues and it why we sap up all the negative stories in our newsfeeds. And because we drink it up, content providers dish up more. No wonder that most of the news is filled with war, disasters, disease, corruption, incompetence and other distressing stories! Alas, for every seventeen negative news reports, there is only one good news report.
Possibly because of this survival remnant in our brains, studies have shown that we have a “negativity bias” which makes us hungry to hear and remember bad news. In laboratory experiments, people respond quicker to words like “cancer, bomb, or war” than to works like “baby, smile or fun.” And if we have a negative view of the world, we are more likely to cue in to information that confirms this bias. And even worse, stimulation of the amygdala causes intense emotion, such as aggression or fear and making us more likely to contribute to negative events in this world.
Now, this article is beginning to sound like bad news, too. So you can either practice your New Year’s Resolution and stop reading it; or read on with the hope that the author, I, will offer some remedy to this gloomy picture. Luckily, I am on board with your hopes.
Yes, we do have higher brain centers in the cortical region that are responsible for positive emotions like empathy, compassion, resilience and optimism. These brain centers evolved because positive emotions allow us to live longer and to survive as a species. It is when we work together that we are at our best. The more we cultivate positive feelings, the better we will get at it.
What are some of the things we can do when confronted with negative thoughts or negative emotions from within or from others? First, know that you can control your thoughts. You can actively stop a negative thought and reframe it to a positive one. Learn about how we distort our thinking when we catastrophize, jump to conclusions, over generalize, etc. and make things/ events seem worse than they really are. Instead of seeing the glass as half empty; see it as half full. Secondly, be in the presence of the people you love and are loved by. Bathing yourself in the positive emotion of love can neutralize negativity. If alone, you can view photos of your loved ones; or even looking at photos of holy people and saints. The visions of their peace and serenity will rub off on you. And lastly, you can simply leave a place or person that permeates negative vibes and return when the emotions have subsided, if ever.
The key is the ability to be aware and to modulate your internal states so you indeed know when negative thoughts and feelings are creeping up and taking over. And there is no better tool than learning how to meditate. Through our yoga practice, we learn to control our body and breathing so that we can withdraw from sensory overload and learn to concentrate the mind. In this way, we can learn the skill of meditation and Self-awareness which opens the doors to beyond negativity and positivity into bliss. Join us in any and/or all of our meditation workshops in the studio we plan to offer in 2016.
I heard it best from British author James Allen who wrote a long time ago something to this effect: Guard carefully your thoughts. What you think about will be what you speak about. What you speak about will be what you do. What you habitually do becomes your character. So if you think you are locked into a specific ‘character’ or ‘personality,’ think again. You are what you think; so think yourself into a Happy New You!