Mental Health//

How to Reframe a Negative Mindset and Shift Your Perspective

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, these techniques can help you shift gears.

Wayhome Studio/ Shutterstock
Wayhome Studio/ Shutterstock

It’s normal to experience feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, and even grief during this coronavirus pandemic, but adjusting to our new normal starts with the small ways we can slowly start to shift our mindset away from fear and towards hope and optimism.

We asked our Thrive community to share the small ways they’ve been able to reframe a negative mindset during this challenging time. Which of these techniques will you use the next time you feel negativity take over?

Tap into your support system

“I have a friend I’ve known since we were five years old, and we’ve supported each other every step of the way. Recently, she’s been worried, knowing this is a challenging time for me.  She sent me a packet of quotes that she created — each on a small slip of colored paper, focused on resilience and trust. I have them sitting right by my keyboard, and every day I read one and put it on the top of the stack to glance at throughout the day. Every time I see them, I am reminded that I have a truly amazing support system. That reminder always helps me reframe.”

—Martha Fluke, customer experience, St. Louis, MO

Give yourself a pep talk

“I believe in the power of self-talk, both in terms of the words we say to ourselves and how we say them. When we’re afraid or hurting, we often say critical or fear-invoking things to ourselves and speak in a fast and elevated tone. In moments of antagonistic thinking, if I catch my mind attempting to ruminate or catastrophize, I calmly tell myself, ‘Stop. Thinking this way is not helping you.’ I also ask myself what I can control in the given situation, and tell myself, ‘You’re resilient. You’ve come through tough things before. You’ll do it again. You’ve got this.’”

 —Dr. Colleen Georges, coach and author, Piscataway, NJ

Hit your mental “delete” button

“Since our brains sometimes work like computers and accept instructions, I like to press my mental ‘delete’ button when negative thoughts start to appear.  If they become more uncomfortable and consistent, I consciously command ‘Delete, delete, delete.’”

—Loreta Pivoriunaite, performance strategist, Lithuania 

Laugh

“I believe it is crucial to search for emotional medicine in a time when we are distanced — which is why belly laughs or simply chuckles can be so powerful. I’ve been using gentle humor by poking fun at myself on social media postings I call the ‘Hell Has Frozen Over Chronicles.’ I poke fun at myself for doing new things which I thought or swore I would never do, and I now find myself doing. Some examples have been ironing cloth napkins, polishing silver, doing home workouts, or simply washing food storage bags. Looking at the lighter side of our stay-at-home activities has become a moment of laughter medicine.”

—Deborah Cole, photographer, writer, and speaker, Austin, TX

Carve out “remembering time”

“When I’m stuck in a negative space, I set aside time to do nothing but remember. I keep a running list of moments and memories that make me smile on my phone,  and I glance at this list when I need to. Some of these are touching moments, some of these are accomplishments, but the vast majority are the times I’ve laughed with friends. You’d be surprised how many of these memories get buried and how useful it is to bring them to the surface all at once.  Even now, I can look at the list and be surprised and think ‘Oh yeah — that one!’”

—Gail Leicht, travel series author, Mahwah, NJ

Repeat a calming mantra 

“While most of my calm during these crazy times has come from staying off of social media and only checking in selectively, my inner mantra actually came from an Instagram post in a friend’s feed. She wasn’t the original writer, but the post read, ‘You are not stuck at home, you are safe at home.’ One word can make all the difference and can change your viewpoint. I am living in a foreign country right now, and have no idea when I’ll be able to see friends or family again. As someone who used to decompress from the stressors of life by traveling, it’s been difficult being stuck at home for what is now 36 days. But when I get cranky, frustrated, or feel downright hopeless, I find that I’m able to course-correct by repeating that simple sentence.”

—Mashon Thomas, entrepreneur, Quito, Ecuador

Send flowers to a friend

“This past Sunday, I created small floral bouquets for friends and left them as surprises on their doorsteps. I took a painting that had been waiting in my studio and loaned it to a friend. They were overjoyed with the surprises and the small bit of new beauty in their day. This is something all of us can do: make something beautiful, give it to a friend, and count your acts of kindness. Research indicates that recounting your own acts of kindness can make you happier.”

—Kristina Libby, chief science officer at Hypergiant and artist, Brooklyn, NY

Call your family

“I have benefited tremendously from stronger connections with my adult children and grandchildren. I have found that they are more available to just talk without the usual haste, and without having any specific goals other than sharing the experience.  This has been especially fun with my 11 year-old grandson, who will fill me full of his experiences and observations without the same adult filters that my children apply. When the mood strikes me, I will just pick up my phone and call him. This is not something that I did before the lockdown and I hope that a new habit will carry on after this ends.”

—Bruce A. McIlnay, attorney, Grafton, WI

Start a celebration jar

“I used to be a worrier, and in difficult times I would get caught up in negativity. In order to change that, I began keeping a celebration jar to remind myself to focus on what’s going right instead of worrying about what’s going wrong. Every time I experience a win, no matter how small, I write it down and place it in my celebration jar. This practice elicits self-compassion and reminds me to always be kind to myself.”

 —Levantay Vanessa, associate professor, San Diego, CA

Adjust your expectations

“Shifting expectations has been the key to keeping my sanity. Those expectations include: what I can get done in a day, how well my child will listen, how much effort goes into making dinner, how rational and pragmatic others around me will be, and, most of all, an understanding that there is almost no chance everyone in this house and everyone at my company is going to have a good day, all at once. Whenever I feel frustrated, I take a deep breath or a quick walk and adjust my expectations.”

—Kate Weidner, agency CEO, Chicago

Try the “release and relax” technique 

“One of my go-to techniques for managing stress under this quarantine is to stop and say ‘release’ in my head when I feel anxious. Then, I relax my jaw and shoulders, and stop my mind from spiraling. I release the tension from each body part and feel relief takes its place. When I feel better, I move on to whatever activity I need to do next. This is also a great practice for whenever you move from one room of the house to another. I recommend doing this ‘release and relax’ technique as much as possible.”

—Farrah Smith, coach, Los Angeles, CA

Create a gratitude list

“Whenever I start to feel I’m falling down the hole of negativity, I reset by going into a gratitude rant, where I list all I have and all I am grateful for. This exercise shifts my mindset to one of appreciation and connection for how truly fortunate I am. I have health, food, a safe home, resources, and support. These are things that I can no longer take for granted. I also find that I end up feeling more compassionate for others as a result of being in a place of gratitude.”

—Karla Kueber, EFT practitioner, Chicago, IL 

Focus on one small thing

“I find that focusing on one small action helps me get through feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, and paralysis from fear. I decide on one very small action I can take at that moment and put my attention toward it. Slowly, I lose myself in that task. When I complete my task, I take a break, close my eyes, take a few deep breaths, and release all tension before moving on. Staying connected with my purpose for serving my community helps me stay focused and productive.” 

—Milena Regos, creator of Unhustle, Lake Tahoe, NV

Try a breathing exercise

“The technique I use to course-correct from stress and anxiety is my daily meditation practice. I set a timer for 12-15 minutes, and focus on a mantra to ensure my mind doesn’t go wandering down anxiety avenue. I also use a breathing technique from Dr. Andrew Weil. It’s a 4-7-8 pattern, where you inhale through and exhale for a couple rounds to calm your mind.  I do this just before bed, and any time I feel a spike of anxiety.”

—Johanna Lyman, culture and leadership development consultant, San Jose, CA

Use visualization

“I use visualization to reframe my thoughts when I feel anxious. I don’t imagine pictures, but rather, I imagine colors and words. So if I find myself feeling overwhelmed with negative thoughts, I will visualize the words I’m thinking, or put my feelings into words and colors. It always works for me!”

—Tessa Hull, success coach, Manchester, UK

Hone in on a future feeling

“One of the techniques I’ve found helpful in dealing with anxiety in uncertain situations is to remind myself that feelings change. When the anxiety kicks in, I focus on the feeling I’ll start to feel when things change and get better. I usually write down the changes that I am anticipating by saying something like, ‘When this is over, I will feel…’ It also helps to remember situations from the past that were similar in nature, and how those anxieties changed and eased over time.”

—Armida Markarova, professional coach and conflict resolution mediator, Chicago, IL 

Have a moment of acceptance 

“It is so easy to wallow in negativity right now, but to get out of that mode, I’ve let myself say honestly, ‘This sucks.’ Sometimes it does, and pretending otherwise doesn’t usually help me. But then I find solace in the fact that I cannot change it. In life, my biggest stressors tend to come from feeling that I can or should be doing more about a difficult situation. Here, I can’t do much about the pandemic except to do my part to stay home and social distance. Something about having less control is actually comforting in a way. I certainly can’t fix it myself, which takes some pressure off of me.”

—Deb Gordon, author and health care expert, Cambridge, MA

Ask yourself how you can see this differently 

“One tip that works for me is to stop, take a breath, and ask myself how I can see the situation differently. This strategy, although simple, is one which provokes awareness alongside the opportunity to open the heart, and quiet the stories of our minds. By asking how can I see this differently, you move from a fixed mindset to one of opportunity and possibility. You challenge your mind to consider other options, perceptions and opinions which in turn creates space for awareness to emerge. It also allows you a second chance to consider the current situation or experience, thus providing movement to a situation where you may have previously felt stuck.”

—Nicola Codling, NHS worker and coach, Mistley, Essex, UK

Try the “rule of ten” exercise

“When dark thoughts or fear start to creep up, I use the ‘rule of ten.’ I ask myself: ‘Is this going to matter in ten days, ten weeks, ten months, or ten years?’ This question helps me to gain perspective and realize that time heals everything. It also reminds me that we often get upset over things that are not that important when considering the bigger picture.”

 —Jelena Radonjic, founder and career coach, London, UK 

Exchange “I have to” for “I get to”

“I used to hate going to the gym, but I still went as part of my daily routine to stay healthy. When the coronavirus crisis began, there was a period in the beginning when I had to decide on whether or not to keep my plans to go to the gym while it was still open. I had tickets to see a concert and decided to skip that before the venue announced that the show was cancelled, but I still went to the gym, making sure to wipe down all the equipment I used. Finally, the gym closed and I had a get-out-of-jail-free card! I didn’t have to go anymore — but much to my surprise, I missed it. The discipline had turned into a habit and was harder to break than I would have imagined. I thought about my gym mindset, and realized I don’t have to go; I get to go. Now that I see the gym that way, I’m challenging myself to apply my new orientation early and often.”

—Dena Lefkowitz, Esq., lawyer and coach, PA

Watch an inspiring movie

“Cinema is what I turn to when I feel hopeless. There is always hope in film. Even in the saddest stories, something remains with us that allows for an emotional escape. I just watched the series Unorthodox on Netflix, and re-read the book as well, which tells the true-life story of a woman who escapes from a claustrophobic community in Brooklyn to find both freedom and her own self in Berlin. If she can muster up the courage to hope, then I definitely need to try to stay positive.”

 —E. Nina Rothe, culture journalist and blogger, New York, NY

Add “yet” to the end of your sentence

“One small thing I’ve been doing to reset my mindset when I start to think about all the things I can’t do right now is to simply add the word ‘yet’ the end of the sentence. For example, rather than thinking ‘I can’t go on vacation,’ I think ‘I can’t go on vacation yet.’ That little change is enough to help me reframe my mindset.”

—Becky Morrison, executive coach, Ashburn, VA

Identify the underlying belief

“One of the best ways to reframe a negative mindset during a challenging time is first to notice it, and without shaming or blaming yourself, identify the underlying thought or belief. For example, if you find yourself feeling down about finances, you might identify the underlying belief, ‘I will never have enough.’ This may feel impossible to change, but one easy thing you can do is to question it, thus allowing your brain to start identifying the positive things that are happening in the current moment.”

—Stacey Hagen, coach and consultant, San Francisco, CA

Do you have a go-to tip that helps you reframe a negative mindset? Share it with us in the comments!

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