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In a previous post I discussed the new information we’ve learned in the past decade about neuroplasticity and the hope it provides those who are struggling with anxiety and depression. So, now that we understand why our brains get stuck on the negative, how can we  change the negative cycles of negative thoughts, feelings and behaviors that get us stuck in a bad place?

Getting our brains away from the negative and focusing on the positive is the key element of changing our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Because we are wired to look for and protect ourselves from negative experiences and emotions, we are more likely to have those as a focus of our attention. But what if we used our powers of attention and focus to bring the positive to mind?

Research from the Positive Psychology Center at The University of Pennsylvania has provided us with numerous methods for increasing our happiness and sense of well-being. I’ll mention just three of the techniques I’ve found most profound personally and in my work with clients:

Expressing Gratitude

  gratitude

Back in November I shared a post about the importance of expressing gratitude. I truly believe (and research provides extensive evidence) that counting your blessings is one of the most powerful methods for reducing anxiety and depression and cultivating well-being. You may briefly think those grateful thoughts in your mind. Then try to outwardly express them in some way: write those thoughts down or share them with a loved one. Focusing our attention on what we have rather than what we lack goes a long way toward rewiring that brain!

Exercise

exercise

I know, I know. We all know we should do it, but we are busy, tried, etc. etc. However, there is significant evidence that exercising, especially exercising outdoors, can go a long way toward calming our nervous system and increasing well-being. Even a 10 minute walk outside once a day has shown powerful results. Give it a try. Your brain will thank you!

Connection

friends

One of the most challenging aspects of struggling with anxiety and depression is that the thing that often would help up the most, connecting with others, is the thing that is the most challenging to achieve. Isolation and fear of being in social settings are hallmarks of depression and anxiety (particularly social anxiety). However, they are also often a part of the cure. Connecting with others can take the form of going out with friends, connecting on-line or even connecting with a pet. Regardless of how we connect, we are wired for connection. We all need contact with others in order to live and thrive.

Rewiring your brain to look for and respond to the positive will take time and commitment, but those wishing to relief anxiety and depression will likely find it worth the effort.