Our brain is a powerful tool. However, most of the time -- particularly when we're strung out -- we use it for evil more than good by ruminating over our worries. And while this isn't necessarily our fault (psychologists theorize our brains tend to default to the negative), we ultimately do have control. This week, it's time to take advantage of it.
As part of our month-long series offering tips for stressing less, we've rounded up a week of thought "hacks" to use when your mind starts to settle on the negative. Add these to your to-do list each day and train your brain to reflect on the positive. You can thank us (and yourself) later.
HOW IT WORKS
Think about the people who are most important to you. Feeling overwhelmed? Talk about your family. According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of California, people who reflect on the things and people they cherish most have a lower stress response than those who discuss matters that aren't important to them.
Do a guided imagery exercise. Bring on the relaxing beach shots: Experts say that the use of guided imagery, or picturing a series of calming images, can put you at peace. Furthermore, studies also suggest that it could help ease stress and pain in cancer patients. Need a few ideas to get started? Try some of these exercises.
Repeat a positive affirmation. Kick stress to the curb with a little positive reinforcement. Recent research published on the blog of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology's Character & Context shows that not only are these mantras good for your self-esteem, they're also good for your health. Repeat after us: "I am enough. I am loved. I am brave." (Or try one of these affirmations instead.)
Carry yourself like a happy person. It's time to talk yourself into walking the walk. Research shows that how you hold yourself is key to how you feel on the inside. If you adopt the mannerisms of a happy person, research suggests you'll actually feel happier too.
Practice mindfulness meditation. Counting the benefits of meditation would be impossible to do on two hands, but perhaps the practice's biggest perk is its ability to keep us calm. Research shows that mindfulness meditation can lower levels of stress hormone cortisol in the body. The practice can also help manage high blood pressure, pain and sleeping problems.
Focus on your breath. Sometimes the simplest way to take care of a problem is also the best way. If you're feeling overwhelmed, focus on your inhalation and exhalation. Whether it's spending some time taking deep breaths or just letting out a heavy sigh, you'll feel better (and lighter) in the face of stress.
Try progressive muscle relaxation. If you're feeling really tense, try using your mind to make your body take action. Progressive muscle relaxation, a technique involving systematically contracting and releasing the muscles, combines the physical and mental components needed to fully relax. Starting at the top of your body while you're lying down, tense your muscles for a few moments, then slowly let go. Repeat until you get to your feet. Check out full instructions on how to do the practice here.
You can find last week's stress-less calendar here.
Illustrations by Alissa Scheller for The Huffington Post.
This GPS Guide is part of a series of posts designed to bring you back to balance when you're feeling off course.
GPS Guides are our way of showing you what has relieved others' stress in the hopes that you will be able to identify solutions that work for you. We all have de-stressing "secret weapons" that we pull out in times of tension or anxiety, whether they be photos that relax us or make us smile, songs that bring us back to our heart, quotes or poems that create a feeling of harmony or meditative exercises that help us find a sense of silence and calm. We encourage you to visit our other GPS Guides here, and share with us your own personal tips for finding peace, balance and tranquility.