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Pregnancy and parenthood can be stressful, no question. Whether you're having trouble conceiving, managing anxiety during pregnancy, or feeling overwhelmed by your new baby or demanding toddler, it can be easy to spiral into a dark mood.
That's why it's important to break the mental swirl as early and often as possible. The more you worry, the more easily your brain becomes "wired" for anxiety and negativity.
When you focus on your fears, harp on imperfections, or replay past events, your brain becomes flooded with stress hormones like cortisol. Being constantly stressed over a long time period can increase your risk for serious health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety, and depression.
How can I be more positive?
There are many ways to shift yourself to a more positive and optimistic mindset, including meditating regularly, practicing gratitude, and using positive self-talk. Emphasizing the positive can help you feel better, and modeling it for your kids can help them bounce back more easily from setbacks.
Positive self-talk is a well-studied brain-training method. Often used in sports, positive self-talk can stop negative thoughts that can interfere with mood, focus, and performance. Researchers are finding it can play a role in improving resilience in adults and children.
How does positive self-talk work?
We talk to ourselves with an "inner voice" that acts as a coach, critic, and companion. You might hear your inner voice say things like, "Woohoo, you saved 10 bucks!" or "Don't forget the milk," or "Great, you broke another glass. You're so clumsy!" Sometimes that inner voice can be really mean.
At its heart, positive self-talk is a simple idea: Recognize your negative thoughts and patterns, and replace them with positive ones. It can take a lot of practice to change your inner voice, but here are a few pointers.
Check in with yourself often. Try to be mindful of what you're telling yourself and how it's making you feel.
Look at the big picture, and don't blame yourself. According to Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, optimists see setbacks as temporary and situational, and don't take them personally.
Reframe in a positive way. If your child is sad about missing a playdate, you'd find a way to cheer her up with another fun activity at home. Do the same for yourself – find another way or a silver lining.
Change how you talk. Remember to be gentle and kind to yourself. Talk to yourself the way you'd speak to a dear friend. Some researchers believe it helps to talk to yourself in the third person because it lets you distance yourself from your emotions.
Here are some examples of how you can turn negative talk around:
- Perfectionism: "I'll never get the room finished before the baby comes!"
Instead: "I'll just get the changing table together for now. It doesn't have to be done yet."
- Beating yourself up: "I can't believe I ate that tuna sandwich for lunch. What if the baby's getting too much mercury? I'm going to be a terrible mom."
Instead: "One serving of tuna isn't the end of the world. I'll keep eating healthy and pick something else next time."
- Taking things personally: "She canceled our coffee date again. I wonder if she's avoiding me?"
Instead (you're Kate): "Kate, everyone gets busy, it's not personal. Just enjoy the 'me time' today and try again next week."
This may feel hard, but don't give up. Changing habits takes practice, but in time you can learn to be your own best cheerleader.