Health and Wellness

Three Strategies for Breaking Negative Thought Patterns in Minutes

Americans have been managing heightened stress for months now. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, half of parents are reporting significantly high levels of stress as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Add in the more than 60% of Americans who report elevated stress at the holidays, and it's a recipe for tension soup!

Thankfully, there are other quick science-backed ways to center yourself and find calm when the stress begins to feel overwhelming.

Do a Quick Reality Check. If you find yourself worrying over something you think might happen or are imagining, you can take a page from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to ground yourself in what is a much more likely outcome. CBT—which is based on the idea that unhelpful thoughts or behaviors can lead to emotional distress—is a treatment for anxiety. You can do these steps in your head or write them on a piece of paper (which may help you better take them in).

  1. Identify what you are worried about happening and what the actual likelihood of it happening is (these are two different things).
  2. Figure out your best case scenario and your worst case scenario and then guess which is more likely.
  3. Ask yourself what has happened in the past when you have had a similar worry (chances are it was not nearly as bad as you imagined it).
  4. Come up with a plan of what you would do in the unlikely event that your worst scenario comes true.

With practice, you should begin to poke holes in the stories your worry is telling you and find yourself grounded in a much more likely reality.

Try Mindfulness Meditation The word meditation can sound intimidating. Maybe it conjures images of monks on mountaintops sitting perfectly still and silent for long periods of time. But the fact is that mindfulness is a pretty simple concept. It’s learning to pay attention to the present moment you are in without judging it, and it is a proven stress reliever that you can learn to do by simply practicing it. There are lots of good apps—including Insight Timer, Headspace, and Ten Percent Happier—that offer guided meditations and introductions to mindfulness, and if you're an Amazon employee, there are plenty of free benefits you can explore here. Navigate to the ‘free’ section for mindfulness resources.

Here’s a quick intro if you want to try it right now.

  1. Set a timer for 5 minutes
  2. Get in a comfortable position, sitting or lying down.
  3. Close your eyes.
  4. Start by paying attention to your breath either as it comes in and out through your nostrils or as it makes your belly rise and fall (whichever is an easier place to notice it for you).
  5. If paying attention to your breath feels a little too vague, try counting to 10 (when you get to 10, start back at 1) or saying a calming mantra such as, “May I feel peace.”
  6. When your mind inevitably wanders into thought, just notice that it has wandered (without being judgmental about it) and then return to your breath, counting or mantra.
  7. Know that your mind will wander repeatedly and that’s perfectly ok. In fact, it is the human condition. The mindfulness comes in noticing your mind has wandered and returning to the present moment. Again and again. The more times your mind wanders, the more practice you will get!

Move Your Body For Five Minutes You probably know that aerobic exercise releases feel-good hormones called endorphins and has been proven to help reduce stress and anxiety, but you may not know that just 5 minutes can help. And that’s a lot easier to fit into your day than a three-mile run. But when you just need to shake loose your worries, five minutes can be a big help. Just search for “five-minute workout” and you will find everything from beginners’ yoga to a heart-pounding, cardio routine.

If you’re looking for guidance on how to better manage stress during this time, the Care team is here to help. Open the app today to speak with a doctor, nurse practitioner or nurse in minutes.

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