10 tactics i use to cope with anxiety

Source / Alex Jones

Anxiety is a perfectly normal reaction to stress (and in some cases very useful to our survival!), but when you're in the midst of experiencing it, it doesn't feel all that normal. As someone with an always-racing mind, anxiety has always been a part of my life. I was an anxious kid, always worried about getting my schoolwork done well before it was due, trying as best I could to plan my day so I'd always be on schedule. (Today friends from childhood still tease me about always having to be at home at 7pm so I could take my nightly shower!) I've gotten better at managing my anxiety as I've gotten older, but I still have moments where I really struggle with it. For me, anxiety comes in waves. There are times in my life where I don't experience it much and there are times (like right now...) where it feels as if I'm constantly anxious. As you can imagine, this does not pair well with striving to live a positively present life. 

Whether or not you suffer from anxiety on a regular basis, this time of year can spark anxious feelings in even the most at-peace individuals. Adding holiday tasks (gifts...cards...parties...baking...etc.) to your already long to-do list can feel overwhelming, as can all of the events and family time (which, for some, can be a major stressor even if they really love their family members). Anxiety always seems to ramp up for me at the end of the year because, not only do I have all of the new holiday tasks to contend with, but my workload always seems to be the heaviest this time of year. (And don't get me started on the whole being-single-during-the-holidays-stress!) A lot of you might be in the same boat so I thought, Why not write a blog post about some of the ways I combat my anxiety? 

Over the years, I've tried a lot of different anti-anxiety remedies and I know there are still more I could put into my stay-calm toolkit (essential oils and regular meditation being some), but here are some of the tools I've been using to combat the end-of-the-year anxiety that seems to always come knocking at my door around early November... 



Talking about anxiety can be tough, and it's especially tricky if you're in some sort of position where you're supposed to have everything together (like, for example, someone who writes about staying positive and present for a living...). It can be awkward to talk about any mental health issues, but, believe me, it really helps to share what you're going through with someone else. I'm lucky to have a close friend that also struggles with anxiety and she's one of my go-to people to talk when I'm struggling because she knows exactly what it feels like. But people don't have to have experienced anxiety to be empathetic. And, to be honest, most people have experienced some level of anxiety in their lives — whether it's a slight bout of anxiety before a big test or a full-blown panic attack — and they should be able to somewhat relate to what you're going through. And if you can't find a close friend or relative to share your feelings with, seek out the help of a good therapist. A good therapist can work wonders with an anxious mind. (If you're not sure about the idea of therapy, check out my 10 Reasons to Sit on the Couch post.)



Sometimes, when my anxiety gets to be too much for me, I just have to press pause on what's going on in my life and take a time-out. This "time-out" can be anything from a half hour break from work spent reading on the balcony in the sun (my favorite relaxing activity!) to realizing I need to take an entire day off of work to recharge my batteries and get into a healthier mental state. Working for myself, it's relatively easy for me to take a day-long time-out, but I know that's not the case for most people. However, if you're feeling so overwhelmed and anxious that you're no longer being productive, it makes sense for you to take a mental health day. You can actually do more harm than good if you continue working when you're anxious, as anxiety can negatively impact your career. Even if it's hard and you have to ask others for help with your job (or kids or schoolwork), being okay with taking a time-out can be a game-changer when it comes to anxiety. Those moments (or days) spent relaxing can be just what you need to create a more positive mindset. 



One of the best ways I've found to combat anxiety is to do something so stimulating to my mind that I don't have room for all of the anxious thoughts, something that 100% gets me into the flow mindset. When your thoughts are racing, it can be a challenge to get them to focus on anything other than worrying, but there are certain activities that can really bring you fully into the moment, which is essential for combatting all of those stress-driven thoughts. There are tons of activities that prompt people to get in the flow — drawing, painting, running, etc. — but my personal favorites are: coloring, doing puzzles, and playing Boggle on my phone. (Yes, I know, I sound like a 90-year-old lady.) Whenever I do these three things, I find it hard to keep my mind on what's causing my anxiety because I'm so completely focused on what I'm doing. In particular, I like using the Boggle app because: (1) it's a set amount of time (three minutes) so I have to focus on the game and I can't let my mind wander, (2) I can play it almost anywhere so it's a great on-the-go anxiety tool, and (3) I really like words and searching for things so it's kind of the perfect mix of a game for me. I only recently discovered that an app/game could work so well for my anxiety, but it's something that fully engages me and I think that's the most helpful aspect of it. 



"Soothing" isn't really my forte. I tend to walk fast, talk fast, move through my day quickly, and the high pace I generally like to keep (which exists even when I'm resting on the couch since I'm usually scrolling through a million different apps, trying to watch a show, and reading all at the same time!) isn't very good for my anxiety. However, one thing I've found to really work for me is sticking to some sort of routine. Not every day can be exactly the same, but I try as much as I can to have a routine during the day and especially at night (when my anxious mind really kicks into high gear!). Crazy as it sounds, one thing that really helps to soothe me is watching the same show every night before bed. For some (most) people, this might sound like a waste of time (or something that a lunatic would do), but I find it very soothing to turn on a show (30 Rock) that I've seen countless times. Even though, by now, I know almost every line, for some reason it soothes me and helps me feel a bit more at ease at the end of the day. This is my go-to routine, but yours can be anything — a special kind of tea before bed, a relaxing bubble bath, a walk around the block — that helps to soothe your mind. 



One of the best quotes I discovered last year was Danielle LaPorte's "Interrupt anxiety with gratitude." When I read this I thought to myself: Wow. That is so, so wise. As soon as you start thinking about all of the things you have to be grateful for (health, family, friends, a roof over your head, food, clean drinking water, a job, your unique talents, every possession you own, the experiences you've had, your personal strengths, etc.), it becomes much more difficult to be anxious. I'll admit that I don't always remember to do this one. Sometimes I'm so caught up in the craziness of my mind that I forget to focus on what I have. But when I do remember (and I really try to!) this tactic of replace anxious thoughts with grateful ones works every single time. Gratitude is a really powerful force, which is one of the reasons I continue to do the 30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge every year. Each year it's a great reminder of how important it is to be thankful and I try to keep that reminder with me all year long — especially during the times I'm struggling with anxiety. 



During anxious times, one of the worst things you can do for yourself is be around people who cause you to feel more anxious. I bet if you think for just a minute you can identify the people in your life that make you feel more stressed, overwhelmed, or unhappy. Some of these people might be bad people in general, but more often it's just that they're bad for you. For whatever reason (a past experience, a weird vibe, a personality difference, an underlying issue we haven't dealt with) some people are just tougher to be around than others. A lot of the time this is okay and you can cope with it, but when you're struggling with anxiety, this is not the time to try to tough it out. During stressful times, it's very important to stay away from stressful people (or limit your interactions with them if you can't avoid them all together). And, as a bonus tip: try to spend even more time with people who make you feel at ease! 



When you're feeling super anxious, one of the best things you can do for yourself is distract your mind from negative, racing thoughts. This might sound kind of counter-intuitive coming from someone who strives to live in the present moment, but when it comes to anxiety, sometimes you need a little distance from the present state of your mind. Oddly enough, some of the best ways to take a step away from current anxious thoughts involves engaging in activities that bring you back to the present. I recently found this amazing round-up of distraction ideas on Tumblr, and I've gotten in the habit of referring back to it whenever I'm in need of an anti-anxiety activity. I'm sure there are tons of other ideas online for distracting yourself when things can really tough so if you ever need ideas, just search for some. This tip might seem like you're avoiding your emotions (something I don't recommend!) but, as anyone who has suffered from anxiety knows, sometimes you have to step away from your thoughts in order to stay sane. 



Anxiety often stems from ruminating about a situation that made/makes/could make you unhappy. As humans, we try to protect ourselves from harm by assessing what hasn't worked in the past and what might not work in the future, but sometimes we take all this analyzing too far and that's where anxiety comes from. One way to combat the obsessive rumination of a situation is to set up a date with your worry. Set a timer for 5-10 minutes and write down every single thing you're worried about. Don't hold back — just let it all out. Doing this gives you a opportunity to think things through, which you can then refer back to when you feel as if you might need to rethink a situation. Honestly, this trick doesn't always work for me. Sometimes it's so liberating to write down my worries and I feel almost completely free of them after I do so, but other times, I find myself still drawn back to worrying, even when the clock has stopped. That being said, the times it's worked, it's worked so well that I definitely think it's worth giving a try! 



I've only discovered this tactic more recently, but I find it to be really useful. When the mind is stuck in anxious-mode, one way to break the cycle can be to make a physical change. This can be changing location (get off the couch and go for a walk), changing position (if you're lying down, sit up), or, my personal favorite, making a temperature-related change. What's a temperature-related change, you ask? It involves engaging with something really warm or really cold. Some examples: taking a hot bath, holding an ice cube, putting a cool cloth on your forehead, sticking a blanket in the dryer and covering up with it, taking a cold shower, stepping outside when it's really cold, drinking hot tea, drinking really cold water, etc. It might seem odd that these things help with anxiety, but they really do. I don't know exactly why (I'm pretty sure there's a scientific reason, though I'm not certain about this), but the change in temperature is like the rational part of you giving your brain a nice, firm "wake up!" jolt that seems to send the anxiety running. 



Last, but definitely not least, is learning to separate yourself from your thoughts. In case you weren't aware: you are not your thoughts. Let me write it again (in case you missed it): YOU. ARE. NOT. YOUR. THOUGHTS. If this sounds odd to you, read this. It might seem as if what you think is reality and absolute truth, but in actuality, your thoughts are only going on inside your head. They are not part of the real, actual world. And, as a result, you don't have to accept them as 100% truth. For example, thinking anxious thoughts doesn't mean you are anxious. Just because you feel anxiety doesn't mean you are anxiety. The more you can learn to see your thoughts as separate from yourself, the easier it becomes to gain control over them. It can be really hard to take note of your anxiety and say, "Hey, I see you. I don't like you being here and I need you to leave." Identifying anxious thoughts can be hard because sometimes they are so dominate that they feel as if they are the only thought option. But they are not. You might not completely eliminate anxiety by remembering "I am not my thoughts," but you'll definitely help it from spiraling out of control and taking over your mind. 


An important reminder before you use any of these tips on your own: I am not a doctor or a psychologist or a therapist. I don't know if these tips work for everyone or even why they work for me. What I do know is that they work (most of the time) when I need them, and they've helped me when I've really been struggling, which is why I wanted to share them with you. You have to try things out and you have to figure out what works specifically for you. 

Speaking of things that work (or don't), you might notice that a very common anti-anxiety tip is missing from this list: taking deep breaths. That one can be useful for some, but not long ago I had a really bad experience with deep-breath-taking. I was in the situation that produces the most anxiety for me (getting an IV put in at the hospital) and I decided to give deep breathing a try. It started off okay, but pretty soon I'd worked myself up so much that I was hyperventilating and I even passed out for a little bit. Yikes. Clearly this did not help with my anxiety. Deep breaths don't work well for me (though sometimes counting my breaths does), but they might be a miracle-cure for you. The point is this: try things out. If you suffer from anxiety or racing thoughts, give the things I've written about a try, and try other things too. You just never know what kinds of weird things (Boggle! 30 Rock! A warm blanket!) might work for you. 




Self-love is another important anti-anxiety tool. Want to empower yourself with some serious self-love and acceptance? Start loving yourself (or increase the love you already have for yourself!) with the inspiration and motivation found in Loving Your Self: An Empowering Workbook for Increasing Self-LoveFilled with uplifting encouragement, thought-provoking questions, and engaging exercises, Loving Your Self is an essential tool for mastering the art of self-love. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your own copy here.

the 5 best ways to show gratitude


Happy November! With Thanksgiving fast approaching, the month of November is always a very popular time for talking about gratitude. (And, of course, it's the month for the 30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge!) Like many topics in the self-help space, the concept of gratitude can be a bit vague at times. You're probably well-aware of what the word means from a dictionary-definition standpoint ("the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness"), but actually putting gratitude into practice — and keeping focused on that practice for more than just the month of November — can be a more complex endeavor. 

Being grateful is one of the best ways to embrace a positive, present life. When you're grateful, it's impossible to be negative. It's also an excellent tool for staying in the moment. If you're struggling to stay present, focusing on what you have to be grateful for can bring you back into the moment. But gratitude is more than just thinking "I'm thankful for..." Gratitude means taking action and putting the thankful thoughts into practice. I've given the concept of practicing gratitude a lot of thought, and here are the five best ways I've found to be grateful.



One of the best ways you can show gratitude is by giving — both to yourself and to others. When it comes to being thankful for yourself and cultivating self-love, you can give to yourself by being patient with yourself when you're going through a difficult time, by caring for your body and your mind, by making choices that will make you happier and more fulfilled. When it comes to being thankful for others, giving back to them is one of the best ways to show your gratitude. You can give them time, patience, love, kindness. You can also give them physical things too if you're able — like donating the goods you no longer have use for to those in need or donating money to a friend's Kickstarter project. (Two I'm loving right now? aquabook and The Spark Planner). We all have something to give and it's such a wonderful way to express thankfulness. When it comes to giving, also consider the gifts you have to give the world. If you're really talented at something, pursuing that passion and sharing your talents is a gift you give not only yourself but those who get to experience your work. This, in its own way, it an expression of gratitude for what you've been given. 



The act of listening is a small act, but a very important one. We're all bombarded on a daily basis with so much noise and information that it's sadly becoming rare to give someone your full, undivided attention. Just think of how many conversations you've had when you're looking at your phone! One way you can show gratitude for others is by giving them 100% of your attention when they're speaking to you. Put your phone down. Try not to let your thoughts drift to what you want to say (or what you're going to be doing right after the conversation ends). This can be challenging, I know, but the effort and energy you put into listening to others with your full attention is such an amazing way to express gratitude. It might not be the first thing you think of when you hear "gratitude," but fully engaging with someone else and letting him/her have a chance to speak openly and without interruption (or distraction) is basically the equivalent of throwing your arms around someone in a big bear hug and saying, "Thank you for being you! I value who you are and what you have to say!" (Also, it's nice to take note of when others are fully listening to you and thank them for their time and attention.)



Appreciation is a key component of gratitude. The word "appreciation" has two meanings, both of which are essential when it comes to practicing gratitude. First, appreciation means, "the recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something." One of the best ways to cultivate gratitude is to embrace this first definition wholeheartedly. Look around you right now and take note of what good qualities can be spotted all around you (and within you too — self-love!). All too often we're so busy and/or stressed that we fail to see how much beauty and goodness is all around us. From the smile on a loved one's face to the sun streaming in through the window, there are countless moments of goodness around us at any given moment. Even when things are bad, there's something good. Gratitude is finding these moments and sitting with them for a second, letting ourselves bask in their glow and fully knowing that we are lucky to experience them. Secondly, appreciation means, "a full understanding of a situation." This definition leads to my next point...



... which is, show gratitude by trying your best to fully understand and accept whatever situation you're in. We all face amazing, wonderful, and is-this-my-life? situations as well as unpleasant, horrible, and how-can-this-be-happening? situations. Life has it's ups and downs and the rollercoaster-ness of it all can sometimes cast a shadow on the ability to be grateful. But the struggling to be grateful in good and bad times can be overcome if you choose acceptance over resistance. Rather than wanting a situation to be other than what it is, try accepting it fully and without (too much) judgment. This act of acceptance is its own kind of gratitude, a way of saying, "Okay, Universe/God/Preferred Deity, I see that this situation is happening and I might not love it, but I'm here for it and I'm thankful for that." Or, in really great situations, it's important to accept them with an open, thankful heart, rather than thinking (as some of us negative-prone thinkers do) that the good time will be short-lived and we should't get too used to the happy moments. Accepting the good and the bad, the light and the dark, is a remarkable way to be grateful for every experience. 



Gratitude in and of itself is a wonderful thing, but expressing it is even more amazing. Whenever you feel grateful for someone or something, express it in a physical way. Tell someone at work you're so thankful for her help. Write your father an email after he goes out of his way to help you. Give your mother a big hug after she says something that made you feel empowered. Send a handwritten note to a friend that helped you through a tough time. Say "thank you" to your surgeon after he helped you to heal. Tell your kids you're so grateful to have them in your life. Participate in the 30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge and share your thank-worthy moments. Whatever you need to do to express your gratitude, do it. If saying "thanks" isn't part of your daily routine, now is the time to incorporate it into your life. No matter how big or small the act, it's important to express your gratitude for it to others. Not only does it let them know that you're thankful, but it also feels really good to put kind words and actions out into the world. If you need some ideas of how express your gratitude, check out this article I came across: Tiny Buddha's 50 Ways to Show Gratitude. So many awesome ways to express your thankfulness! 


As I mentioned earlier, gratitude is an vital but sometimes vague concept. It includes saying "thank you" (which is so important to do!), but it's so much more than that. Gratitude is about giving, listening, appreciating, accepting, and expressing. It's about finding the good in your life, recognizing how fortune you are to have it, and sharing that goodness with those around you. It's about realizing that everything — the good and the bad — is worthwhile, and being open to the idea of appreciating what's happening to you, who you're sharing experiences with, and how these experiences make you feel. You'll probably being seeing a lot of gratitude-related things this month, and, even though it's mostly due to the upcoming holiday, I hope you'll take them to heart and use them as reminders to keep cultivating gratitude every single day. Take it from me — you'll be glad you did. The more grateful you are, the more positive and present you are. And the more positive and present you are, the happier and more fulfilled you'll feel! 



There's so much to be grateful for in this life, and one thing I'm particularly grateful for today is sponsors that help bring Positively Present posts to you.

Today's sponsor is aquabook! I'm so excited about this product (an awesomely reimagined take on the water bottle), and I can't wait to see it come to life.  The aquabook is a reinvented water bottle designed to match your lifestyle. The book-shaped, slim design fits easily in any kind of bag or purse. It’s convenient, customizable, and reusable — making it good for you
 and for the environment. You can choose your color and even print your favorite picture or statement on the aquabook. The aquabook is currently running a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter (http://kck.st/1G93hFp). Support this project and help bring the aquabook to life! Be sure to check out #myaquabook on Instagram and follow along on and Twitter @theaquabook. 

mindfulness + the power of self-love



Last week, I was fortunate enough to have a chance to listen in on Tara Brach's talk via The Mindfulness Summit (you can still sign up if you're interested and it's FREE!) and her words of wisdom were, as always, so incredibly eye-opening. They related a lot to the topic of self-love which, as you know if you're a frequent Positively Present reader, is a passion of mine. I listened to Tara's talk twice on the day it aired and tried to jot down as much as I could. I wanted to share some of this inspiration with you (as well as add my own two cents!). Below you'll find her words (paraphrased) in italics and below those words are some of my thoughts on what she said. 



We all have the sense of being flawed in some way and this results in our suffering. We're at war with ourselves, and many of us don't feel at home with who we are. Because we're not living true to ourselves, we have a lingering sense of feeling unworthy, which leads us to constantly feel disappointed. 

We judge ourselves, feeling as if we're not good enough. This constant judgment makes us feel as if we have to be on guard all the time, which hinders intimacy with others, blocks creativity, and stops us from enjoying the present moment. 

We spend so much time feeling as if we're not enough. Believing in this limited self is a veil that covers our true nature, which causes us to suffer. 

We are taught that we are limited, defective, isolated. Realizing that you belong and recognizing the barriers you've put between you and love is important. Ask yourself: how do I keep myself from connecting with others? 

No matter who you are, you probably feel flawed in some way. You probably have some notion that you're not completely living up to your potential, that you're not doing what you "should" be doing, or you're not meeting some sort of arbitrary standard that society has set for you. This constant judgement of yourself blocks you from being who you're really meant to be. Imagine what it would be like if you dropped all your defenses and stopped feeling as if you were flawed in some way? That would be pretty amazing, wouldn't it? 



A feeling of separateness starts when we're very young. We view our inside in comparison with everything that's outside of us. With this separateness comes a need to defend and protect ourselves. And from this, fear arises. 

Many cultures (particularly in the West) encourage separateness. American culture in particular is very individualistic with very emphasis on belonging. We internalize this and it compounds the innate separateness we began feeling when we were young. This makes us feel like something is wrong with us, that we're defective in some way. 

To combat the suffering of separateness, we go after "false refuges," or substitutes to feel a sense of belonging, such as focusing intensely on our careers, putting all of our time and energy into how we look, overindulging in food, overthinking every little thing, judging others, or turning to drugs or alcohol. 

Much of our lives is organized around a feeling of insufficiency. We need to realize and release this feeling in order to get to the true nature of ourselves. 

We often cover over the purity of ourselves in order to cope with difficult situations with family, society, work, etc. And this becomes a problem when we start to identify with that cover as if it is who we really are. We start to think of ourselves as our defenses, our cravings, etc. 

This concept of separateness really resonates with me. As an introvert who strives to follow her own goals and aspirations, I often feel like I'm isolating myself from others, reinforcing the notion that I'm separate or "other" in some way. American culture also seems to really amp up this notion that we all should be different and we should celebrate our uniqueness. Being unique certainly isn't a bad thing, but the heightened emphasis on it definitely takes away from feeling truly connected with others. I've definitely turned to my fair share of "false refuges" in an attempt to ease the suffering of feeling separate and it never seems to work very well. I love the notion of focusing on belonging and connectedness, something I think we could all use a lot more of in our lives. 



We need to offer kindness to our own beings, to learn to love our present lives unconditionally. Imagine: what would it be like to love yourself unconditionally? 

Unconditional self-love can change your life. 

How much of your life is shaped by feeling unworthy? When you encounter self-aversion, you must face it with self-love and compassion.

Develop a compassionate mantra for yourself. [Mine is: "It's okay."]

The more self-compassion you practice, the more your sense of self with shift. That shift is freedom. But you have to practice in order to create new patterns in your brain. It's like dyeing indigo: at first, you dip the fabric, it turns a bright shade of blue, then fades back to almost white. Dip it again, it looks bright blue, then fades back to white with a hint of blue. Again, it turns bright blue and fades to a slightly deeper tint of blue. You have to keep dipping the fabric in over and over again to eventually get the bright, vibrant hue of indigo. Same goes for self-love. You have to keep practicing a compassionate mindset over and over again for it to actually become a pattern in your brain. After many, many repetitions, self-love will hold and it will dye your life a brighter hue. 

The more you trust your own goodness, the more you'll see the goodness in others. You'll have a new perspective filled with compassion. Even when someone does something unpleasant, your heart will understand and it won't shut down. Self-compassion shifts how we relate to the world, and it helps the world as a whole. We learn to see past our own masks, which gives us an opportunity to seek others behind their masks.  

Self-love and self-compassion are absolutely essential to living a positive, present life, but, man, if they aren't hard concepts to master! There's so much in society that tells us we're not good enough or we could be better, so much that urges us to keep striving, keep seeking more than what we are, that it sometimes feels like an endless uphill climb to embrace self-love. Self-love takes a lot (and I mean, A LOT) of practice, but the reward of loving who you are is so absolutely worth all the effort. After listening to Tara's talk, I've been using my self-compassion mantra ("It's okay.") quite often and it really helps me when I'm struggling in the self-love department. 



You can start striving for this kind of self-love by recognizing what's happening and not judging it, practicing complete acceptance. 

There are two parts of awareness: (1) identifying what's happening (both internally and externally) and (2) letting it be and sitting with it (whatever "it" might be).

Whenever you're feeling strong emotions, pause. The space between the stimulus and response is your freedom, as Viktor Frankl says. Try to become the witness and objectively view situations you find yourself in, rather than immediately reacting. 

I loved this part of Tara's talk because I'm always striving to be more mindful (and always struggling at actually being successful at it!). Breaking it into a two-part process made it easier for me to actually understand what it means to be fully aware (side note: every time I go to type "aware," I accidentally type "awesome," which I feel like is the universe reminding me of how awesome it is to be fully aware -- or it's just my brain playing tricks on me!). I tend to feel a lot of strong emotions (both good and bad) and I love that Tara shared Victor Frankl's advice in her talk. We could all benefit a great deal from pausing before reacting to the stimuli in our lives. There truly is a sense of freedom that comes from trying to be objective and observant rather than reactive. 

Listening to Tara's talk was so inspiring, and I highly recommend checking her out online or trying to attend one of her events. (I went to one earlier this year and it was amazing!) It can be hard to take time out of our busy lives to sit still and listen to someone else share their words of wisdom, but I've found that every time I'm able to sit quietly and just listen, I learn something new and valuable -- and I also practice my awareness/awesome skills! 




Want to empower yourself with some serious self-love and acceptance? Start loving yourself (or increase the love you already have for yourself!) with the inspiration and motivation found in Loving Your Self: An Empowering Workbook for Increasing Self-LoveFilled with uplifting encouragement, thought-provoking questions, and engaging exercises, Loving Your Self is an essential tool for mastering the art of self-love. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your own copy here.

why you should stop saying should



Should. It's a small word, but it has a pretty big impact on the way we think about ourselves and others. It's a word I don't contemplate often, but frequently use — and I don't think I'm alone in this. But, after reading Kate Bolick's Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own (part memoir, part cultural exploration of the unmarried woman that I found very eye-opening), I've spend a lot of time thinking about the word "should" — both in the context of my relationship status and in a more general sense. I've done a little digging into what "should" means for me (and for most of us), and I've been pretty surprised by how influential the concept of "should" really is. 

"Should" is a commonly used part of most of our lexicons, but it can become so pervasive that we don't even think about how (or how often) we're using it. How many times have you thought to yourself: I should be...  or S/he should...  You've probably had one of those thoughts already today. I certainly have! As someone who tends to buck anything I'm "supposed" to do (a result of falling into this Rebel category, I think), I find myself quite often thinking I should be doing something other than what I am doing. (For example: I should be writing right now. I should be more settled. I should be wearing real clothes and not sweatpants...) If you're like me, you probably experience quite a few "should" thoughts yourself. 

At first glance, "should" feels like it might be a positive, motivating word. It can guide us to do what's best for us... right? Well, the more I think about, the more it seems to me that "should" is a pretty negative word. In fact, it's almost the opposite of being positively present. It's focused on what's lacking (not very positive) and it's focused on something other than what's happening (not very present). Here are some of the reasons you might want to kick "should" out of your vocabulary...



It might sound like "should" would encourage you to focus on what needs to be done, guiding you toward your goals, but when most people think the word "should," there's a knee-jerk reaction to rebel against it, or at least feel resentful of it (if you're not the rebelling type). Rather than empowering you to do something else, should actually reinforces what you're not doing. When you think something like I should be spending more time with my partner, that thought is actually focused on what you're not doing instead of what you want to be doing. It's hard to get motivated to do something different when you're focused on what you're not doing right. 



Think about the last time you used the word "should." How did it feel? Usually, it makes you (or someone else) feel guilty, unhappy, or annoyed. If you're thinking about what you should've done in the past, you usually feel upset with yourself for not adhering to your future self's expectations. If you're thinking about what you should be doing now, you might feel guilty for not acting in accordance of what's expected of you. And if you're thinking about what others should be doing, you might end up feeling resentful. There are very few situations (if any) when the word "should" evokes a positive response. 



The word "should" is always focused on what should have happened in the past or what you expect to happen in the future, making it the exact opposite of staying present. Even when the word is referring to the present moment (as in, I should be working right now...), what it's literally means is: In the next moment, I should begin working because I'm not working right now. In the present moment, like it or not, you're not doing what you "should" be doing. A lack of acceptance for what's happening right now (regardless of whether that thing is positive or negative) is one of the best ways to become unhappy and stressed. 



Because "should" isn't a great motivator (see above), it often leaves you feeling frustrated when you're not doing what you think you should be doing. When you don't accomplish what you've tried to motivate yourself to do, you can feel as if you don't have control over your own actions. For example, if you think to yourself, I should stop reading and get to work, but you keep reading anyway, it feels as if you're not in control. Because "should" takes your focus away from your current actions, it takes away from the freedom to do what you want to do (even if that activity isn't what's expected of you). 



One of the biggest downsides of the word "should" is that it doesn't allow you to accept what is. When you think something or someone should be different, you're not focusing on what's actually happening. You're contradicting what is, for no purpose other than to fuel your own expectations. This also applies to inner "shoulds," like, I shouldn't be feeling jealous of my best friend, or I should be happy for him even though I'm very angry with him. Instead of expecting yourself to feel a certain way (and labeling those feelings as good or bad), what if you just accepted them for what they are? What if instead of challenging those feelings, you accepted them and looked at them more closely for clues about who you are



Just as "should" contradicts the present moment, it also negates self-love. Focusing on "should," you're taking a step away from loving yourself. You're focusing on aspects of yourself that could be rather loving what already is. When you use the word "should," you're not embracing a true acceptance of yourself (including the parts you don't love...). Should is like a judging pair of eyes, looking at you disapprovingly. With the word "should," you're casting judgment on yourself and, more often than not, you're devaluing yourself by allowing feelings of "less than" to creep into your consciousness. 



Should isn't just about what you think you should be doing — it's also used frequently when it comes to what you think others should be doing, and this can cause some major problems in relationships. It's normal to have expectations of others, but when your relationships are centered around these expectations (as so many are), this can cause some major problems. What would happen if you were to love without expectation? What would your relationships be like if you removed the word "should"? Should puts a lot of pressure on relationships and often doesn't add anything worthwhile.



Instead of focusing on what's been done, "should" focuses on what could be done differently. What if, instead of focusing on what you want to do, you focus on what you've done? I recently started tracking what I've accomplished each day alongside my to-do list and it's been so interesting to see how much I actually accomplish on the days I feel like I've "done nothing." Even when you don't feel as if you've adhered to others expectations (or your own), there are many, many things you've done well. Should doesn't let you focus on those, which is another reason you might be better off without it! 


Okay, so now you probably see what a negative impact should can have on your thoughts and your life. But what are you supposed to do about it if you find yourself using the dreaded "s" word? How are you supposed to get things accomplished without knowing what you "should" be doing? Here are some of the best tips I've found...

  1. Don't beat yourself up for "shoulds."

    They're normal and they're a really hard habit to break. When you find yourself saying the s-word, pause for a moment and take notice of it. Recognize that it's been said and that it means you're focusing on something other than the present moment. Then move forward to the next steps. 

  2. Focus on the benefits of doing what you "should."

    Inspired by this great article on Tiny Buddha, this tip is about focusing on the benefits of doing something other than what you're currently doing. For example, if you find yourself saying, I should be more social, reframe that "should" to focus on the benefits and think instead, I feel really good when I hang out with my friends and it's nice to get out of the house once and awhile. Focusing on the benefits you'll receive is much better than focusing on what you're lacking or not doing. 

  3. Explore what's beyond the "should."

    Sometimes "should" has a good purpose, but sometimes it exists because it's part of someone else's purpose (or just a result of general societal pressure to be a certain way). When you feel a should coming on, look at it closely to see if it adds value to your life. Ask yourself why you feel you should do something. Sometimes you're seeking something basic (like love) in a roundabout way. "Should" is often a sign of inner conflict and it's something that should be looked into, not immediately dismissed. 

  4. Change the "sh" to a "c" or a "w."

    This Psychology Today article notes that "should" leads to feelings of anxiety, stress, and lack of control, while the words "could" or "would" are motivating and encourage a take-charge attitude. Changing a couple of letters works especially well when dealing with external shoulds. For example, saying to your partner, It would be great if you could take out the trash is going to be much more effective than You should be taking out the trash. "Could" and "would" encourage autonomy and freedom, two things that are actually great motivators. 

Most of us have the word "should" pretty engrained in how we think and talk, making it a difficult word to completely remove from our lives, but if we're open to being aware of how we use it (and when), we'll be more likely to cut down on the amount of "should"s in our lives (or at least understand why we have the "should"s we do!). Think about what your "shoulds" are and see if you can reframe them in a positive (and more productive!) way.  



Want to empower yourself with some serious self-love and acceptance? Start loving yourself (or increase the love you already have for yourself!) with the inspiration and motivation found in Loving Your Self: An Empowering Workbook for Increasing Self-LoveFilled with uplifting encouragement, thought-provoking questions, and engaging exercises, Loving Your Self is an essential tool for mastering the art of self-love. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your own copy here.

JLY month : how to love your mind + a giveaway!


This post is part of Just Love Yourself Month, an exciting new addition to the Positively Present! This month of self-love is inspired by my new workbook, Loving Your Self, which was designed to empower and inspire self-love. Learn more (and pick up your copy!) here


One of the topics I discuss in detail in my Loving Your Self workbook is how to love your mind. The thoughts you have create the life you live so it's important to direct thoughts to a positive, productive place. Learning to create a loving mindset (and loving your mind even when it isn't so positive) is an essential aspect of self-love. How you think — and speak — about yourself is vital to creating a love of who you are. Positive thoughts and words impact your mental, physical, and emotional health in a big way. One of my favorite quotes goes something like this: “If you realized how important your thoughts are, you’d never think another negative thought.” What you think about shapes your world and, in particular, it shapes who you are.

Your mind is the most powerful weapon you have when it comes to the battle of self-love. If used properly, it can be a tool for fighting off negativity and keeping self-depreciation at bay. Use it wisely and it can transform the way you see yourself — and the way you see the world. Your mind is always with you (hopefully!), and because of that, you always have the power to choose self-loving, kind thoughts.

Choosing a positive mindset can be a challenge, which is why I've rounded up some of the best ideas for loving your mind. 



Being aware of what triggers negative or unloving thoughts won’t remove the thoughts, but having awareness of people, places, or situations that invoke negative thinking gives you a chance to challenge the thoughts with positivity. Knowing what triggers negative or self-deprecating thoughts also gives you an opportunity to avoid these people, situations, or environments. The more you're able to be aware of and address negative thoughts, the more power you'll have over your mind. And the more in control you feel when it comes to your mental state, the easier it is to love and accept your mind. 



With the words “I am,” you define yourself to the world. Those two little words have a big impact when you state them (both to yourself and to others). They are concrete and, when used honestly, a valuable definition of who you are. Become aware of what you say (or think) you are. The thoughts you have about how you define yourself have a major impact on how you think, feel, and interact. When you pay attention to what you think you are, you'll either realize that you're not, in fact, those things or you'll confirm that you are absolutely able to say "I am [fill in the blank." Either way, the awareness helps you create a deeper acceptance of your thoughts and your self. 



So much of the negativity and stress in our minds comes from worrying about what has happened or fretting about what could be. Create a more peaceful place for your thoughts by doing your best to stay in the moment. Remember this: the past is over and the future is fiction. The more you remind yourself of this, the more likely you'll be to stay in the moment. You'll realize that what matters most is what's happening right now and that's the stuff that deserves your mind's attention. Whenever you find your mind in a place that you don't want it to be, bring it back to the now and see if you can ground it in the present. 



The mind is one of your most important tools and, like any tool, it needs to be cared for. You can do your best to keep your mind in a positive place, but that's not going to do much good if your mind isn't in good shape. Exercise your mind the way you would your body by trying new things, playing thought-provoking games (go old school with things like Scrabble or check out some popular apps like Lumosity). The important thing is to get your mind thinking in new ways, challenging it a little bit. The more your stretch your brain muscles, the stronger your mind will get. 



Think, for a moment, about the things you read and watch and listen to. Are these things (the books, the magazines, the shows, the radio stations and podcasts) positively impacting your mind and helping it to grow and learn? There's nothing wrong with binge-watching a trashy reality TV show now and then, but it's important to pay attention to what you're feeding your mind. Are you giving it nutritious content that will help it flourish? Or are you feeding it only junk food? One of the best things you can do is feed your mind healthy, positive content. Read inspiring books, pick up a motivating magazine (see below for how you can win a subscription to a great one!), watch a fascinating documentary. Do what you can to provide your mind with positive resources!



I'm offering one lucky guy or gal a chance to win something that definitely brings me some happy moments: a one-year subscription (six issues) to Live Happy Magazine! This magazine weaves the science of positive psychology through inspiring features, relatable stories, and sage advice to help people discover their personal journey of happiness in life, at work, and at home. Every time I read it, I feel more inspired and uplifted and I'm sure you will too! See below for details on how to enter this giveaway! 


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