I realize by using that title I’m making some pretty big claims here. And actually now that I’m looking it over, it kind of reads like a slogan for one of those As Seen On TV products. Or something a laptop millionaire would promise while selling their luxury lifestyle secrets on a YouTube mansion tour. But either way, I’m sticking to the title because these practices really do get quick results and have been proven to work over and over again. (Yeah I hear myself. I’ve apparently voiced too many commercials through the years and this is just how I talk now).
You’re probably thinking, “Ok, but there’s no way these practices are actually going to solve any of my problems.” And you would be (mostly) correct! They are not going to be the answers to your life’s current question marks. But they will most likely shift your focus, alter your mood, create a bit more positive momentum in your day, and make you feel a little better. And it’s when we feel better that we are receptive to solutions and ready to take new actions. So perhaps, indirectly, they can solve those problems.
If you’re still on board, here are five simple practices to try:
1. Touch a tree.
(Or if you’re not physically able to do so, pretend you ARE one).
Why this is helpful:
a) Trees are sturdy which makes them a perfect companion when you are feeling less than secure. By placing your hands on one, you can attune yourself to the tree’s energetic vibration and in turn, feel more sturdy and stable yourself. In this way, the tree becomes almost like an anchor for you; assisting you in releasing some anxiety.
b) Inhaling phytoncide (which is naturally emitted by trees and plants) lowers stress levels and promotes a state of calm. Compare how you feel after hours of sitting at the computer or flipping through images on your phone with how you feel after taking a leisurely hike outdoors. The latter experience is usually a lot more uplifting. Look up shinrin-yoku, the Japanese concept of forest bathing for more info.
c) Want a rush of feel-good hormones? Hug that tree. You might feel weird doing it at first because of all of those “tree hugger” connotations but really, it’s a genuinely beneficial experience. When we hug another person, it tends to create particular chemical reactions within us (hello, oxytocin). And because we’ve presumably done the hugging thing several times throughout our lives, when we simply go through the motion or gesture of hugging, our bodies will — in an almost Pavlovian fashion — release those same chemicals. This works with smiling too. Lifting the corners of your mouth, even if you are not in a good mood, will trick your brain into believing you’re happy which will then queue your body to release its “happy” chemicals (dopamine and serotonin).
d) If you are unable to get close to an actual tree, you can still align with its grounded stability by pretending you ARE one. Little kids do this all the time; playing, acting “as if,” and trying on different energies and characters. We can do it as well. Stand up and visualize yourself as if you were a tree. Imagine your feet like roots growing into the earth, anchoring you in place. Let your arms reach out like balancing branches. Allow yourself to play and get into the role. It’s ok to feel ridiculous, as long as you feel a bit more rooted.
2. Lie down on the ground.
When we lie on the floor — or even better the grass/soil/sand — we don’t have to put in any effort. We don’t have to hold ourselves up. We don’t have to DO anything to feel supported by the earth. We can just surrender to the ground beneath us with full trust that it’s got us; unless we’re on a pile of quicksand, it’s not going anywhere. And as a result, we can feel safe enough to let go and release some of our tension.
If you are doing this but your mind continues to race due to anxious thoughts, try placing your awareness on your pulse, your breath, or the parts of your body that meet the floor or earth. I find this to be incredibly helpful for moments of acute (or low-grade) anxiety or worry especially if the world around me seems to be spinning and I just need to take a break.
Yeah, that’s it. Some people refer to this practice as creative visualization or visioning. I say daydream because it’s really simple and we all know what it entails: zone out and imagine what you want/how you‘d like to feel.
Why this is good:
Everything ever created first begins as a thought. What we focus on always expands. So directing our attention towards the desired (what we want) as opposed to the undesired (what we don’t want) is pretty much the starting point for how we can do real, legitimate, life-changing, creative magic. For ourselves and for each other.
Also, something that I learned as an actor which I found fascinating and very true in practice: our nervous system responds to imaginary events in the same way that it responds to real events, meaning it can’t tell the difference! Our emotional bodies are activated by our daydreams, which means fantasizing in this way can help raise our overall vibe and alter our mood. And as I mentioned, that higher vibe/better mood leaves us more open to receiving new ideas and possible solutions to any challenges we may be facing.
Another way to do it: Once you’ve spent enough time on the fantasy creation of your own desires, try daydreaming for someone else. While it’s not a substitute for any other helpful actions you feel called to take on their behalf, the most effective way to pray or to “send good energy” to another person is to visualize them in their ideal situation. If they are sick, daydream that they are healthy and vibrant. If they are experiencing a lack of funds, picture them incredibly prosperous with a stocked refrigerator and full bank account. If they desire to perform onstage but suffer with intense stage fright, imagine them lighting up the room with their effortless performance. Basically, see them as their ideal version living their ideal vision.
In practice, it’s like making up a movie in your head where the other person is the star and they’re finally at the part of the film where it all comes together and everything works out. Does it guarantee this person a real life happy ending? No, of course not, as they are having their own co-creative life experience here. Yet, doing this moves energy and this energy can definitely be felt on subtle levels.
Also, because we are empathic beings (thank you, mirror neurons), visualizing someone else feeling good makes us feel good too. The sender of positive energy and optimistic support can’t help but become the receiver.
4. Recall your favorite things.
Remember the song “My Favorite Things” from The Sound Of Music? That’s pretty much the basis for this practice. I got the idea when I randomly heard it playing in a supermarket. And even though I thought it was a totally odd grocery store music choice, I found its message to be spot on. So simple yet effective.
How to do it:
a) Ask yourself, “What are my favorite things? What do I love? What do I enjoy?”
b) List them out.
c) Notice how you (as the song says) “don’t feel as bad.”
Anytime we focus on what we appreciate — on our favorite things in life — we feel better. And these “things” are probably not only “things” but more likely are the people, places, and experiences that we love and enjoy. They’re favorites for a reason. By calling them to mind, we recreate them in our imagination and we are then able to access the good feelings they tend to activate within us. This is why gratitude lists are recommended by pretty much everyone — they alter our focus from lack to fullness and our outlook from negative to positive. Mason jar half empty becomes Mason jar half full.
Now, of course, this practice is not meant as a way to spiritually bypass or ignore whatever negative feelings or emotions are arising within. By just thinking of the good stuff, it doesn’t make the bad stuff go away. But again, it is a definite focus and energy shifter. And whatever we choose to focus on will grow in our awareness because of our reticular activating system (the nerves in our brainstem which help us filter out the necessary info from the unnecessary info swirling all around us). Whatever we decide to give our attention to, we will see more and more of it without a doubt.
5. Express your appreciation for someone else… out loud.
On my best days and even on my less than best days (but perhaps not on my worst ones), I really like to notice the good in someone; to recognize their natural positive traits and talents and call it out, complimenting them on it. We all just want to be seen, valued, and appreciated for who we are. We all want to feel like we matter. Sometimes the littlest kind comment or exchange can have the biggest effect. Sometimes a simple, spontaneous, and sincere “I love your _____” can alter the emotional course of someone’s entire day. Not to mention, your own.
This practice may be more challenging to do if you’re in full-on panic, rage, or despair, but from pretty much anywhere else on the emotional spectrum, it will most likely uplift your energy. We are all made up of the same stuff (once again, thank you mirror neurons) which is why we tend to feel good when we make other people feel good.
It can be uncomfortable at times to be so open and sentimental (my younger, emotionally shut-down, too cool for anyone self would never) but that’s what tends to happen with maturity and/or foundation-shaking events beyond our control – the fear of being genuine and vulnerable dissolves as we remember the incredible importance of kindness, community, and the supportive, nurturing relationships we have with ourselves and with one another.
So, there you have it: five practices which can be useful for when you’re feeling anything from mildly blah to overwhelming despair. I can only suggest these practices of course, and like a good diet book, you can’t just read it and expect to get results. There are times I would rather just stew in my own negativity than actually do anything about it. Maybe you’re similar. But on the days when I have to shift my energy and when I can’t afford to keep my distracting anxiety or bad mood, I’m grateful to have these practices at my disposal. And now you do too.
* This blog post has also been published on Medium *
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