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Take a Deep Breath: Switch Your Focus, Reduce Your Stress

By Noelle Nelson July 03, 2022 Mindset

There was a time – not that long ago, really – when my Dad’s day started with reading the newspaper. The one that got tossed on the front lawn bright and early every morning. After work, he would catch up with the day’s events by watching the evening news on TV. That was it. Oh, our neighbors/family/his co-workers might comment on the news, but not much usually.

Now?!?!

Everyone comments on everything that’s going on in every corner of the globe 24/7/365. As wonderful as social media is in keeping us connected with friends and family, its downside is that it also keeps us informed of every disaster/crisis/violent act of every ilk at all times. Which can make it challenging to be cheerful and enthusiastic much of the time.

Being Cheerful and Enthusiastic in Our World

And yet, being cheerful and enthusiastic is not only a primary way to good heart health, but it’s also a great way to slow memory loss. A recent study showed that even though memory declined somewhat among older adults over the two decades of the research, it declined significantly less among individuals who regularly experienced more positive emotions, namely were more cheerful, enthusiastic and optimistic.

What’s interesting is that, barring immediate life-threatening events, optimism and positive attitudes have less to do with actual living situations and much more to do with how people respond to their living situations.

Take Bonnie August, for example. At 81, Bonnie wasn’t going to let the pandemic close her favorite restaurant, Culver’s, in Findlay, Ohio. When she saw that the dining room was closed, Bonnie figured that the restaurant might go out of business entirely so she decided to take action. Bonnie told the owner, who she knew from years of happy dining, that she wanted to help.

The restaurant desperately needed workers to continue serving customers via take-out, and so Bonnie found herself “unretired” and in the workforce taking orders and delivering meals to waiting cars. Her actions are similar to what she did many years ago when her husband found himself suddenly out of a job.

Without hesitating, Bonnie offered her services to a factory, even though the factory wasn’t looking for workers at the time. Bonnie was given the midnight shift, which she took without complaint and greatly appreciated, as it meant she could keep caring for her children during the day. Bonnie’s lifelong cheerful and optimistic attitude has kept her memory sound and her health good all these years.

Switch Your Focus

But how, you ask, is one to remain cheerful and enthusiastic in the face of all the bad news with which we are constantly bombarded? Switch your focus. Nothing obliges us to stay glued to social media or 24-hour news channels.

Certainly not to the “drama-trauma” version of social media and the constant “breaking news” on television. On social media, there are delightful sites devoted to good news, cute baby animals and to stories of heroes in our every day. It’s time to switch your focus.

Easier said than done, you might say, especially since we hardly want to ignore what’s going on in our world. True. But there is a big difference between knowing about today’s events, and dwelling on them. It’s the dwelling on them that gets us in trouble.

Unless you are willing to do something solution-oriented about whatever it is that is troubling you, then obsessing over it, re-hashing it endlessly with whoever is willing to read your posts or listen to you does nothing to solve the problem. It only negatively impacts your mental and physical health.

Alleviate Stress

All right: switch your focus. How? You might borrow a technique from the Navy Seals. Navy Seals use the “4 Box Breathing Technique” to help alleviate the stress they experience so often in their jobs, and I have found it to be extremely useful in helping people to switch their focus.

Think of it as a transition technique between whatever negative information you’ve been obsessed with and the happier, better-feeling place you want to get to.

It’s remarkably easy. All you need to do is take a deep breath in for a count of 4 through your nose, hold your breath for a count of 4, exhale through your mouth for a count of 4, and hold for a count of 4. That’s it. Nothing complicated. Very effective. Then simply choose to focus on something uplifting and dwell on that for a bit.

Your memory is precious, as is your heart health. The more ways you find to increase your cheerfulness and enthusiasm, the more likely you are to enjoy both for a very long time.

How do you respond when you’re under a lot of stress? What have you found that helps you to reduce stress?

Let's Have a Conversation!

The Author

Dr. Noelle Nelson is a psychologist, consultant and speaker. She is passionate about personal growth and happiness. She’s authored over a dozen books including "Happy Healthy... Dead: Why What You Think You Know About Aging Is Wrong and How To Get It Right" and Phoenix Rising: Surviving Catastrophic Loss: Fires, Floods, Hurricanes and Tornadoes. Visit her at http://www.noellenelson.com.

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