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Focusing on what is happening keeps negative thoughts at bay

"Negative thoughts are just a normal part of life," says Susan C. Hynek, outreach coordinator for Hartsfield Village.

“Negative thoughts are just a normal part of life,” says Susan Hynek, outreach coordinator at Hartsfield Village, a Munster retirement community. “They are always running through our minds, most often when we are stressed.”

Indeed, negative thoughts are so common that, according to Michigan State University Extension’s Stress Less with Mindfulness program, 90% of the 80,000 thoughts we have each day are negative.

“The key is to shift the thought process by looking at what is really going on and what is true,” says Hynek, who also teaches yoga at the Cancer Resource Centre in Munster.

“There are coping skills for killing the automatic negative thoughts,” says Delia Lopez, a licensed clinical social worker who is a therapist for Franciscan Health's Employee Assistance Program.

Lopez and the Stress Less with Mindfulness program incorporate the theories of Daniel Amen, a clinical neuroscientist and psychiatrist, outlined in his book "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life: The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Oppressiveness, Anger, and Impulsiveness."

Fortune-telling is one of the nine types of automatic negative thoughts that Amen notes in his book.

“It’s a dread that people have without any basis, like 'tomorrow is going to be bad' or 'I know they’re going to think I’m stupid' or 'they’re not going to like me,'” says Lopez.

When Lopez has a “fortune-telling” client, she has him or her answer a series of questions such as “Do I know such and such is really going to happen?” The answer is, "No, I don’t." “Do I absolutely know that something negative will happen tomorrow?” "No, I don’t."

“The third question is, 'How do I feel when I think these negative thoughts?'” says Lopez. “The fourth is, 'Who would I be without these thoughts?' The answer is they’d be happier. I teach them to ask these questions during our sessions. A lot of people think they can’t control these thoughts. I tell them what you think about comes about, and it’s just as easy to think positive thoughts.”

Hynek says that when people get caught up in negative thoughts they need to ask, "Is it true?"

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If a person is visual, Lopez recommends they think of the yin and yang symbol and go to the light side, which represents brightness, passion and growth. She also suggests finding 10 minutes each day to be as peaceful as you can, and taking a walk to get the endorphins going.

That fits in with the concept of yoga.

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“The key is to shift the thought process by looking at what is really going on and what is true,” says Hynek. “This is where yoga practice is key. We learn to train the mind and to be content in all surroundings, unless they are detrimental to our health and well-being. The goal for all yoga practices, as well as with most exercise, is to create a sense of peace within the body and mind.”

Oftentimes, continues Hynek, people hear the word yoga and they think about flexibility, strength and balance.

“Research is being conducted every day to better understand yoga’s role in improving one’s health and well-being,” she says. “While some potential benefits are hard to study scientifically, others have been proven true time and time again.”

Other forms of physical activity also are helpful.

“I have seen many people, in my 25 years of experience, transform with exercise," Hynek says. "Don’t get me wrong, I love yoga, but whether it's aquatics, cycling, Zumba, weight-training, the list is endless, the goal is health and wellness within.”

Keep in mind that negativity is contagious, and it can affect your way of looking at life and your feelings.

“Always surround yourself, when possible, with positive people,” says Lopez. “Negative people can make us negative.”

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