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Counteract Stress and Difficulty by ‘Taking in the Good’

Posted: 28/05/2015

At times of ongoing stress or difficulty, have you ever noticed that when you schedule in something enjoyable to counteract stress and difficulty that it only works momentarily or ‘to a point’?

One reason can be that ‘taking in the good’ from any interaction or event is challenging as our brains are ‘elsewhere’ and are hard wired to focus on the negatives. So we know we ‘should be’ enjoying ourselves but somehow the effects of what we are doing are diluted – which can leave us feeling more dejected.

We know that our ancient ‘reptilian’ brains have a negativity bias – for survival ­ – and in everyday life this can make it difficult to for us to feel good, particularly when we feel bad. This is evident in research by relationships expert Gottman who found it typically takes around five positive interactions to overcome the effects of one single negative interaction like an argument. Or on an individual level, Seligman and colleagues have shown that it can be very hard to undo feelings of failure from one or two events even with many subsequent successes.

So we have work on our hands – to overcome our brain biases takes effort and practice.

To take in the good from something we need to attend to that thing for longer for the neural connections to start taking place. One way to do this is to be fully aware of what’s happening in the moment, to connect with how it feels to be here, now, doing this – in our bodies, in our feelings, in our minds. Then bathe in this ‘goodness’ for 5, 10, 20 seconds and feel the impact of this on you, on your day, or on your stress. One metaphor I particularly like is the idea that a stress or difficulty is ‘a wound’ and taking in the good from things is ‘the balm’ to soothe, heal and counteract the effects. For more on this see https://www.rickhanson.net/take-in-the-good/


Dr Samantha Leaity, Clinical Psychologist, Become Psychology

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