Category: Resiliency

How to Get Out of A Negative Headspace: Stop Your Toxic Thoughts

How To Get Out Of A Negative Headspace: Stop Your Toxic Thoughts

It’s easy enough to talk about happiness when you already feel good. But what about those days when you’re in a negative headspace or succumbing to negative self-talk?


One of the most helpful ways I’ve found for how to get out of a negative headspace is to make a happiness list you can reference and utilize during those tough times.


When we’re legitimately angry, frustrated, or sad, it’s often difficult to think of anything else. In those moments, our emotions cast a dark hue on everything around us.


So what can you do to break through that darkness? Keep reading to learn more about cultivating a truly powerful happiness list that can serve you in more ways than one.


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How Does A Happiness List Help You?

Making a happiness list is one of the quickest, easiest exercises you can do to help break yourself out of a negative mindset after a bad day, week, or even month. 


When we experience negative emotions like anger, sadness, or frustration, it’s difficult to focus on any positive thoughts.


Think of those emotions like an injury. If you cut your finger, blood rushes to the cut and your body starts the healing process automatically. Your brain works similarly when you’re under stress. It releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which focus your brain and body on managing the stressor. 


Of course, none of us wants these negative feelings. In many cases, there may even be an external need to move through them quickly in order to address a separate task or situation.


Creating a happiness list in the moment or referencing a happiness list already created is a way of shifting your attention out of that negative mental state. It’s similar to how someone with an injury might be told to take deep breaths to calm down and refocus their thoughts and energy. 


The beautiful reality though, is that a happiness list is more than just a distraction. It brings you back into the present moment. When you truly focus on what brings you joy, your brain often releases a completely different set of hormones – ones like serotonin and dopamine. These hormones optimize how your body and brain function, bringing relief and a release of pressure.


When we’re in a more positive mindset, we tend to be more creative, more solution-focused, and see things in a different way. So, by shifting your thought process, you automatically shift yourself closer to a frame of mind that is better equipped to address what’s causing your angst. We’re able to see the situation with greater awareness and a focus on positive outcomes.


Make A Happiness List

At a basic level, a happiness list is exactly what it sounds like – a list of the good things in your life and everything that makes you happy. In reality, the best happiness lists take time and thought to truly build but are also the most impactful.


There are 3 steps I recommend for both cultivating and utilizing a powerful happiness list:


For the first step, do a brain dump of all the things, people, places, etc. that bring you happiness. 


When you first start, try not to spend too much time on any particular idea and give yourself permission to build the list without self-judgment. There may be some things on the list that you or others perceive as silly, childish, or dumb. That’s okay! This list is only for you and no one else ever needs to see it.


Making this list is helpful or adding to it in the moment is helpful, but it’s really the next steps that make this exercise so impactful.


When you find yourself in a negative headspace, focus on the list. 


This could be as simple as actively thinking about the things that are on the list. In fact, giving yourself time to focus on each item one by one and hold it in your mind can bring a tremendous sense of inner peace under the right circumstances.


In other situations, the most impactful action you can take is to introduce something from the list in the moment. For example, taking a walk in the fresh air, playing with your pets, going for a long run, reading a favorite book, etc. Find something on the list that you can focus your time and energy on.


Finally, pay attention to what helps or doesn’t help in different circumstances and make note of that for future reference.


I love reading and if I’m stressed out about negative things I can’t control or impact then reading often serves as a great distraction. But sometimes my more negative mindset presents as my brain “spinning” – jumping around between all of my unhelpful thoughts. I’ve found that trying to read when during a negative spiral is no help at all. 


In this state, I’m unable to focus on the book and will often realize that I’ve reached the end of a page without really reading anything on it. Knowing this helps me understand when this particular item on my happiness list is going to help me and when I should utilize something else from the list.


As you can see, this is not a one-and-done kind of exercise, but rather an ongoing experiment you engage in and continuously tweak. The more time and attention you put into truly cultivating this list the more it will help when you need it.

Tricks To Think Of Happy Things

The most helpful question to start with when you’re first creating your happiness list is probably obvious.


What makes you happy?


It’s funny how a question can be so simple and so complex at the same time, right?


For now, let’s put aside the more complex concept and focus on the simple: literally identifying the great things that stir up emotions you associate with happiness. These could be emotions such as:


  • Joy
  • Excitement
  • Enchantment
  • Peace
  • Humor
  • Love
  • Nostalgia
  • Freedom

Hold those emotions in your mind and think back to times when you felt them. What were you doing? Who were you with? If you’re at home, take in the space around you. Does your home decor spark anything? What about pictures? Do you have items laying out related to a hobby? What kind of physical activity do you enjoy and why?


Remember, this is a brain dump so the goal is to get as many ideas on paper as you can without judgment. As you make your initial list, try adding notes that highlight key details that strengthen the joy you feel.


The list below is an example of what I came up with the first time I dabbled with this exercise. Some items will make sense to most people, some won’t but it doesn’t matter because this list is for me.


  • My husband (and cuddling with him, playing games, talking, etc.)
  • My dogs (and playing with them, petting them, seeing their joy after a walk or as they play)
  • My books (especially some nostalgic ones from my childhood like Anne of Green Gables)
  • Pictures with friends and family
  • Wine bottles I’ve picked up on different trips and now use as decorations
  • My running shoes
  • The feeling of putting my hair in a ponytail
  • Being outside
  • Tall trees that look like they’ve been around forever
  • Hiking
  • Treasure maps
  • Old skeleton keys
  • Random acts of kindness
  • Watching others dance and have fun
  • Dancing on my own and singing

Again, I could go on but the point here is demonstration and inspiration.


Why Emotion Processing Is Important

One thing that absolutely must be discussed here is that everything shared above is a great way to cope with negative thinking. Another great way of coping is to try journaling for resilience.


To truly see long-lasting change in your life, additional emotion processing may be necessary.


So what’s the difference between coping with and the processing of negative emotions?


The positive thing about coping is it serves to provide immediate relief that allows you to function, focus on other things, or even just feel better temporarily. Processing involves addressing the root cause of your anguish and seeking to resolve that situation.


Coping has immense value because real processing and resolving of these emotions and situations can take time and you may not always be able to do it in the moment. And, of course, in some situations, coping may be the only step necessary.


If you’ve had an unusual fight with a friend, for instance, you’ll probably want to address it with them. The happiness list above and other coping techniques will help you move through your anger more effectively so you can quickly resolve the argument. In a situation like that, no deeper analysis may be needed.


If, on the other hand, you find yourself in a trend or recurring negative event, feeling the same emotions the same way on a regular basis, emotion processing may be called for. Using coping only in a recurring situation, may indicate a level of avoidance and could disguise itself as positive thinking. You may feel better in the moment but you’re sure to feel crummy again later because the root cause of your negative emotions has not been resolved. 


It might be helpful to understand why you’re avoiding addressing the issue. Avoidance can come from many places – a desire not to unbalance what otherwise seems to be a good situation, a dislike of conflict, fear of change, etc.


Understanding the reason for your avoidance allows you to ask yourself the next pertinent question – what serves you more at that moment? Leaving the situation unresolved and knowing it will probably occur again or doing the work of processing your emotions and resolving the issue to move forward?


Unfortunately, neither option is easy.


Of course, if you’re avoiding the situation out of a fear for your safety, that can be an entirely different scenario. In those instances, I highly recommend seeking additional support, such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-7233.


Create Your Own Happiness List

So now that we’ve addressed the importance of emotion processing, let’s jump back to that happiness list. Using my list as an example, what comes to mind for you? What are some small things that make you happy and, therefore, might be helpful the next time you find yourself in a negative situation?


If you’re in a sharing mood, feel free to add some of your own examples in the comments. You never know if that could spark a moment of inspiration for someone else.


And, of course, if you do find yourself in a situation where you have a larger issue to resolve, don’t forget that I can help with that, as well. One value of the happiness list and other coping mechanisms is that they pull you out of the negative emotions, which helps you have a more well-rounded view of what’s happening. Despite that, it could still be difficult to be fully objective when emotions are high.


The good news is, that’s where I come in! My role as your coach is to stay objective and help you see nuances of the situation you might not see for yourself. As we work together to understand what’s happening, we’ll also create action-oriented solutions that help you resolve the situation and move forward with intention.


Negative emotions and thoughts are a normal part of life but they don’t have to rule your life.


If you want to learn more, schedule a consultation or email me at I can’t wait to hear from you!


Until then, I wish you all the happy thoughts there are.

Journaling for Resilience

Journaling for Resilience

They say that change is the only constant in life. Of course, the type of change and how it impacts your life is always unknown. The pandemic situation we’ve dealt with over the last two years has created a time of monumental change for all of us. To make it more challenging, many of the changes we’ve faced have occurred suddenly, with little-to-no time to prepare. 


So what do you do when you find yourself in the face of adversity or a difficult situation? I recommend journaling for resilience as an outlet for the negative emotions you’re sure to have. This is a great way to forge your own path through the transition rather than being swept away by it.


In this article, we’ll dig more into this specific exercise of journaling for resilience and its power to help you navigate transitions and lead a happier life.


Table of Contents

What Is The Relation Between Change And Choice?

One of the biggest challenges with transitions or negative events is the feeling of helplessness or powerlessness they can create. You didn’t choose to have this upheaval, after all. Or maybe you did but it hasn’t gone the way you expected. 


The weight of all that “unexpectedness” can seem, at times, like a giant wave crashing down upon you, keeping you from standing up again. It often leads to higher stress levels and increased blood pressure, neither of which helps address the negative effects of that stress.


The first step I’m always going to recommend in a situation like this is journaling for resilience to help choose how you want to react.


I know many people may bristle at that statement. After all, if we could choose our emotions, reactions, etc. at any given moment then wouldn’t we all just choose to be happy?


Let me be clear. Our emotions are real. Our emotional responses to hard times are normal, valid, and completely to be expected. More importantly, those responses serve a purpose – to protect us, comfort us, etc. 


But regardless of what our emotional response may be, we can still choose how we react. In fact, that ability to choose our reaction is an important part of how we build resiliency to life’s changes and it’s one of the key goals of journaling for resilience.


Studies show our ability to bounce back from difficult times has a direct impact on our overall happiness. In fact, the organization, Action for Happiness, finds the positive effects of resilience to be so high that they list it as one of their 10 Keys to Happiness.


So what do I mean, exactly, when I say you can choose your reaction?


Most of us react to upheaval subconsciously. That reaction is often a direct result of our initial thoughts or feelings about the situation, which is completely understandable. But when we let that reaction stay at a subconscious level rather than a conscious level, we also allow those thoughts and feelings to happen to us rather than for us.


Choosing your reaction doesn’t necessarily mean changing your reaction. It means bringing awareness to what you’re feeling, acknowledging how that response does or doesn’t serve you, and making a conscious choice to keep that reaction or change it.


 Let me share what I do to journal for resilience and, in fact, what I did a while back when I had a situation to work through. I won’t share the specifics of my situation, for a number of reasons, but I think you’ll get the gist. One of the most important things to know is that I did this writing exercise soon after finding out about the difficult situation, when I had only limited information available. 


You may often find yourself in a similar situation, so know that this writing exercise can be done any time you need it, and it doesn’t take much time to complete.


What Are Some Journaling Questions?

I’ll start with sharing the questions and answers I used when journaling for resilience in this difficult situation. This dynamic process served to help me organize my thoughts. 


The questions are in italics with the answers in plain text to differentiate between them. Hopefully you’ll see the progression of how one set of questions and answers feeds into the next:


  • What can I control right now?
    • How I react
    • What I do next
    • How I let whatever happens next impact other aspects of my life
  • How do I want to react? (Note: There’s a ton of value in detailing what you mean for each answer here. In this example from my personal life, I’ve provided a modified versions of the clarifying statements I used, but you can see how each fleshed out statement provides another layer to what I was thinking and feeling in the moment):
    • By taking responsibility – I made a mistake. I own that and I can’t change it now but I can learn from it.
    • With self-forgiveness – The mistake I made was understandable and easy to make, given the circumstances. I am human and it’s okay to make mistakes, even big ones.
    • With acceptance – What happened has happened. It’s a horrible situation, and I’m angry and frustrated about it but I can’t change it. I accept that, along with anything that happens as a result of it.
    • With grace – Everyone involved in this will make the best decision they can with the information that’s available to them. I will accept those decisions with respect and grace.
    • With hope and faith – I know who I am and the value I bring. Mistakes like this are a rare occurrence for me so I will have hope and faith that the good I’ve done in the past will outweigh this mistake. If it doesn’t, then I have hope and faith that all of this is happening for a reason.
  • What do I want to do next?
    • I won’t list my answers here because they were specific to this private situation, but I literally made a list of everything I could think of that could be potential next steps based on how I’d chosen to react. Then I put them in order of priority and began knocking them off one-by-one once I had finished journaling.
  • How do I want to let whatever happens next impact other aspects of my life?
    • I want it to have the least impact possible.
  • Where can I anticipate unintended impact happening? (Note: I had several answers here but I’ve shared one as an example)
    • My biggest concern is my health. I’ve been trying to eat better and work out more but this is a high-stress situation and I know those are often the first things to drop when I’m stressed.
  • So what can I do to ensure those stay on track and don’t make the situation worse?
    • I know that eating unhealthy and NOT working out would ultimately increase my stress, not decrease it, so I need to focus on pre-logging my food, as I’ve been doing, and taking time each night to plan the next day’s workout so I don’t fall off track.
  • What’s the worst that could happen as a result of this?
  • (After answering the above question) If that were to happen, what would I do?

Now that I’ve walked through that real resilience journal example, let me hit on a few key points.

Obviously, the questions for your situation, especially the follow-up questions, may be very different. However, there are a few journal prompts that can probably be used across the majority of situations when you’re journaling for resilience. Some of them are reflected above but I’ve compiled a full list below that you can pick and choose from, as applicable:


  • What can I control?
  • How do I want to react?
  • How do I want to let this impact (or not impact) other areas of my life/job/relationship/situation/etc.?
  • How does this situation jive (or not jive) with my values and what’s most important to me? 
  • If it doesn’t jive with my values then what can I change to get more alignment?
  • How does this situation take me closer or further from what’s most important to me? 
  • If it takes me further then how can I change that or what action do I want to take?
  • How can I make this situation help me?
  • What thoughts am I having right now?
  • What feelings am I having right now?
  • How are those thoughts and feelings serving or not serving me?
  • If they’re not serving me then what are some new thoughts or feelings I might want to have that would serve me more?
  • What’s the worst that can happen?
  • What would I do if that did happen?
  • What do I want to do next?

How Does Journaling For Resilience Help?

There have been a lot of recent studies done about the promising effects of positive writing and other expressive writing interventions, like keeping a gratitude journal. In fact, a recent article posted at the National Library of Medicine goes in depth on a number of studies being done with higher education students, who have been found to be particularly susceptible to higher stress levels and mental health challenges.


The scientific results of these studies showed that frequent use of journal interventions led to a significant increase to students resilience over a relatively short period.


And while this is something that can definitely be beneficial with daily use, it can also be an effective means to boost resilience in unique circumstances.


In the personal example I shared above, I was eager to change my reaction and find a different way to think about it. I had just been made aware of the situation in question and I was panicking, my mind was spinning, and I couldn’t think straight because of all the negative emotions swirling through me.


I knew I needed to have a productive reaction quickly and, therefore, letting myself “sit” in that spin cycle would not serve me.


Completing this exercise brought a level of relief that is indescribable. If that was the only value I found from journaling for resilience, that would have been enough. More than that, though, my journal made significant differences in how I handled what remained of the challenging situation I faced.


In my example, I started this exercise crying, feeling hopeless, and uncertain about what would happen next. By the time I finished, my tears were dry, I was breathing normally, and felt prepared to face what was happening. Working through these journal prompts had made room for more positive emotions to come in, like hope and confidence.


No matter what occurred next, I had a firm grip on what I could control and I was determined to hold on to that. I also had actionable items I could do right away to keep myself from lingering too long in the negative feelings that had overwhelmed me.


Even though this had a dramatic impact on how quickly I moved through this change and how much it impacted me, it did still impact me.


I still spent the next several days in tears. I still beat myself up. I still experienced anger, frustration, despair, hopelessness, etc. I still experienced all of that because I’m human.


It’s completely normal for us to have these emotions and to truly feel it when something unexpected happens in our lives.


However, when those negative emotions surfaced, I also had this incredible resilience journal exercise to go back to remind me of the bigger picture. So, I could remind myself to be forgiving; I could remind myself to maintain hope; and I could remind myself that I had a plan.


You Have The Power To Be Your Own Solution

No matter who you are or what change you’re going through, I hope this helps you manage your mental health and your own building of resilience through journaling. Think of it as one more possible way to achieve greater life satisfaction, even in the darkest of times.


Of course, if you’re not seeing your resilience change as quickly as you’d like, I’m just a click away and ready to offer my support.  You can always email me at or schedule a consultation to learn more about how I can partner with you with this or other appropriate interventions that might help you get where you want to be.


We all need some help every now and then.


Until next time, be safe, happy, and well!