The Harmful Power of Negativity
The Darkness Spreads
I’ve been feeling it for the past couple years and maybe you have too. It is an overwhelming oppressive negative national (maybe even global) attitude. It seeps in through social media, regular TV media news, and even in music. Everything seems to be just a little darker. Like the proverbial frog in a boiling pot of water, the temperature is rising and we don’t seem to notice. The dark cloud has spread to where I don’t remember the last time I saw the light.
Being an artist, I am naturally an overly sensitive person, prone to bouts of depression and negativity. Growing up we just called it pessimistic. The glass never seemed half full for me and I was sure if anything bad could happen, it would. But beyond that, I tend to sense the pain and suffering of others and empathetically reach out to comfort my fellows wherever I find them. I guess this makes me a pessimistic encourager. It sounds incongruous but it always seemed to work for me. I don’t have to believe the best for me to believe the best for other people.
“People tend to be generous when sharing their nonsense, fear, and ignorance. And while they seem quite eager to feed you their negativity, please remember that sometimes the diet we need to be on is a spiritual and emotional one. Be cautious with what you feed your mind and soul. Fuel yourself with positivity and let that fuel propel you into positive action.”— Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience
Anger and Negativity
However, this present day gathering storm seems to be more than just my pessimism in overdrive. I can’t help but notice the anger and hate coming through the screen from my formerly positive upbeat friends and family. What is happening? How can we see blue skies again? Will the sun ever shine? I don’t mean to say everyone is negative but when more than 50% of what I see and hear makes me want to give up and crawl back into bed, I know something has to change.
Complaining Rewires Your Brain
I recently read an article about the way complaining and negativity rewire your brain. It actually feeds on the enjoyable feeling we get from complaining and makes new pathways that cause us to lean toward more of the same. Tell me you don’t feel a little charge telling someone about something bad that happened to you, or describing how you think the end of the world is near. The same way too much bacon for breakfast or smoking give a good feeling at the moment but are potentially harmful to you over time, so complaining and negativity is harmful.
Shrinking The Hippocampus
Like creating well-used ruts in a road, the efficient brain will continue to travel that same negative pathway once you start making it a habit. When that happens it is harder and harder to stop. Your brain becomes rewired to make future complaining and negativity more likely. However, all this negativity is damaging to other parts of the brain, shrinking the hippocampus, the part that governs intelligent thought. You may think this explains a lot of the foolish or thoughtless hate-filled statements that get repeated. Their hippocampus must be minuscule by now. Unfortunately, this is one of the parts that once damaged can lead to diseases like Alzheimer’s.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a family member go the way of Alzheimer’s and that is not a pretty way to go. I remember my mother once said she would rather die of cancer than lose her brain to Alzheimer’s. Although I don’t want to think about either scenario for her, I certainly understand what she means. I think it would be scary to lose all your memories and not even know who your family is like the lady in The Notebook.
What do you do when depression and negativity hits?
If that’s not all bad enough, the health danger is even worse. Constant complaining apparently releases the stress hormone cortisol. This fight or flight hormone can increase your blood pressure and blood sugar, making you susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and possible stroke. That’s all I need. I already have high cholesterol and obesity problems as well as high blood pressure.
With all this information, one of my goals for the New Year was to develop an attitude of gratitude. I have to say that is much harder than it sounds. The negativity is all around me, in my face, on my computer, on the faces of people I meet on the street even. The hopelessness increases and my hippocampus is suffering.
“When someone tells me "no," it doesn't mean I can't do it, it simply means I can't do it with them.”— Karen E. Quinones Miller
Stop The Complaining
My goal is to shift from thinking about all that is wrong to all that is right in my little sphere. I can’t change the world but I can change my attitude toward it and my attitude toward my part in it. One of the suggested solutions in the article was to only complain if you have come up with a solution to help solve the problem instead of just complaining or focusing on the negative with no hope. Actually, I can see that a lot of people would continue justifying their complaining by repeating what they think is a solution or using a solution basis that is highly controversial and politically charged. I’m personally staying away from that. I have my opinions but voicing them would simply increase the negativity swamp instead of decreasing it. No, my first and foremost goal is to decrease my own habit of focusing on the negative and increase an attitude of gratitude. To do this I created a page in my journal where I write one good thing that happened or that I noticed each day. Some days it is a real struggle but a good exercise.
My Mother's Mantra
My mother has lived all her 86 years (well, as long as I’ve known her) following the mantra of “if you can’t find anything good to say, say nothing at all.” She lives by that so completely that when she gets quiet my siblings and I get worried that we’ve done something horrific and she hasn’t called us on it yet. That motto is a good life lesson that I for one, haven’t learned to live by yet. I admire my mom for being able to keep her tongue so well when I know I’ve given her many opportunities to rain down criticisms on me.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Cut Out Negative Influences
Next positive step for me has been to distance myself from the deeply negative influences, including family members. It seems like negativity, like misery, loves company. I just don’t have time or brain space for that pity party anymore. I have had to cut off, block or just “mute” certain people from my social media timelines. It seems harsh especially for family, but I can’t take the complaining and misery and I shouldn’t have to. For now, I just have them take care of my own mental health. It has already made a difference. I feel better, lighter, freer, and I’ve lost weight. I wonder if it’s all related.
“7 things negative people will do to you. They will...
1. Demean your value;
2. Destroy your image
3. Drive you crazily!
4. Dispose your dreams!
5. Discredit your imagination!
6. Deframe your abilities and
7. Disbelieve your opinions!
Stay away from negative people!”— Israelmore Ayivor
Good News Vs Bad News
This may seem drastic, but I have cut off the new media. I’ve always wondered why we never seem to have any GOOD NEWS. The constant barrage of bad news gets me down. Now don’t get me wrong. I still want to know what is going on in the world, but I don’t need to be spoon-fed hours of it to get the jest of what’s going on. Instead of TV news on any channel, I subscribe to the local newspaper online. I get the headlines of local and national news in my email and I can choose from the headline to read more or to pass it by. The headlines have the jest of the story anyway and from that, I’m informed enough for my peace of mind.
“We never know the journey another person has walked, so be kind to everyone.”— Lynette Mather
Comedy Vs. Tragedy
The last change I have made is to be sure to read and watch healthy upbeat books and shows. I’m done with superheroes who need a hero to cheer them up or gothic tale that is so dark and scary that I can’t sleep at night. I remember a line from an old Bette Davis movie All This And Heaven Too. Charles Boyer said he went to see a comedy at the theater because “it may be a sign of old age, but there is enough sadness in the world. I don’t believe we should pay for our tears.” Well said. I have no need for horror or tragedy stories when I have enough to scare and depress me in real life. I have taken to reading mostly YA books. Young adult stories, especially those written for Middle School ages, have no sex, no violence, no drugs. They do, however, have lots of action, drama, emotion, empathy, and excitement. I find them superior to almost any adult books.
“Be soft, don't let the world make you hard. Be gentle, don't let the people make you difficult. Be kind, don't let the realities of life steal your sweetness and make you heartless.”— Nurudeen Ushawu
Any More Ideas?
What is your method of keeping positive in a world gone dark? Do you have your own strategy or have you given it any thought at all? I’d love to hear about your thoughts.