On days when I wake up and feel the urge to start the day with lifted spirits, I select a Joel Osteen sermon on the DVR. I have several to choose from and last week I watched one about negative thoughts.
Joel said that negative thoughts take up more space in our brains than positive ones. We find ourselves dwelling on the things that hurt us.
Did you realize that every second you are alive, your brain is actively thinking? We have between 50,000 - 70,000 thoughts each day. With 35 to 48 thoughts bouncing around in your brain each minute, it seems that some of them would have to be negative. Life deems that bad things are going to happen to good people. You are going to be put down, criticized, humiliated, make stupid mistakes, have terrible thoughts, lie, cheat, hurt other people, go a little haywire from time to time…the list goes on and on.
Well, guess what? We have this massive filing system in our brains where all those ugly moments are stored. Entire events are stored in our brains, complete with the emotions associated with them—good or bad. When something makes us retrieve a negative file, we open the Pandora’s box inside it. Rushing out of that file are all the emotions associated with the memory, taking us back to a place we don’t want to be.
When you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s you can build up a huge emotional file cabinet. I gave a presentation on caregiver emotions last week at the Senior Center in Warsaw, Missouri. We talked about guilt, resentment, worry, anger, loneliness, defensiveness, and grief. These are common emotions stored in caregivers’ memories. We also talked about strategies to take control over these emotions.
Now that I’m getting older and more philosophical, I find myself wondering just exactly how those pesky negative thoughts pop into my head and how to lessen their impact on my daily life. Joel Osteen said that when negative emotions dominate our thoughts, we need to switch the channel instead of replaying those hurts.
A similar idea surfaced in an article written by Joseph M. Carver, Ph.D, psychologist. He points out that the brain operates automatically, pulling files randomly throughout each day depending on memory triggers. “When the brain operates on automatic, the files it pulls are greatly influenced by our mood. For example, if you are severely depressed, if your brain is on ‘automatic,’ it will pull nothing but bad, trash, and garbage files.” A powerful tool at our disposal, according to Dr. Carver, is the ability to change a depressed mood by “simply switching the brain to manual, taking more control over our thoughts.” Or, as Joel Osteen put it, switch the channel.
Although I don’t think I have as much negative energy bouncing around in my brain as I once had, the occasional pessimistic thought can dominate my thinking. Fortunately, I’ve learned how to “switch the channel.”
The goal is not to bury emotions. In fact, the opposite is often more beneficial. If we can deal with our emotions immediately, the solutions are stored along with the traumatic experiences and help us cope with that emotion. Yes, most of us can direct our thoughts into a positive direction. At first, I couldn’t even tell people that Jim was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s without choking up and bursting out in tears. I took control of my thoughts by turning a negative into a positive. I started to speak about Alzheimer’s, began the Early Onset Blog, and became an Alzheimer’s advocate.
Chemicals in our brains determine our moods and feelings. Sometimes traumatic events or long-term negative thoughts can throw our brain’s chemical balance out of whack. When that happens, it may be necessary to take medication to bring the chemicals back in balance. Through positive thinking, physical activity, and mental stimulation, we can handle temporary or fleeting negative emotions.
Earlier, I compared the brain’s negative emotions to opening Pandora’s box, but the most important part of the legend is what she found in the bottom of what she believed to be an empty box. When she opened it again to show it was empty, Hope was released. We, too, can replace negative emotions with hope by taking control and switching the channel.
copyright © June 2014 by L.S. Fisher
Joel Osteen, www.joelosteen.com, Joel and Victoria’s Blog, February 28, 2014
“Emotional Memory Management,” www.drjoecarver.com, Joseph M. Carver, Ph. D., Psychologist