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Anxiety

5 Questions That Can Boost Your Mental Health

2. Who would really enjoy hearing from you right now?

Key points

  • When people feel down or weary, they often start to think negatively. 
  • To combat our natural tendency to think more negatively when feeling flat, try some question prompts to think more positively.
  • One prompt to help you think more positively is: When have you observed the best aspects of humanity lately?
Xan Griffin/Unsplash
Source: Xan Griffin/Unsplash

When people feel down or weary, they often start to think negatively. This sets off a spiral. You feel worse and then behave in ways that create a further downward trajectory. For example, if you feel lonely, you're more likely to expect social rejection or hostility and therefore insulate yourself from others. This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy and more loneliness.

To combat our natural tendency to think more negatively when we're feeling flat, you can use question prompts to think in more positive ways that support your mental health. Try the following options. (Note: These questions aim to avoid toxic positivity, like falsely believing only positive things will happen to you, or vacuous positive affirmations, like "I'm perfect.")

If any of these questions don't appeal, skip them. I encourage you to answer the questions that naturally interest you. If you find that these questions backfire and only make you think opposite and negative thoughts, that may be a sign you need to do more extensive work on your mood.

1. What have you done lately that worked out much better than anticipated?

You can think small for this, but be specific. For example, I recently bought silicone baking cups for muffins. I've made banana chocolate chip muffins weekly for years but using paper cups that stick badly. I didn't expect the silicone baking cups to work so flawlessly and couldn't believe it had taken me so long to try them.

By coming up with specific examples, this question will help you get out of the habit of anticipating only negative experiences.

2. Who have you thought fondly about that would probably enjoy hearing from you?

Research shows that people underestimate how much people they know (including only causally) would enjoy hearing from them. If you've thought about a fond memory, you shared with someone, or you've been wondering about someone you lost touch with, get back in contact. If you're unsure about whether the person will want to hear from you, the research evidence is that they probably will.

Reaching out doesn't have to be complicated. For example, a few months ago, I gave a talk to a city government in Colorado. Just last week, I watched a travel video on that city that had been newly released by a YouTuber I subscribe to. I wondered if my contact within that city government had seen it. I could reach out to her to share it.

3. When have you observed the best aspects of humanity lately?

People can certainly be cruel, dismissive, or evil. They can also be kind and generous. Ask:

  • When have you observed the positive, giving side of others?
  • Who has helped you?
  • When has someone given you an opportunity?
  • When have you observed someone helping someone else, like opening a door for someone with a baby?
  • When have you observed someone diligently doing their job when they could easily have slacked or phoned it in?
  • When have you observed admirable grit in other people?
  • When have you observed another human learning or developmental leaps within a child?

For example, writing stories has just clicked for my child after she has struggled with anxiety about writing every other time we've tried to learn that skill.

4. When have you observed something relaxing and calming about the natural world lately?

When have you observed something in your environment that was peaceful, beautiful, or magical? For example, falling snow, a pretty tree, or an animal feeding its young.

5. When have you observed something beautiful in the human-made world lately?

For example, you sat in a cafe with a very cozy vibe, or you witnessed someone's art or other creative output. When have you observed human creativity that gives off a sense of vitality and energy? When have you observed order and cooperation between humans, like a city employee with a snow plow promptly coming to plow your street when it was needed? Or, if a package you ordered promptly showed up at your door, you might think about all the humans involved in making that happen.

If you struggle to answer these, you're probably not thinking small, specific, and personal enough. Your answers should reflect you. For example, if you don't care about trees, then your observation for question four wouldn't be of a pretty tree. Allow your answers to be expressions of yourself.

Answering these questions will hopefully have stoked diverse positive emotions within you, like awe, joy, peace, or contentment. Try labeling what you felt when you answered these, using specific emotion words. Your capacity to notice and label your emotions in granular ways is an important psychological skill that promotes resilience and will enhance the benefits you get from astute observation of yourself and the world around you. Try to think of nuanced observation and labeling your emotions as skills rather than a disposition you either have or don't have.

Bonus: Share one or two of your answers to these questions (your observations) with loved ones, coworkers, or on social media. Ask others for their examples. This may also enhance the effects of making these observations.

LinkedIn image: Alisha Vasudev/Shutterstock. Facebook image: True Touch Lifestyle/Shutterstock.

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