Pulling the ejector seat on the negativity spiral

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Q: Anonymous, Chief Stewardess, 34:

“It’s mid Caribbean season, and I’m getting more and more negative. It happens each season about this time, even though I go into each season promising myself I’ll think about all the positives and not let myself sink into that horrible negativity spiral. Yet a few weeks in and I’m exhausted and sleep-deprived, everyone’s getting on my nerves, and I can’t seem to cheer myself up no matter how hard I try. All my ‘fail-safe’ techniques for beating negativity like going for a walk or to the gym aren’t possible when we’re all cooped up with guests onboard or anchoring all the time. I think I have that negativity bias you mentioned in your article last week! Is there a way to change this or is it just that I’m in the wrong job?”

A: The Crew Coach:

It’s a tough one isn’t it. Once that kind of negativity takes hold it can be very hard to shake, and the more you think about it the worse it gets. There’s lots of advice out there about this along the lines of simply ‘thinking positive’, but the problem with simplistic ‘don’t be negative’ advice, is that it’s not always entirely helpful. We all know that feeling negative isn’t very pleasant, and we can often see ourselves dragging other people down with us. But despite even a high degree of self awareness and our best efforts to counteract it, once a negative mindset sets in, it can be very hard to shake it.

It might sound counterintuitive, but some research suggests we shouldn’t really try to suppress negative emotions at all. There was a fascinating article published recently in the Scientific American about why we have negative emotions: as I was explaining last week, their role in the human survival instinct is to process our experiences, and alert us when something might be wrong. Negative feelings are an important part of us, yet modern society constantly tells us to suppress and even apologise for these natural and important emotions. This causes us an unnecessary conflict as we battle with ourselves and feel bad for something that is part of us. And feeling guilty, wrong and bad about our thoughts is a terrible position to start from if you want to feel happier!

Even more interestingly, the studies quoted in this article showed that those who tried to suppress their negative feelings actually ended up with more negative feelings than those that dealt with them as they arose. So by forcing away those negative emotions you’re actually just giving them extra strength. But never fear. You didn’t think my answer was going to be to let yourself sink into the negative, did you? ?

The long answer would be to accept your emotions as they arise and examine where they come from before releasing them. You could even consider counselling if you have very dark repetitive thoughts. But this is an in-depth process of retraining your thought processes, and one you probably don’t have a lot of time for right now in between service and running the interior.

So let’s go for an interim fix. Let’s look at how you can trick your brain into reducing the power of negative thoughts in some very simple ways.

Remember this mantra: Feelings follow Focus. It has been proven that by thinking about something else that makes you feel happier for even just 2 minutes can break the power of negative thoughts.
Fake smile at yourself in the mirror for a few minutes each morning. Your brain can’t tell the difference between the muscles stretching in a real smile or a fake one, so this releases natural happiness endorphins automatically.
Strike power postures. I’ve written before about how striking a strong posture actually causes our body to release testosterone and cortisol- the confidence hormones. So hold yourself strong, and your mind will become stronger.
Learn from those around you. Look around at your fellow crew and recognise that they’re actually in EXACTLY the same boat, literally and metaphorically. They’re facing the same struggles, so how are they coping? Your negative brain probably just scrambled for ways they’ve got it easier than you, but in reality, you’re all on a boat together away from friends and family and you’re all knackered. Their ability to keep their chin up is a valuable lesson to you, so notice how they cope and perhaps emulate their coping mechanisms.
Breathe! You may not be able to go for a walk, but you can do yoga or meditation on your break or early in the morning – and make sure you really circulate the oxygen in your body with deep, cleansing breaths. Harvard University research has shown that the part of the brain associated with processing emotions actually grows in size in only 8 weeks of meditation. There’s no disputing the science: meditation will alter the shape and working of your brain in a positive way.
A busy yachting season puts everyone under extreme pressure, and you shouldn’t blame yourself for feeling negative when you’re not getting enough sleep, free time and exercise to function normally. These are some tips for getting through the season, but when the pressure is off after the season it may be time to put some concerted effort into long-term practices that will allow you to process your negative emotions in a healthier and more positive way.

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Alison Rentoul

Alison Rentoul

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