In this post, I’ll be covering anxious thinking and how we can combat it physically by using our breath, and mentally by honing and disciplining our thoughts.
We have, on average, 60,000 thoughts per day. Per day! How crazy is that? Sometimes I feel as though I can barely hold one thought, but unbeknownst to me, my brain is speeding off into the distance with a rucksack of thought-full goodies. No wonder we sometimes feel like our minds never stop, and no wonder we feel so refreshed after doing a mindfulness meditation or a task that requires complete focus. It means our thoughts are put on hold. Ah, the peace.
Constant unconscious thinking and mind drifting is draining our energy. We have far too many unnecessary thoughts and waste too much time worrying about scenarios that never happen. All that worry literally drains us. I often wake up feeling utterly drained. You know the level of exhaustion where it hurts to open your eyes? That has been the start to my day for far FAR too many mornings. I’m tired of being tired. It’s knackering!
I have no children, I find my job enjoyable and easy, I have security, my health is excellent, so why did I feel so exhausted? And, as obvious as this thought is, it suddenly occurred to me that my propensity to worry and over-think, and my absolute unconscious insistence on being a lazy, undisciplined thinker was the mastermind behind the tiredness. I was literally worrying myself into exhaustion.
How can that be? I never used to think exhaustion could stem from worrying and over-thinking, but it does because every time we worry, we trigger the flight or fight response in our brains. What follows is a rush of adrenaline, which results in our heart racing, an increase in sweating, shaking, tightness of chest, lightheadedness and dizziness – sometimes even vertigo. All this from a worrying thought. Then of course, I started to worry about the worrying causing my body to go through all this constantly. How could I stop? It seems like a catch-22, but I can assure you that there are ways around it.
Now, usually I blabber on about meditation and mindfulness – and rest assured it’s coming later 😉 – but recently I went to a local mental health workshop that explained the physical repercussions behind worry and the physical benefits and know-how behind relaxation. Immediately it made more sense to me, and I actually found it easier to grasp. Some of what I learned is obvious, but upon learning this information, I found that in all the self-help material I’ve read (and I’ve read A LOT), that they don’t explain the basics in a simple way.
So, we’ve covered the adrenaline rush. This happens pretty much every time we worry. Back in the good old days of being Neanderthals this was incredibly useful for our survival, and we had the means to release the adrenaline by responding physically – running away, or staying and fighting. However, today our worries are far greater, and less physical, but the adrenaline still powers through our bodies when we’re overly stressed and worried. If we don’t release it it sits in our body waiting to go somewhere, so upon our non-physical response, the body responds for us by sweating, shaking, heart racing etc.
To calm ourselves, we need to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system (usually called the rest and digest nervous system) and this is done through correct breathing. Didn’t I tell you it was obvious? And the easy way to know if you’re breathing correctly? Put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly and breathe. If your chest rises higher than your belly, your breathing is shallow; if your stomach rises with your hand you’re deep breathing. I literally had to push my stomach out when I first adopted this method of relaxation breathing just so I knew I was doing it properly! This deep breathing technique is what people mean when they advise that you concentrate on your breath. It’s also how we should be breathing all the time. This type of breathing slows the heart rate, thus we enter a relaxed state. It also aids in proper digestion of food which is handy for those of us who have stomachs that are sensitive, and of course, it relaxes the sphincter muscles and who doesn’t like a relaxed sphincter?!
It all seems so obvious doesn’t it? Well, it did to me…! But there was something in the way that it was explained to me that really clicked, and since then I’ve been implementing it and I’ve been far more mindful about my breathing. I’ve only been doing it for a couple of weeks, but I have noticed that my body naturally veers towards correct breathing now. I feel less anxious and less exhausted, but it’s still an on-going journey.
Which leads me nicely to our thought process. 60,000 thoughts per day! I hate to say it, but our thoughts are the troublemakers here, and we’ve become enablers for them. We’ve told them that it’s ok to stay – we’ve even made up a bed for them and decorated their room all nice and cosy! What gracious hosts we’ve been!
Rod meet back.
It’s time to face the music and evict those thoughts. They are no longer welcome. Do they help you? No. Do they make you feel good? No. You wouldn’t live with someone who made you feel horrible about yourself, so why live with those thoughts? You are in charge of the thoughts, they are not in charge of you. You are the one in control here. You are the one whose time has come to master their mind. It’s time to learn some discipline.
Discipline isn’t the horrible word we grew up with. It doesn’t mean to punish ourselves every time we have a negative thought, it means to master something. Firstly, we need to realise that our thoughts are energy, and that thoughts become things. Everything we see around us, has been a thought first. That’s not to say that every single thought you will ever have will manifest! Imagine the chaos!
I mean that thoughts are a form of energy that you are putting out into the world, and this energy affects you. Every time you have a thought about how unworthy or undeserving or unlovable you are, you are conditioning your mind to employ this as your go-to response, and you will attract situations that make you feel that way. The energy of the thought brings your frequency down and leaves you feeling deflated, stressed and useless. Through this constant conditioning, our body has become addicted to that horrible feeling.
This is why when we try to create a new habit we sometimes falter because our bodies are after that addictive feeling that they’ve been so used to getting. We’ve literally trained our bodies and minds to respond this way. We now have the long journey (maybe a month with real dedication) of reconditioning and retraining our minds and bodies to respond more positively and filter out the shit so we can let in the sugar. <— Don’t ask. I was in the flow and that’s what came out. It made me snort laugh, so of course it made the cut!
I’ll try and break down the science of it into simple terms (it’s the only way I can understand things. Why overcomplicate? Says the over thinker…haha!).
Basically in our brains we have these little path building buggers called neurons and they use a protein molecule – neuropeptides – to communicate. They influence the activity in our brain and bodies in specific ways. They are the ones who signal to our cells how to react. What’s fascinating is that our cells have built receptors for a specific neuropeptide wash for each emotion we feel. So if we’re going through a stressful time, our cells are building receptors for the stress neuropeptide because they anticipate the stress emotion happening.
“When you’re trying to break out of negative thinking, be aware that your body will be looking for those neuropeptides it has grown to expect on a cellular level. Despite your best intentions, the body’s cells will signal the brain to begin talking you out of your intended (conscious) goals as you unconsciously create worst-case scenarios in your mind…it’s a form of chemical addiction, and when you try to break it, your body will struggle against you at first. Your brain has trained your body to expect a certain neuropeptide wash…The body wants you to return to your habitual thinking self, so it influenced you to think in those familiar lower-frequency ways, tempting the brain to return to its old, unconscious habits. It feels good (or at least familiar) to feel bad.” – Quantum Love: Use Your Body’s Atomic Energy to Create the Relationship You Desire by Laura Berman.
I know it’s a long quote, but it explains it all so well and with more ease and grace than I could.
Revelation alert! It was this passage that pinged my mind into understanding. My body was addicted to feeling bad despite me intending to feel good and create new habits to lead a happier and more fulfilling life. There’s something about it being explained scientifically that enabled me to grasp the idea spiritually.
We can now see how we’ve conditioned the body and the mind to believe and even lust after feelings that don’t serve us. It gives the problem an overwhelming clarity and a fresh perspective when trying to understand why, as hard we try, we revert back to the old ways. There’s nothing wrong with us, we’ve just been taught the wrong way to approach ourselves, which is why we move forward past this hurdle, and leap into conditioning our mind and body with healthy and positive approaches that work for us. As it is with finding a good wine, you’ve got to work your way through the ones that don’t work for you before you find one that tastes perfect.
We choose our thoughts
Yes. Every single one of them. The moment we recognise them and allow them to penetrate, we are saying “I choose this thought to be a part of my consciousness.” The fact that we can choose our thoughts is actually empowering because it means we have the power to change them and we can control the calibre of thoughts we allow through. This comes down to the discipline we spoke of earlier.
How do we discipline our minds?
Through consciously recognising the negative thoughts and replacing them with a positive ones. We’re not disregarding or resisting the negative thought, we are simply changing it. For example “I’m not worth the effort” becomes “I am deserving and worthy of opportunities and love that come my way.” At first it requires a real awareness to recognise when that negative thought pops up, and then consciously replacing it with a more loving and honourable thought. I can’t tell you how many times my mind has drifted and I’ve found myself wallowing in imaginary scenarios and then remembered that I’m reconditioning my mind to appreciate my values. Affirmations have really helped me with this. I never used to think they worked, but actually, I must say that two weeks in I’m feeling far more positive and I’m quicker at recognising a negative thought and so I’m able to replace it immediately. With practice and discipline, it will become a habit and a learned behaviour.
“As soon as you have made a thought, laugh at it.” – Lao Tzu
Pay particular attention to the word ‘made’. Each thought we have we are making; we are creating our inner narrative and through that, our external reality. Each experience that we have is filtered through our belief system. Just how much of our thoughts are real? Establishing the reasoning behind the thought will result in conflict resolution – but only when we begin to gain awareness and realise that we are the reason. Remember, our external reality is governed by our inner narrative.
For example, your partner may have started helping around the house a bit more. You can either think “Oh, how lovely! I really appreciate that they’re helping me out. I’m so grateful.” Or you can think “Well it’s about time, I’ve been nagging long enough. It’s always me doing the housework. I bet they want something.” You can see how one thought transfers you into a positive and grateful mindset, and the other transfers you into a negative one.
You get to choose which one it is.
This is the power that you have: to determine your reality. The choice is literally yours. So, how do you want to live? In happiness, or in bitterness?
Whatever stage in your journey you may be in, know that you are the one influencing it. You are deciding how you live your life with each thought you create. Don’t be discouraged when a negative thought pops up. This is about replacing the negative and retraining the brain to create new positive pathways so you can literally live the life of your dreams. Think of it as training a new muscle: it requires focus, belief and persistence. You can do this!
You have the power.
Be happy. Be you.