Think of a time where you felt overwhelmed. I’m sure it wasn’t long ago. Maybe it was while you were at work and your boss started to rip on you for messing up a project . . . Or maybe worry started to creep and snowballed while you were at home making dinner for the family.
Regardless of where or when it takes place, losing your peace of mind and venturing deeper into anxiety causes the same physiological response: activation of the fight or flight response.
Your eyes dilate and you become more agitated. As you become more agitated, your heart beats faster and your breathing increases. Your mind and your body are being ”revved out” to the max as if there was an external threat.
Eventually if you cannot return to a peaceful state, you will crash into burnt out state.
So how do we avoid this? Should we follow the same tired old advice that is copy and pasted all over the internet like:
- Just turn your mind off and relax!
- Think positive?
- “Just be?”
If we could actually do all of the above we would be Zen and peaceful all the time. The truth is this advice is vague and misleading. There is no such thing as turning your mind off while being alive. You think all the time, even when you are asleep you are still thinking! And even when we are not consciously aware of our thinking, our subconscious mind is busy thinking by processing information.
Think positive? How do we actually do that? Should we jump up in the air and shout hurray? Maybe, but the techniques below to think positive are much more effective.
Just be? Have you ever asked someone what was wrong and they said “NOTHING” in a problematic tone? You knew they were pissed off and trying to hide it. If you keep asking them what’s wrong they just might blow a head gasket.
Research indicates that trying to suppress negative thoughts is far more likely to increase misery than create a clear mind. In the 1980’s, Harvard psychologist Daniel Wegner conducted an experiment proposing students NOT to think about a white Polar Bear by suppressing the thought. Everyone was then asked to ring a bell every time the white bear came to mind. The result of the experiment? Daniel Wagner thought the cows were coming home because the bells never stopped ringing!
Attempting to suppress certain thoughts makes people obsess even more on the very topic they are trying to avoid.
So if most conventional tips don’t work, what does? Here are 5 strategies you can implement today to keep your peace of mind.
1. Write Your Heart Out
If we had a nickel for every time we worried we’d be rich. All of us experience chaos, setbacks, hardships, life problems and anxiety. Perhaps you just went through a long term breakup, are experiencing conflict at work or are in danger of losing your job or maybe all three!
In the book The Writing Cure studies indicate that expressive writing resulted in a remarkable boost in psychological and physical well-being, including a reduction in health problems and an increase in self esteem and happiness.
Common sense and habit lead us to try and share our pain with others by talking it out with a buddy. This does have some effect, but not nearly as much as expressive writing, especially in the long term.
Why does expressive writing work as opposed to sharing your pain with others?
The brain functions very differently to produce thoughts, speech and writing. Thinking is the most unstructured and chaotic followed by speaking and then writing. While thinking, your thoughts jump all over the place, from one topic to another topic without much connection. Speaking is more logically connected and writing is the most structured and takes the most work. . . trust me. I’m struggling right now to write this article.
While I’m writing, my brain is working hard to string together letters into sentences, sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into ideas! Because of the reasoning, logic and more concrete structure, we are forced to think and make sense of what happened.
This structured sequence of logic and reasoning will help you solve your problems in addition to expressing your feelings in a way that makes sense.
The whole process of writing brings a tremendous peace of mind.
So if life gives you lemons and you want lemonade, reflect on it. Spend a few minutes each day writing a diary type account of you deepest thoughts and feelings about it.
2. Name that state
Like I said earlier, suppressing emotion causes more problems than good. The opposite of suppressing emotion is to acknowledge it and let it out. I don’t mean letting it out in a destructive smashing pumpkins kind of way, I mean letting it out by calling attention to it.
One way to let out an emotion is to cry but, most of us don’t have that option. Another way is to use just a few words to describe an emotion.
An example would be saying to yourself out-loud, “I feel anxiety creeping in,” or “ All this new information is overwhelming.” Try to use simple terms and not to over elaborate. Opening up a full dialogue about an emotion will increase it, making it worse. The trick is to catch yourself during the onset and label it before you are consumed by its intensity.
Oddly enough people that were surveyed predicted that labeling emotions would make their emotions worse. In 2005 Neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman, Associate Professor of cognitive neuroscience at UCLA proved with FMRI brain scans that labeling arising emotions significantly reduces activity in the brain associated with fear called the amygdala.
3. Tear it down and RE-FRAME it
If your emotional state has drifted too far past the point for labeling to work, re-framing will work. Re-framing has a stronger calming effect to bring you peace of mind but it takes more brainpower.
I’m sure you’ve heard of aphorisms like, “there’s a silver lining in every dark cloud” or “turning lemons into lemonade.” These are all examples of re-framing.
Reframing is essentially controlling your interpretation of the meaning of the situation.
Our emotional responses flow out of our interpretations of the world, if we can shift those interpretations, we can shift our emotional responses.
Here are a few techniques
Suppose you were having a routine vaccination done at the hospital. As you sit down, the doctor pulls out a needle and injects the upper part of your leg without saying anything. He then quickly leaves the room without saying a word but laughs.
After a minute, your leg starts tingling and loses feeling.
At this point you are probably in FULL panic mode!
Now suppose the same thing happened, but the doctor told you exactly what was going to happen. Suppose he said, “after I inject you it’s NORMAL for it to start tingling and lose feeling for about 30 seconds.”
Not as bad, ehhh? That’s because it is normal and you know what to expect. This kind of re-framing is called normalizing.
Here are some facts to make a few things seem normal:
It’s normal to feel anxious and overwhelmed the first time you start a new task, job or endeavor.
It’s normal to fail at something over and over until you achieve your final goal.
It’s normal to feel embarrassed when you make mistakes at work.
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and challenged when raising children.
It’s normal to procrastinate by surfing the internet and reading articles like these.
Find out if what you are going through is normal.
Just knowing that it is normal is proven to bring you peace of mind.
5. Time Frame
Just like you, I rush in the morning to get out the door by a certain time to make it work. Sometimes I take a little too long to eat breakfast and I end up in a mad dash to try and get to work on time. Sometimes in this mad dash I literally run around the house and I’ll do things like skip packing lunch and brush my teeth real quick just to save 2.333 minutes.
It seems trivial now, because the time frame is completely different. The fact that I have to be at work within a certain time makes 2.33 minutes seem like an eternity, but within a day or week it’s trivial.
Think about this and slow down next time you feel panicked because of time.
Expanding the time frame you view your problem in will bring you peace of mind.
An experience can be viewed as “terrible” within the time frame of a week, but within the time frame of a few years or a lifetime, the event will seem trivial.
”Why am I rushing? I have plenty of time to brush my teeth and pack my lunch, 5 extra minutes is nothing over the course of the day.”
“In a week from now I won’t even remember this, and neither will anyone else, why am I so worried?”
“I will be working for the rest of my life until I’m 65, what’s wrong with taking a sick day to spend more time with my kids, maybe I should take a year off?”
”I’m going to spend the extra time to do it right because it will pay off in the long run!”
If you don’t use it you lose it
So there you have it, a few unconventional strategies that will bring you peace of mind. Of course these strategies will not help if you just skimmed over the article and “keep that in mind.” You have to apply it, over and over again until it become ingrained in you. My suggestion is to take just one and apply it throughout the day for a week or two, then another one the week after.
There are plenty more, enough for a part 2 and maybe a part 3 so stay in touch, but for now, less is more. Implement what you know and make it a part of you!
To sum it up.
- Name that state: Call attention to your emotions as soon as they start to arise to express it.
- Write your heart out: Write a detailed account of what happened and what you will do to solve it.
- Control your interpretation of the events (Re-frame)
- Normalize it: Is that normal?
- Time frame: What time frame are you referring to?
Featured photo credit: Girl Feeling Free / Photo by: Ed Gregory via stokpic.com