How we feel is a function of many things but there are certain paths that effect how we feel in a dramatic way. These are things we choose, sometimes consciously, but mostly subconsciously (beneath our conscious awareness) Because we do have a degree of choice about them, we can choose differently to begin to feel and get better fast. We’re going to address 3 key areas that can dramatically effect how we feel:
Focus – Where you put your attention.
Meaning – The stories you tell yourself.
Physiology – How your mind/body is affected by the focus and meaning.
When you focus on what you don’t want to happen or didn’t want to happen, you will start to feel bad, not just some of the time, but 100% of the time. The more you don’t want what you’re focusing on, the worse you’ll feel.
Worriers are good examples of this phenomenon. People who tend to worry, tend to use their amazing imagination to visualize the worst case scenario. When they do this, the primitive part of their mind (which doesn’t know its not happening yet , and may never happen) sends them emotions that reflect the situation
and might help them deal with or act on the horrible catastrophe that has occurred.
Remember Venn diagrams from High School? Worry is the intersection, the overlap, the common point between depression and anxiety. When you start to eliminate worry, you start to eliminate depression and anxiety. They can’t exist without the prediction of and focus on a negative future (Which, by the way is often highly unlikely to happen).
How do you solve the Focus problem? Become aware of how you’re using your imagination, stop it, focus on something else, like what you want to have happen, really visualize that, then see how you feel.
Meaning is what you tell yourself about an event, person or situation. It’s a story you’ve created even though it seems like the gospel truth. It often includes what others think about you and what that’ll mean to your life. Many times that includes a prediction about a negative future. Subconscious mind reacts to the meaning as though it is true and current. It creates emotions that compel you to take action to deal with the dreaded outcome.
Much of cognitive therapy is focused on challenging the meaning of our thoughts. Cognitive therapists believe that as we think, so we feel. So if you can challenge or change the thoughts, you can change the feelings. Change the feelings and you change the behavior. The fastest and most powerful way to change meanings is to recognize that:
“NOTHING MEANS ANYTHING”
Meaning is in the mind of the perceiver and perception is reality, until you decide it’s not. Meaning is not inherent in the situation. We make and add the meaning, often automatically, based on our view of the world or the situation.
Ask yourself: “What story am I telling myself that is making me feel so bad? Is it true? Can I absolutely, positively know it’s true? True or false, how do I feel when I believe this story? Is there another way to look at it that would change how I feel? If so, look at it that way. In my next blog post I’ll give you some other tried and true ways to challenge your beliefs, the meaning mind is attaching.
This is a tough one. It is a nearly 100% unconscious reaction of your mind and body to your focus and the meaning you’ve made of it. It is instantaneous and hard to shift, especially when it’s got a head of steam going. People who suffer from anxiety, agoraphobia and panic disorders know this first hand. People who procrastinate, or have been depressed, know the effect your physiology can have on your ability to get moving.
Surprisingly, you can get control over your physiology if you’re willing to work at it. If you’re not living in Iraq or some other really dangerous place as you read this, you need to learn to relax and take time out to do it, everyday, many times a day. If you do live in a dangerous place, move if you can. Then relax. If you can’t escape the danger completely, get to a relatively safe place, then relax.
So how do you manage your physiology when you’re freaked out most of the time? You have to train your mind/body to do what you want it to do. As it turns out, it’s pretty simple and it’s just like physical exercise, the more you do it with purpose and guidance, the better you get at it. A great place to start is learning how to manage your arousal level. Learning how to calm your self. Success in this comes from practicing the proper method. Over time your mind/body comes to understand your intention when you start your relaxation ritual and it starts to do the relaxing for you.
Technique for calming yourself: Imagine you are in a safe place, a place where you're very relaxed. a place where you're extraordinarily calm. It can be a real place you've experienced or it can be a place that would calm you down. It’s totally safe here. Make it real by seeing what you would see there (in your mind’s eye), hearing what you would hear there, feeling what you would feel there. If you want to make it even stronger you could smell what you’d smell and taste what you would taste in a calming, safe environment. Speak affirmatively to yourself: “Be calm, relax, everything is going to be alright. You feel peace coming over you.” Words to that effect. As it turns out, the subconscious part of our minds doesn’t understand negation. So when someone says to themselves “Don’t worry, don’t panic, don’t be afraid.” Subconscious hears “Worry, panic, be afraid” and it does so. When speaking to yourself, speak only what you want to happen, not what you don’t want to happen. See yourself in that safe place then imagine you’re there.
Next you have to lower your arousal level. The best way to do this is through slow, deep, diaphragmatic breathing. When starting this breathing technique I recommend the 4-7-8 method advocated by Dr. Andrew Weil, the famous wellness expert.
Breathe in for the count of 4
Hold the breath for the count of 7
Breathe out over an 8 count
This technique slows the breathing and ensures a longer out-breath than in-breath, which lowers the heart rate and arousal level.
Breathing for 4 minutes in this different way with relaxed imagery will activate the parasympathetic nervous system, calming a fear/anxiety response and causing a state of relaxation to take place. This is miraculous in and of itself, but it isn’t the big miracle.
The big miracle happens when you practice this technique. Practice 10 times a day for a minute or two: consistent relaxed imagery, affirmative self-talk, slow deep diaphragmatic breathing with a longer out breath. In 2-3 weeks you shorten up the time it takes to activate your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) from 4 minutes to 3 to 2 to 1 to 0 minutes. After that, PNS activates when you start the ritual.
Every time you practice, you’re taking a break from your day and lowering your stress level. Every time you practice you're telling your mind and body that you want to relax right now. Every time you practice you break the old pattern of relentless climbing anxiety, and the fear that engenders.
This practice can change your life for the good, forever.