The Power in the way we Think

Posts tagged ‘attention’

Mental Stress

mental stress

So yesterday we talked about the stressors you find that impact on your body. We discovered one thing that I didn’t think would happen – there are a lot more things that put pressure and strain on our bodies than I thought there were! Who knew that the simple act of being in a warm room could put pressure on your physical system?! And that list was huge! When you really think about it, some of the things that we believe to be effortless, can have a big impact when we don’t realise it!

Following the same formula as yesterday, mental stress would be defined as anything that places a force, strain or pressure on our ability to perform mental tasks. I wonder if we’ll find the same thing that we did for physical stress?

So let’s have a look. What everyday things place pressure, strain or force on our mental abilities?

  • Sleep deprivation/fatigue
  • Problem-solving
  • Brainstorming
  • Studying/learning
  • Thinking about stuff (especially overthinking)
  • Worrying/dwelling on things
  • Comparing yourself to others
  • Rehearsing conversations/events in your mind
  • Visualizing/imagining
  • Medications
  • Illness/injury
  • Addictive substances such as alcohol and drugs
  • Food and water (the types and/or amount of)
  • Disability
  • Accidents or physical trauma
  • Temperature (either too hot or too cold)
  • Fevers
  • Remembering/recalling information
  • Interpreting information
  • Reading/Spelling/Writing
  • Drawing
  • Creating
  • Cooking (measuring etc)
  • Calculating mathematical problems
  • Recalling facts and figures
  • Physical tasks such as driving
  • Concentrating/focusing
  • Physical exertion

I know this list isn’t as extensive as yesterday’s, but like yesterday, I’m sure there are plenty more things that belong on it. I’d love it if you would let me know of anything that impacts your mental wellbeing, so I can add it to the list.

You’ll also notice that not everything listed could be classified as a mental activity. For example, let’s look at food. Consuming processed foods often makes us feel foggy and weighed down, and not eating enough can make us feel unfocused. Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to concentrate on studying on a hot day? Or if you take a knock to the head, how easy is it to remember how to spell? The common thread is that all these things place some kind of strain or pressure and ultimately impact on our ability to perform mentally.

Like with many of the physical stressors we discussed yesterday, a good portion of items on today’s list actually help support our health and wellbeing. Reading, writing, spelling, calculating, doing puzzles, studying, learning etc, all improve our capacity to perform more mental tasks. We increase our stamina, and speed. The more we use our mind the greater our ability to perform. And it helps guard against certain diseases such as dementia. Which can only be a great thing, right?

And as with our physical stressors, the greatest gains occur when we allow our minds to rest and recover. But, as with our physical selves, it can sometimes be difficult to tell when we need to make time for recovery. Performing a simple mathematical calculation probably isn’t too taxing. And for many of us, nor would writing a story. However when we combine the two and perform them one after the other, along with a series of brainstorming and problem-solving activities, it becomes a different story. And if we also add in some medications for hayfever or an infection, take a guess at how well you’d be able to perform those mental tasks.

The bottom line is this; rest and recovery are essential for mental wellness.

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Finding the Calm

stress cartoon

I found the following article whilst trawling my Facebook newsfeed this morning so I thought I would share it with you all. The link to the full article is below, which has the original source (and links) and information on the author. The tips are great! I have used many of them myself, have recommended them to my clients and their feedback has been positive. They work well 🙂

Number 2 is the only one that presents any kind of issue to me. Not because it doesn’t work. It does! My issue is a professional one. Sometimes it can be really difficult to get some perspective if you are personally involved in the situation. You might sometimes end up going around in circles in your head. So I would suggest that if you find yourself in that spot, consider firstly taking some space and time away from the situation before coming back to it. If it is still an issue, consider talking with a professional (counsellor or psychologist). They may be able to help you gain some clarity and break things down into manageable chunks.

Enjoy the article 🙂

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-11359/15-ways-to-find-calm-in-less-than-5-minutes.html

1. Spray some lavender

Studies have shown that this popular flowering herb can be applied topically to relax your muscles or it can be inhaled for calming effects. It’s an effective remedy for anxiety, depression, irritability, panic, stress and sleep problems.

2. Find a new perspective.

Change your perspective on the situation; ask yourself why you’re feeling overwhelmed. Is this really worth stressing over? Can you solve this problem? Do you have a roof over your head and food on the table? Are things really as bad as your mind is making it out to be? Gain a positive attitude and be sure to laugh along the way.

walk cartoon3. Go for a walk.

To reap the calming effects of walking, you don’t need to pound the pavement for hours on end. A comfortable stroll can be just as effective as a power walk. The secret is to use your mind, focus on the present moment and connect with nature.

4. Play soothing music.

Pick music that is soothing with a slow tempo and light instruments. Music is my anchor to calm. Every time stress sneaks in, I can play this song by Paul Fogarty, and I’m instantly peaceful.

5. Meditate.

Meditate in short intervals throughout your day. Relax, relax, relax.

6. Smile! smile cartoon

When you smile, a sense of peace and well-being develops; simply put, you just feel happy. Try smiling, even when you’re stuck in traffic.

7. Breathe deeply.

When you feel agitated, you tend to breathe rapidly or shallow. Pay attention to your breath and you will experience quick and instant relaxation. Slow down your breath, and in particular slow down your exhalation.

8. Water the plants.

Gardening and spending time in nature can help restore your attention and relax your body and mind. If you don’t have time to get dirty in the garden, simply watering your plants can induce the same results.

9. Write down everything. journals

Journalling will allow you to clarify your thoughts and feelings, and will help you gain valuable self-knowledge and reassurance. It can also be a great problem-solving tool; sometimes it’s easier to come up with a solution on paper. You can also release powerful emotions, gain clarity and let go. Let go of what you don’t need and stop worrying about what you can’t change.

10. Stretch.

We all know the stress-relieving benefits of yoga, but if you don’t have time to attend a daily yoga class you can still reap the benefits by incorporating a stretching routine into your day.

visualisation11. Visualize a more peaceful scenario.

The mind is very powerful; when you visualize peaceful, serene scenes, it invokes calming feelings, as if you were really there. Though visualization our bodies can relax and the stress will melt away. Close your eyes and imagine rhythmic waves on a long, white sand beach.

12. Call a friend.

If you’re chronically stressed, you probably haven’t figured out how to change your perspective. Friends who make you happy will help you bounce back and regain your inner peace.

13. Ring a mindfulness bell.

This might seem silly, but it’s actually an effective way to bring you into the present moment. Yes, there are mindfulness bell apps. Set an alarm as a reminder; when this bell or alarm goes off, it bring you into a different frame of mind. Tell yourself to breathe and relax.

14. Don’t turn on the TV (or turn it off!).

Don’t watch the evening news while eating, and every now and then take a break from stressful, fear-based media.

15. Put your phone away. keep calm and put your phone away

Take a break from the outside world and connect with your inner world — after you’ve talked to a friend, of course!

Tell yourself peace is in this very moment. Peace is not in tomorrow’s moments, or yesterday’s; it’s right now. So go on and relax. You deserve it!

Discovering those emotions

If you’re anything like me you’ll have a history of hiding your emotions because they often don’t feel very nice. When our emotions feel unpleasant, every instinct we have tells us that we need to get rid of that feeling. So we do everything we can to avoid it. We distract ourselves, self-medicate, or even push the emotion deep down inside. Anything so we don’t have to FEEL it.

load breaks you

Because FEELING it would HURT. And it often hurts like hell!

That said, we are a part of the human race. And humans were designed to emote. To experience those emotions, to feel their intricacies and diversity. Happiness, sadness, grief, shock, trauma, joy, excitement, anxiety, stress. Whatever it is, our mind and body are meant to feel them. Our brains are made to protect us and keep us functioning. When our life’s experiences give us things that shock our system out of whack, our brain will kick in and attempt to rebalance.

Sometimes our experiences can leave us quite confused. The impacts of our day-to-day lives can creep up on us. We go through our days, doing what we need to do, taking care of our families, working, and just generally living. And stuff happens. We push those things aside because we are busy doing other stuff and it’s not until later that the impact of those events will show up. And by then our bodies and mind are likely so overloaded that we can’t pinpoint exactly what it is we are dealing with. We can’t label the emotion, we get confused with it all and it adds to our feelings of overwhelm.

And yet through it all, you WANT to sort through the emotion because you know that it will help you to change the way you deal with the stresses in your life. You have plans and goals to create the life you want to live and the confusion is getting in your way. You get frustrated and it complicates things even further.

Sound familiar??

So what can you do to manage it all?

Have you ever noticed that when you are angry your hands clench, your heart beats faster and your muscles get tighter right through your body? This is a physiological reaction to the emotion. Our bodies will feel these kinds of sensations with every emotion we experience, regardless of which one it is.

Sometimes it can be easier and less confronting to manage these physiological sensations rather than attempting to identify and examine the emotion itself.

Muscle tension. Racing thoughts. Racing heart. Churning stomach. Shaky limbs. Shallow breathing.

body scan pose

Whatever the sensation, one of the best things you can do with it is to slow yourself down.

  • Take 5 – 10 minutes out of your day to sit quietly with yourself.
  • Breathe in deeply until your lungs can’t take in any more air, hold it for a second or two, then slowly let it out until there is no more air left. Repeat for as long as it takes to feel your heart rate slowing a little.
  • Continue breathing normally, noticing the rise and fall of your chest and/or ribs. Maybe place your hand on your ribs or chest to help you focus on your breath.
  • Tune in to your body and pay attention to it. Beginning at either your head or toes, slowly scan each part in order. Look out for any aches, pains or sensations that may be there. Maybe wiggle or move each body part as you reach it, noticing how it feels.
  • When you find something, simply pay attention to it. Don’t try to change or alter it in any way. Notice any shape it may hold. Whether it is moving or still. Note what it is made of. Is it transparent or solid? Is it heavy or light? What colour is it? As you continue to pay attention, notice any changes that may occur to it. Does it get stronger, weaker, smaller, bigger?
  • When you are ready, gently move on to the next body part and repeat the process.
  • If you find yourself being distracted by your mind or losing focus, know that your brain is simply doing its job. Be kind to yourself and gently refocus on the attention to your body and the task at hand.
  • Once you get to the other end of your body (head or toes), pay attention to your entire body at once and tune in to everything at once. For a few seconds allow yourself to sit with it and then refocus on your breathing. Taking your time and breathing at your natural rate, spend a couple more minutes simply focusing on your breath.
  • When you are ready and in your own time, become aware of the room around you. Slowly bring yourself back into the room and open your eyes. Have a stretch if you want one and rejoin your day. How do you feel?
  • You might like to play some relaxing music as you do your body scan to help you stay focused.

breathe

If you find it difficult to avoid being distracted and you have an apple product (iPad/iPhone/iPod) or an android tablet, you may be able to find an app to guide you through the process. The variety in these will likely be equal to the number of apps, so if you get one that you don’t really like, keep trying them until you find one that you resonate with.

This kind of body scan will hopefully help you to become more aware of what is happening inside your body. You may find that it becomes easier (after a while) to give those emotions a label. You may find that the feeling of distress and confusion/overwhelm eases somewhat. And you may find that you feel more settled and grounded as you practice regularly.

Just one word of caution. When you first begin using this technique, it can be a challenge to retain your focus. Your brain is designed to keep you in the state it is used to. It is doing its job. If you have someone (or an app or CD) to guide you through the process it can help until you get used to it. So when you get distracted (cause it will happen), be kind to yourself and gently refocus on the task. If you get frustrated when it doesn’t work, you will likely end up feeling worse and will give up.

Treat yourself with the kindness you deserve.

worth taking care of

The “battlefield” in your head

I’ve been thinking about this post for a little while now and what it needs to include. I have had a couple of people ask me for some tips on how to combat the battle they have in their heads about what they put in their mouths.

High fat, high sugar, high carb, versus low-fat, no sugar, whole foods.

Junk food versus healthy food.

Bad foods versus good foods.

Bad versus good.

This is a battle that I am more than familiar with myself. My weight has been “battle worthy” my entire life, and my mind the “battlefield”.

I believe that pretty much every diet program around promotes eating healthy foods and avoiding the unhealthy ones. Makes sense, right? But what constitutes healthy versus unhealthy? This is up for debate and it has certainly been a contentious one. The promotion of the diet programs and the huge amounts of media coverage seem to deliberately aim to impact our emotions. A lot of them would have us believe that the only way for us to live happily is for us to follow their program, whichever one that happens to be. We get told that the only way for us to control ourselves is to follow their program. In other words, to purchase their product. It is a selling tool.

This post is not intended to debate the effectiveness of such programs. Rather, it is to point out that in trying to convince you to purchase their product, they need to have you believe that you are currently doing the wrong thing. That by eating the foods you currently eat, you are making the wrong choices. And then by definition, purchasing their program will mean you can make the right choices.

Right versus wrong.

The thing is, when we start following the programs and we receive the message that we are making good choices by eating healthy foods, we set up a neural network in our heads (see previous post on this here) that is triggered every time we make a “bad” choice by eating chocolate or pastry or lollies (or whatever). And so begins a cycle of beating ourselves up and feeling guilty for each and every choice. The more we try to control it, the worse we feel. We end up feeling inadequate and unworthy, even for minor deviations from the plan.

There are those people who would suggest that the ideas associated with this way of thinking have become so ingrained in our society that even the idea of making a choice off the chosen program will have us believing we are inadequate. Really? An idea?? Since when have we been condemned for having a thought run through our heads? But isn’t that what many of us do?

If this sounds just a tad extreme to you, that’s because it is.learning new way to think

We start by feeling guilty for having a chocolate bar. We feel horrible about ourselves and start thinking that we have blown the diet so we may as well just give up. This leads to 2 large packets of potato chips. We feel guilty some more, believe we are completely useless, so we stop exercising, call ourselves all kinds of disgusting names and then reach for more food because it hurts so much!

Sound familiar?

You’re probably fighting a few things here. Firstly, you have a physiological addiction to all the foods you’ve been ingesting. The sugar, simple carbs, artificial sweeteners, salt. Our bodies go through withdrawal symptoms when we try to stop that cycle and it sends our brains into overdrive with cravings in an attempt to get “fed”. I am not an expert on this stuff and don’t profess to be, so I would suggest that if you want  more information on it do some research for yourself.

Secondly, as outlined in the previous post on firing and wiring neurons, you’ve got firmly entrenched neural pathways at play. It’s difficult to change these. Again, I am not an expert, so feel free to do some independent research, beginning with the books I have suggested in my previous post.

Thirdly, you’re fighting cognitive patterns. These are essentially a neural pathway your brain has created for the way you think. You eat the food and your brain automatically takes your thoughts to “I’m useless/worthless/hopeless because I can’t control myself”. It is a well-practiced pathway and I am sure you are used to its experience. It creates more feelings of inadequacy and suddenly you’re in the never-ending cycle you’re so used to.

So, what do you do about it?

My first suggestion is to think about things a little differently. So much of our energy goes into “good” versus “bad”. Healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables are in the “good” category, while chocolate and chips are in the “bad”. While it is human nature to categorise things, do we really need to do this for our foods? How is it helpful for us, when we go from “I ate some bad food and therefore I must be a bad person”? Does that way of thinking support us in achieving a happy, balanced life? Does it support you?

Why can’t we simply have one category: FOOD?

Or could we choose to have often foods and sometimes foods, the way they teach kids in schools? Or maybe use the traffic light system. Red light foods, orange light foods and green light foods?

Whichever categories we choose, they are just that. CATEGORIES.

Without the emotion attached.  You eat a chocolate bar. FULL STOP.  You eat some fried fish. FULL STOP. You eat a fried mars bar. FULL STOP.

So what? One chocolate bar or fish fillet or mars bar (or whatever) does not dictate how you live your life. One chocolate bar, fish fillet or mars bar does not dictate your happiness. One chocolate bar, fish fillet or mars bar does not dictate your worth. One chocolate bar, fish fillet or mars bar does not dictate what you put in your mouth for the rest of your life.

One chocolate bar, fish fillet or mars bar (or whatever), MAY influence the number on the scale you see when you step on it, but since that number is simply a reflection of your relationship with gravity (full stop) and could never EVER tell me about the amazingly wonderful person on top of the scales, why would you allow it to influence the way you feel about yourself?scale and worth

Instead, try thinking of them simply as choices. Sure you may choose the chocolate or fried fish. And it may even result in you moving a little further away from your goal number on the scales. The next choice you make to put something in your mouth could be a choice that may move you closer to that number.  And providing we are making more choices to move us closer than we make to move further away, we are overall moving closer. Correct?

One teeny tiny choice at a time, we can choose to end the battle and ultimately win the war (which, in my opinion, needs to be more about our internal happiness and is therefore more related to our self-talk rather than the number on the scale). Remember this. That number will never be able to tell you how incredible you are as a human being. And the simple fact that you are living and breathing means that you are worthy of that happiness. You are amazing, right here, right now.

let yourself be amazing

Whenever you catch yourself in the pattern of thoughts you are so used to, chances are you aren’t really aware of the things going on around you in your immediate environment. Does it feel like you’re kind of off with the fairies? It can be useful to practice some mindfulness activities. Engage your senses. Sight, touch, smell, hearing, taste. Mindfulness is about bringing your attention into the here and now. So to bring your mind back into the moment, try focusing on the things around you. If you are doing the dishes, pay attention to the feel of the water on your hands, or the cloth between your fingers. If you’re walking, note the smell of the flowers, the feel of the sun/wind/rain on your face. When you’re eating, slow down and really taste your food. Smell it. Feel the textures. Drink in the sight of it on the plate. Make it a real dining experience.

And sometimes, just be with yourself and sit in the solitude. Breathe. Commune with nature. Notice everything you can about the things around you. Focus on the way your breath feels in your lungs, pay attention to your chest or stomach rising and falling. Don’t try and change anything, simply pay attention to it. Be curious, without judging.

Don’t expect things to change immediately. Your brain will kick in with the automatic response again and again. It likes things to stay the same, so it will hit you harder with stuff when you try to make some changes. Persist with it when you catch your mind wondering, your brain is just doing its job.

 

Play with it and see how it goes.

mindfulness senses

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