I had been having more anxiety than usual. I was doing all the “things” from meditation and deep breathing to yoga and journaling. If I was doing all the things I was supposed to, why was I still anxious? I found it was a combination of two:
1. External input
2. Internal thoughts
No matter how many actions I take to release stress and feel peace, it goes away when I don’t manage my inputs. I began where it was easiest – what I allow into my brain. Of course I was anxious – I was letting in…
- Too much social media
- Heart-pumping TV and movies
- A lot of news and politics
- Hurrying for no reason
I wrote in my Gentle Living blog post what I prefer, but got away from. So I re-set boundaries on that.
The next part is trickier. The mind tends not to be a peaceful place as it is in survival mode looking for danger. The most important part in managing the mind is realizing just because you think something, does not make it true. In fact, for the majority of the time it isn’t true at all. Once you stop attaching to your pattern of thoughts as your identity, it’s easier to let them go.
Do you ever say phrases like, “I’m just too lazy.” “I am a procrastinator.” “That is just the way I am. That’s why I can’t do my goals.” These are unhelpful thoughts that have become part of your identity. You have said them to yourself so often for so long you think they are completely true.
It’s time to become aware of thoughts that are not helping you with who you want to be and what you want to do.
I like to focus on a pattern for a day or week, to notice what thoughts are arising. I write it on the top of my weekly planner to remember. I spend some time sitting with the thoughts to see what may be under them and to feel the feelings. By then I am usually seeing the thoughts and situation from a different perspective.
For example, the not-enough pattern, that most of us have. What thoughts are you thinking when that comes up? Perhaps, “I can’t believe I did that. That was so stupid.” or “Why bother with my list or planning. I won’t be able to do it all anyway.” or “I can’t say no. Then they won’t like me or think I’m good enough.” Perhaps you write them down in a notebook, or create a voice memo on your phone.
When you have time and space to be alone, be with those thoughts. How do these thoughts make you feel? Let yourself actually feel the sensations in your body of fear, anger or perhaps shame.
We often don’t notice we have these patterns, because we run away whenever the feeling arises. Patterns like to stick around when they aren’t acknowledged. So, breathe through the feelings. (If they are too much to deal with alone include a friend or therapist.) The feeling and sensation in the body is usually gone within 90 seconds, but if you are repeating a story with it, it will last longer.
See the feeling with love, don’t push it away. “I see you shame. I am sorry you are dealing with that. You are welcome here.” Sit until you don’t feel so heavy. It’s not all going to be released at once.
Now pull out more into the observer role. Get curious. Where did that pattern come from? Whose voice do these thoughts remind me of? Am I feeling societal pressure to be, have and do more? Question whether those thoughts are true.
Do you see a new perspective yet? Did you detach from the thought pattern? Maybe you noticed it was a caretaker’s voice and now that you are a parent, you realize they were just trying to help you be the best you could be. Or you see that since there is no real definition of enough, it’s an impossible standard to have. And you change your standard and you are clear about what you can and want to do. Maybe you decide you don’t care to continue striving for society’s more, more, more and you choose to be content.
Then you may find not only do you have a new thought, but you are aware of changes you need to make. Maybe you physically need to slow down. Or change a deadline. Or turn off the sound, take a walk or organize your tasks? When you take new actions, these will bring more peace into your life.
You will probably fall into your old thought pattern over and over again, but it hooks you less the more you feel it and question it. And one day you will have realized you rewired your brain pattern.
Some thought patterns that were hooking me, that you can play with:
- The inner critic
- The ego/pride not wanting to look bad
- Fears and seeing a scary outcome
- Not seeing beyond perceived limits
- Striving, pushing, forcing
- Wanting to control
When I am stressed, I know it’s almost always a thought pattern. If I notice the thoughts earlier, I may not have to lose peace for as long.
What thought pattern do you want to notice, feel and observe this week?