The art of thought control: finding balance and managing stress

Are you stressed out?

How often do you experience feelings of stress or of being overwhelmed? In today’s culture, it’s become the norm to rush through your day, juggling work, family, and social life, among other things. It’s not surprising that many people find themselves feeling tired at the end of the day, with little energy left for fun activities.

Feeling stressed occasionally is normal, however some people struggle with stress, and the related feelings of anxiety, daily.

The effects of stress on your body

When you feel anxious or stressed your breathing is shallow. This is where your breath is concentrated in the upper part of your chest. Shallow breathing is inefficient for absorption of oxygen and causes low emission of carbon dioxide. This has a negative effect on your body by sending a distress signal to your autonomic nervous system (associated with the fight or flight response).

When perpetual stress and shallow breathing occurs, your heart starts beating faster, body temperature will fluctuate and your body can eventually spiral into a state of panic. Continuous exposure to stress, without adequate tools to manage it, may lead to dis-ease in your body over the long-term.

“A few cycles of deep breathing can instantly change your mood, increase your focus and elevate your energy level.”

Tip #1: Restore balance with your breath

With inquiry and practice you can cultivate a deep and even flow of breath, which promotes a healthy exchange of gases and sends a signal to your body to relax. This allows you to ward off a potential state of panic before it balloons out of control and may save you a trip to your doctor!

Breathing practice

  1. Sit up tall with a straight spine, bring your awareness to your belly and allow it to soften and relax.
  2. Begin with a slow, deep inhalation for a count of three, filling your belly, then ribcage, then upper chest with oxygen.
  3. Pause for a second.
  4. Then exhale from your upper chest, rib cage then belly, drawing your belly in towards your spine at the end.
  5. Pause again, then repeat a few more times.

Practicing deep breathing for a few minutes each day will help to keep feelings of stress under control.

Tip #2: Be aware of what your mind is focusing on

What you focus on expands

Whether positive or negative thoughts, you build momentum on a thought process by continuously focusing on it. Have you noticed when you start your day off in a bad mood, for example, you spill coffee on yourself, drivers may be cutting you off, then everyone around you seems to be grumpy as well?

If you are getting caught up in a negative spiral of your own thoughts, you need to make a conscious effort to choose different thoughts. Choosing alternative thoughts will bring more awareness to the positive, which changes your energy and in turn, affects your interactions with people around you. Instead of ruining the rest of your day by complaining about your morning, focus on what you can do to show up differently and not pay your grumpiness forward.

Red car practice

Try this for fun! The next time you go outside, say to yourself that you will see red cars. You don’t have to go looking for them. Simply making this statement has an effect. You will start to notice them more because you set an intention to focus on red cars, bringing them into your awareness.

The same concept applies to your thoughts; if you set an intention to focus on more positive thoughts, you will start to see more positive results.

“Your mind is very powerful and it can help or hinder you.”

Tip #3: Retrain your mind with meditation

Monkey mind

Even if you eat healthy, exercise and are getting plenty of sleep, you may still find yourself feeling out of balance when your mind is running a hundred miles an hour. The mind tends to jump around from thought to thought, obsessing over an event in the past, or what might happen in the future. In yoga, this is referred to as ‘monkey mind.’

Taming the monkey mind

I’ve heard many reasons why people can’t meditate, such as “I don’t have time”, “I can’t sit still”, or “I have too many thoughts”. The point of meditation is not to sit still until your thoughts stop, because they will keep coming. Using meditation to tame your monkey mind allows you to disconnect from your thoughts and to observe them for what they are – just thoughts – they do not define you.

“Meditation is like a seed. When you cultivate a seed with love, the more it blossoms.”
-Art of Living

There are two general types of meditation; meditation with an object (such as focusing on your breath), and meditation without an object (sitting quietly to observe your thoughts, without following them).

Why meditate?

There are numerous benefits of meditation, on both the physical and mental level, when practiced regularly, including:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increase in serotonin production – the chemical responsible for improving your mood
  • Improves the immune system
  • Reduction in feelings of anxiety
  • Emotional stability improves as you gain clarity and a more peaceful state of mind
  • Personal transformation – as you learn more about yourself and the nature of your mind you may become more aware of your reactions to people and situations you encounter and more curious about life and your place in it.

The key is not to give up on meditation too soon. Begin with very short meditations, until you get comfortable sitting for longer periods of time. Don’t be hard on yourself if you find you can’t sit for even one minute when you are first getting started. With practice and patience, you will soon start to realize some of the benefits.

Tip #4: Tune into your body wisdom 

Be authentic

Are you a people pleaser? Are you afraid to say ‘no’ to others? Part of the problem of our busyness culture is that people are often afraid to say no; taking on too many tasks at the expense of their own wellbeing.

Have you ever stopped to notice how it feels in your body when you are going against your true instinct? For example, you may say yes to someone’s request initially, but then regret it later. I get a sinking feeling in my belly when I’m not being authentic with myself and others. While it may not be possible to say no to some requests, it is ok to ask for time to think about your response, before simply blurting out a ‘yes’.

Tune into your intuition practice

Not everyone recognizes or identifies with their intuition daily, however most people can say they have experienced a gut feeling at one point in their life. Your intuition allows you to receive warning signs when something is off, so that you can address it. If you have a gut feeling about something and you are experiencing a sensation in your body — that something is not right — then listen to it.

You can practice this today as you engage with people by noticing how your body is feeling in various situations. When you meet someone, who is gregarious, compared to a shy person, notice any sensations you are experiencing in your body.

Simply by being aware, you will notice the signals and recognize patterns. Your intuition is like a muscle; the more you tune into it, the stronger it becomes. Like a well-developed muscle, the stronger your intuition, the better equipped you will be to navigate life’s decisions. You will better understand yourself and will be able to discern what is truly in your best interests when it comes to making decisions.

You have the power to maintain balance

You can control your thoughts, which empowers you to have a balanced outlook on life. You can take a few minutes for yourself out of each day to reset and breathe deeply. You can listen to your gut feelings to determine what’s right for you. When you are feeling in balance, it allows you to experience a more joyful life with ease.


 

This post was inspired by my talk at DrupalCon in Baltimore. Download the slides here.

I’m also sharing my story to inspire others, who are craving something more out of life, in my book “Life Reboot – An Inner Wisdom Guide to Finding Your Passion and Purpose.”

 

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