Sometimes our minds just don’t work the way we want them to. We re-live memories we would rather forget. We feel things we wish we didn’t. We imagine, dream and project; and it’s not always good stuff. Sometimes nightmares haunt us while we are awake and we feel hopeless to stop them. People and circumstances and things out of our control will drown out all our positive thinking until we give in and let the hurt take over everything.
We tend to give our mind too much control. While it’s really good at looking both ways before crossing the street, keeping our nervous system in check and solving algebra problems; it’s really fairly stupid when it comes to our emotional well-being.
Your mind runs on data, not emotions. But the truth is, we are emotional beings. So while the mind’s job is to protect us and think up possible pitfalls and how to avoid them, it doesn’t realize that its causing us emotional distress. A simple thought, brought on by a song or a smell or a memory, however fleeting and quick, can stab us in the heart and destroy any good feeling we had. Our mind thinks it has to focus on the fear and hurt, analyze the data and formulate a plan to avoid it in the future. Our mind sees our pulverized emotions and triggers a “flight or fight” when what we really need is a “sit and focus”. Even worse, the mind can contort the memory or emotion and project dangers or hurt that don’t really exist. The result is a vicious cycle of pain, false reasoning, and more pain. Anyone with a panic or depressive disorder understands the anxiety of the great “what if”. Our minds can talk us out of something that will bring us joy and into something more practical or logical. We do what we THINK is right instead of what FEELS right and then wonder why we are so unsettled.
But we can have more control over our thoughts. We can stop the “what ifs” in their tracks. We can move beyond a scattered panicked mind and into a peaceful recognition of truth and overcoming of emotions. I’ve learned that telling my mind to just shut up sometimes is good for your soul. It was one of the hardest lessons I have learned, but the techniques below truly helped me to dig out of a very deep bog of depression and dip my toes in the waters of Joy.
1. Learn to focus.
Mindfulness has gained a reputation as a new age therapy for Zen loving loners. There are things to do and stuff to figure out so why waste time focusing on what you’re eating for lunch? I might be biased because I happen to be a Zen loving loner but mindfulness recently became a literal life saver for me. You don’t have to spend an hour in a meditation pose trying to empty your mind. You just spend a few minutes focusing and controlling your thoughts. An easy way to start out is with meals. When you eat, think of nothing else. Turn off the TV and put your phone down. Use all your senses. Look at your meal. Your food has aroma, texture and taste, focus on and experience them all. Focus your mind on the experience and try to keep it there. You’re showing your mind that you’re the boss. Move on to being mindful in other situations like working or cleaning. Notice what muscles you’re using and how your activity makes you feel. When you are experiencing a difficult time just stop. Take inventory of how you feel physically and emotionally. Name your feelings out loud and then try to hear what your body is telling you it needs. Sometimes I use mindfulness in silly ways. I recently went through a very dark and difficult time and there were moments, for the sake of my sanity, I would pull out my phone and focus my mind on solitaire for 10 minutes to silence my head. I used it to distract my mind the same way you distract a toddler with your car keys to get them to stop fussing. I wouldn’t think of anything but the cards in front of me. It allowed me to ignore the negative thoughts, kept my mind occupied until I could get control back over it, figure out what I really needed and go on with my day.
2. Have a few mantras.
Keep in your mental back pocket a few words or phrases you can repeat to yourself over and over when you feel your mind trotting off unsupervised down bad memory lane or writing a disaster film over something manageable. There are many mantras out there that Buddhists use but I prefer something more personal. These are my 3 favorite things to tell myself when my mind starts to take control…
” I’m better than this” – because frankly, bad stuff happens, life and people can be mean and unfair. And I raised myself better than to drag myself down with the ship.
“I’m open to the plans of the Universe.” Things don’t always go the way I want them to or think they should. Things are going to happen that I cannot control. I have to be open to other possibilities outside my logical mind and raw emotions. Whatever they are, I have to be open to the future.
” Silence” There are people and situations that have hurt me so deeply to the core that my mind, in its ridiculous search for logic and reason, replay over and over until I have to yell “SILENCE”. Then I have to recognize the emotion for what it is and send it on its way like a leaf flowing downstream.
There are times I have to shake my head and say “Silence! I’m better than this! I’m open to whatever the universe has in store for me.”
3. Be grateful and kind.
We never know or fully understand what another person is going through. When you show loving kindness to those around you who are struggling your mind and emotions come together with the positive vibe you put forth and return it to you . I try to finish my evening with some reflection. This is an easy way to calm your mind before trying to fall asleep. Concentrate on your breathing. Just a few deep breaths. Imagine inhaling every good feeling you desire and exhaling all the negative toxins the world fills us with. Then name at least 5 things you are grateful for that day. These don’t have to be big things. You can be grateful traffic wasn’t bad. Practicing gratefulness invites more good feelings into your life. When you focus on what you don’t have your logical mind will continue to remind you of the void. Concentrate instead on what you DO have and your mind will be still.
4. Take a timeout.
It can be only an hour or even 10 minutes to breathe and state some affirmations. Sometimes we need a day to do some mental housecleaning. My favorite days are when I find myself home alone and its raining. I don’t like doing chores when it rains so instead I consider it a mental health day. I wake up slow. I snuggle with my dog. I spend time doing things that bring me joy, projects and hobbies I have been too busy for. I make tea and read. Keep the TV off and all devices out of reach. I journal and do yoga. Its amazing what a few hours of peace and quiet can do for our mind. We are bombarded with information, opinions and demands from every direction. Some “mind dusting” and “taking out the mental garbage” is as necessary for our well-being as keeping our homes clean and bodies healthy.
When we come into control of our thoughts we begin to see the change in our emotions. We feel more joy and esteem and less fear. Sadness, while part of life and a necessary emotion, doesn’t take hold of us and wear us down. We can’t control other people and we have little control over the world around us, but we can have control over our thoughts, and in turn our emotions and actions. Our minds will always tell us what’s “logical” and “acceptable” and “expected” and “safe”. Sometimes we have to hush those thoughts and figure out what feels right and then cross the road without looking both ways.
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