“I have never experienced a stressful feeling that wasn’t caused by attaching to an untrue thought. Behind every uncomfortable feeling, there’s a thought that isn’t true for us.” ~ Byron Katie
Many of you are doing a great job of maintaining a peaceful state in your lives through practicing mindfulness and other somatic skills I’ve shared with you. Yet in times of great stress, some clients tell me that they can’t help but revert back to a reactive state, which makes them feel out of control, defensive and on edge. Negative thoughts stream back into their minds. Let me reassure you, that’s quite natural. Don’t give up! The more you practice mindfulness the more it becomes your default method to calm your mind.
To make it easier to calm your mind during stressful times, I’ve come up with an acronym to help you remember the steps to take. It’s C.A.L.M.
Before I dive into how to CALM your mind, it’s helpful to understand the two systems or states your brain functions under –
- the reactive fight or flight response (sympathetic nervous system) or
- the responsive rest and digest state (parasympathetic nervous system).
To put it simply, these two systems transmit valuable information via your neurochemical systems that make the body/mind connection.
Ideally, you want to experience the responsive rest and digest state most of the time. It’s the “shock absorber” in your brain that stops feelings like fear, frustration or anger from taking total control over your actions. Because you have an underlying sense of security and fulfillment, you can observe your feelings without judgment, name them and rationally cope with them, without getting too stressed out.
The fight or flight response should only switch on occasionally, when you’re faced with real danger. After the threat passes, you should quickly return to the rest and digest state in which you feel safe and peaceful.
Are you ready to learn how to CALM your mind? It will allow you to pause and let your rational brain catch up with your emotional brain and give it some guidance.
C stands for Connect. Connect with what your body and emotions are telling you. Notice your body sensations or physical reactions. Identify the feelings attached to them. Name them. Remember, feelings are not right or wrong. They just are. Work on accepting and exploring your feelings.
For example, your husband says something that hurts you.
Your response: I feel hurt. I’m clenching my jaw and tensing my shoulders. I feel sick to my stomach. I feel threatened. I feel ridiculed. I feel belittled like when my dad said I was just a stupid girl.
A stands for Assure. Assure yourself that you’re safe. Observe your thoughts. What story or assumption are you telling yourself to make you react this way?
Your response: Oh, I was thinking he doesn’t respect me anymore, that he would leave me. That’s not true. We’re committed to each other. He’s just upset because of what I did. He doesn’t understand. (Breathe…Relax.) I’m safe.
L stands for Live YOUR Truth. It’s possible to cause unnecessary stress for yourself by trying to please someone. The sad fact is we often think we’re pleasing someone by pulling back from our dreams or putting ourselves down, which only makes us miserable. And it makes them miserable, too. That’s not what they want. They just want to understand. Each of us has to live our own truth – not somebody else’s.
Your response: This is important to me, because _____. I know he doesn’t understand. Collect my thoughts, so I can explain it to him patiently and reasonably. He probably feels threatened too. Reassure him that I’m not leaving. I’m committed to our relationship.
M stands for Mindfulness. Mindfully and purposefully choose the thoughts and actions that support the life you want to live.
Your response: I’m a powerful, intelligent woman who has a lot to offer my family, career, and community. I have a purpose and there are things I can do right now to move me closer to fulfilling that purpose. I know I need to include him more often, communicating my desires, plans and goals, so he doesn’t feel left behind. I feel calm, happy, and safe.
Would you like more training on how to calm your mind and live up to your full potential? Then plan on joining us at our Women: Bring Forth the Leader Within Retreat June 20 to 26th in Grand Canary Island. Yes! We’ve changed the name to reflect more accurately how we’re empowering women, like you, to live a vibrant life and make a difference in the world.
If you’re hiking in the woods near my hometown in Oregon and you see the glowing eyes of a cougar, will your heart start racing? Of course it will! The fight or flight stress response kicks in with a vengeance, because you’ve heard reports of people being killed by big cats like cougars. You know you’re in danger. Your life depends on what happens in the next few seconds. It will take all the courage you can muster to stand your ground, maintain eye contact, and raise your arms to make yourself appear bigger and noisier to scare the big cat off.
Sometimes we meet people who are like wild animals. You might even work with them or they might be your family members. There’s no reasoning with them. They have mercurial personalities – their mood and behavior change in a flash. They’re so unpredictable you don’t know where you stand with them from one minute to the next. On the other hand, you may personally have trouble regulating your emotions so little things trigger either an aggressive or defensive state. In either case, the key to achieving more peace in your life, is to learn to tame your fight or flight stress response.
Because our lives are often stressful, many people live in a perpetual state of fight or flight stress response. This state should only last as long as you are in real danger. Then, it’s supposed to calm down. When you live under prolonged stress, your body thinks it’s in danger, when it really isn’t. Being in a constant fight or flight state will eventually lead to many health problems like poor digestion, adrenal fatigue, obesity, insomnia, and anxiety. And it doesn’t do your mood any good either, so your relationships suffer.
The good news is that sympathetic nervous system, which kicks in your fight or flight reaction, can be calmed down. The key to turning it off is to mindfully reassure your body that you are safe. When your body believes it’s safe, it shifts into parasympathetic mode, which signals your heart to slow down, your lungs to breathe deeply, and your digestion to resume.
How do you switch off the fight or flight response? A good place to start is to practice mindfulness in these three ways:
- Practice mindful awareness. Suspend judgment as you tune into your body sensations. Learn what the fight or flight stress response feels like in your body. Accept your natural biological response and give each sensation a name. Naming each one lessens its power. Reassure your body that you’re okay.
- Practice mindful breathing. The situation may seem to be out of your control however you can always control your breathing. And that may be enough to get you out of the fight or flight stress state. Here are some breathing exercises that will move more oxygen to your cells and shift you into the “I’m-safe-to-rest” mode.
- Practice mindful assessment. Discern the difference between discomfort and pain. Distinguish between unpleasantness and danger. Give your body the information it needs to know that the situation at hand is not going to kill you. It may be uncomfortable, but it’s not life threatening. Sit with and completely absorb the feeling that you’re safe.
When you give your body a chance to recover, you’ll improve your health and your relationships. If you’d like to learn more about shifting away from a reactionary response to a more intentional state, plan on joining us at our Women: Wisdom, Presence, and Flow! Retreat June 20 to 26th in Grand Canary Island. FLOW stands for Fierce Leaders Organizing Worldwide! We’re empowering women, like you, to live a vibrant life, elevate their presence, and make a difference in the world.
“Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.” ~Walter Anderson
If you hold an emotional state long enough, it will change your brain chemistry. While we are products of genetics and past experiences, the good news is that we don’t have to be stuck with our present state. If we don’t like it, we can consciously make our futures brighter.
Neuroplastic healing can change and form new connections in your brain. However, this process of healing can be slowed by anxiety disorders. According to ADAA, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million aged 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.
How do you know if you have a normal level of anxiety or suffer from anxiety disorders? It’s best to consult with a mental health professional to be properly diagnosed, because it’s important to receive appropriate treatment. Here are a few things for you to consider…
In a study by Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, researchers found that people diagnosed with anxiety are less able to distinguish between a “safe” stimulus and one that was earlier associated with a strong emotional response.
“In the study, researchers trained people to associate three distinct tones with one of three outcomes: money loss, money gain, or no consequence. In the next phase, study participants were presented with one of 15 tones and were asked whether they’d heard the tone before in training or not. Correct answers were rewarded with money.
People with anxiety were more likely than healthy controls to think that a new tone was actually one associate with money loss or gain. Those differences weren’t explained by differences in participants’ hearing or learning abilities. They perceived the sounds that were earlier linked to an emotional experience differently.
Functional magnetic resonance images (fMRIs) of the brains of people with anxiety versus healthy controls showed differences in brain responses, too. Those differences were mainly found in the amygdala, a brain region related to fear and anxiety. These results strengthen the idea that emotional experiences induce changes in sensory representations in anxiety patients’ brains.”
People with anxiety disorders are living with brains on overdrive. As a result, they often experience the following…
- They have difficulty trusting people, seeing threats where there are none.
- They think that people are talking about them behind their back.
- They have a difficulty reading facial expressions and body language.
- Making conversation is painful.
- They tend to judge themselves harshly.
- They prefer to stay at home where it’s calm and controlled.
- They are filled with pent up energy that produces unpleasant body sensations and difficulty in focusing.
- They can’t shut their brains off and relax.
- They hold themselves and others to impossible standards.
- They struggle with perfectionism, often reacting in one of two extremes – quickly giving up or refusing to quit until they reach a self-imposed goal.
- They tend to have a negative self-image.
- Emotional triggers cause them to overreact with a fear response.
- Everything is overwhelming and stressful.
- Decision-making skills are hampered by feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.
- They are “thin skinned” and easily wounded emotionally.
You may recognize a few of these traits within yourself to some degree, because we all experience feelings of anxiety. After all, anxiety is a naturally neurological function that protects us from harm. But to experience them day after day is draining and debilitating.
You CAN learn to consciously and mindfully process and extinguish your emotional responses. If you suffer from undue anxiety, you CAN naturally improve your skills to cope and learn to live life on your own terms. By patiently taking one step at a time, you can achieve the life you desire. As Thich Nhat Hanh says,
“Smile, breathe, and go slowly.”
It often helps to work through your anxieties with a trusted friend or partner. Please contact me and schedule an “Unlocking Your Potential” 30-minute complimentary consultation (in-person, by phone or via Skype). Let’s work through the rough patches together, so you can fully feel the exhilaration of life.
“For peace of mind, we need to resign as general manager of the universe.” ~ Larry Eisenberg
As each New Year begins, people want to accomplish more with their lives. Perhaps you do too. Have you noticed how you tend to get off to a good start, but then the stresses of life quickly sidetrack you? Are you tired of getting pulled down by stress so you never get real traction on what’s most important to you?
Before real change can be accomplished, it’s important to do foundational prep work that will support you in your new life. And one system that will really support you is having a stress management plan that helps you to find and retain peace of mind despite what occurs in life.
Stress is a huge factor in our lives. You may not be able to avoid stressful circumstances or situations, however you can control your reactions and responses to them. Stress management is a skill you can learn, but it does take daily practice.
When you feel yourself spiraling into the “stress abyss”, what can you do that will consistently lift your spirits and help you find peace of mind once again? Here are a few suggestions that I’ve found very helpful:
Set intentions, not goals. When you’re setting powerful intentions, you’re creating within yourself a new and specific state or frame of mind that fosters peace and serves your purpose in life. Each time you reinforce who you want to be, what you wish to contribute, and how you choose to touch the lives of others.
Honor your emotions. Every thought or belief is connected with an emotion, which has a physiological response in your body. Tune into your emotions and identify each sensation as you experience it. Honor the messages that your body is sending you about your feelings. Don’t try to override them. Suspend any judgment of them. Simply observe them for what they are.
Be mindful and in the moment. What you’re experiencing today isn’t permanent. Tell yourself, “this too will pass.” Just acknowledge that moments of stress will pass, emotions will fade, and circumstances change and this will take the pressure off and give you a sense of relief.
Transform your body, transform your life. Building awareness for how you use (or abuse) your body at any given moment is the key to transforming your body and your life. By being mindful of your physical experience, you’ll create a vessel that can experience greater strength, balance, serenity, wellness and happiness.
Recognize negative thinking and change it. Sometimes we add stress to situations by letting our thoughts get away from us. Do you notice a tendency to default to negative outcomes and think the worst? Our minds are powerful and they influence our daily experience. Take control of your life by controlling your mind. Meditate daily. Choose positive affirmations. Take time to journal. Write yourself loving reminders. Do whatever you need to keep your thoughts in check.
Stop and start again. Sometimes when you’re stressed it’s because you’ve taken on too much. Give yourself permission to stop. There’s power and healing in the pause. Situations and circumstances will wait for you, even if your pause is just to a count of 10. And you’ll be able to approach them with greater patience, confidence, and ease when you take time to center yourself before proceeding.
If you’re committed to finding peace of mind and living a life of purpose, but roadblocks keep arising, perhaps it’s time to reach out. Please contact me and schedule an “Unlocking Your Potential” 30-minute complimentary consultation (in-person, by phone or via Skype). I’d love to partner with you.
Review some of my previous stress management articles:
How to Soften the Body to Withstand Stress and Roll with the Punches
Feeling Overwhelmed All the Time? 8 Simple Ways to Relieve Anxiety and Stress
Time Management Tips that Reduce your Stress and Increase Productivity
How to Stay Calm under Pressure
Self Sabotaging Behavior – 5 Traps Women Need to Avoid to be Truly Happy
Feeling Trapped in Life? Master Your Inner Game to Free Yourself
Achieve Deep Relaxation through Progressive Muscle Relaxation Techniques
Five Breathing Exercises for Balancing Your Life, Your Mood and Your Relationships
How to Deal with Fear – Ten Ways to Cultivate a Fearless Mindset
Regain Control as You Discover How Food Affects Your Mood
Seven Ways to Break Free from Being Too Busy
The 90-Second Secret to Mastering Your Emotions
“A woman who lives with the stress of an overwhelmed schedule will often ache with the sadness of an underwhelmed soul.” ~ Lysa Terkeurst
Let’s look in and see what many women deal with, especially during the holidays …
As she starts her day, she wonders, “When am I going to find the time to get everything done? I have three work deadlines and I’m behind schedule. And now the holidays are here… so everything has to be perfect! The house must be cleaned from top to bottom. I have to decorate at least as well as my sister does or Mom is going to say something. With everyone’s food allergies how am I going to cook for all of them? On top of that I have to smile through Uncle Ted’s jokes again…Eeeeek! I feel like I’m going to explode!”
Life in general causes many women to feel stressed and overwhelmed. Then the holiday season brings with it its own set of stressful circumstances. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed all the time, it can almost drive you over the edge. It’s no wonder so many women are suffering from adrenal fatigue. They’re burning the candle at both ends.
So how can you relieve your feeling of overwhelm, so life is more enjoyable?
1. Create routines so you make fewer decisions.
If you’re not clear on what you want, making decisions creates stress. So the more things you can do routinely, the less stress you’ll have. This is one of the easiest ways to give yourself a break. Try simple changes like getting up at the same time or following a meal plan.
2. Move your body every day.
I’ve found that The Feldenkrais Method® really helps me to sense into myself.
Endorphins combat stress, and exercise stimulates endorphins. It doesn’t take a lot, just doing something extra every day.
3. Eat mindfully.
Too many people eat on the run. Make sure you carve out time to sit and mindfully eat a balanced breakfast and lunch. Don’t check your emails. Don’t try to work and eat. Put away your electronic devices and reading material. Breathe deeply and feel yourself slow down before you take your first bite.
4. Don’t immediately commit to something.
Because we hate to let anyone down we often reflexively say “yes” to every request. Instead, practice saying, “let me get back to you on that.” It buys you time to consider whether you want to do it or not.
5. Try simple meditation.
Close your eyes. Breathe in for a count of four. Breathe out for a count of four. Repeat another three times. And you’re done.
6. Visualize each task as completed.
Sit quietly for 30 seconds and think about what it means to finish what you start. Commit and trust yourself to follow through. How will that feel? What will it mean to your life? Think about it and let it move you forward.
“We don’t realize that, somewhere within us all, there does exist a supreme self who is eternally at peace.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert
7. What you should do doesn’t always matter.
We have a limited number of hours in the day, and while you may have many interests, you can only realistically do a few major projects a year. You don’t have to do everything. So ask yourself, “Do I really want to do this or can I let it slide?” Focus on the things you really want to do.
8. Don’t wait for motivation. So many times you won’t feel like doing a project, but if you just get started with one step of it, you’ll find it leads to the next. Waiting for inspiration to strike is a quick way to randomly pursue something, then give up, only to yo-yo back a couple weeks later. If you have life systems then you won’t have to depend on willpower or inspiration.
Instead of depending on fleeting motivation, build a system. This means you work through the steps of finding a new job, add it to your calendar every week, and make sure you have the time and mental energy (which are much easier once you know what to do).
Are you ready to live a more intentional life? Please feel free to contact me and schedule an “Unlocking Your Potential” 30-minute complimentary consultation (in-person, by phone or via Skype), and let’s get started.