THE BLOG

Teaching Your Dog-Tired Mind Some New Tricks

01/08/2015 11:26am ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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Many of us can feel low over the holidays, rely on alcohol and sugar to cope, get stuck on the pity path, snap at people we care about, and feel our anxiety level rising. These feelings are a common reaction to the holiday season and can linger with us into the new year. We go through this cycle every year, like clockwork, because it's habit.

As a young choreographer in New York City, my career was halted by chronic sciatica. Discouraged by doctors, chiropractors and acupuncturists who couldn't fix me, I got relief when I looked at mind/body habits as the root of my pain and inflammation. To pinpoint and break these habits, I chose the mind/body approach called the Alexander Technique, a favorite of dancers, actors and musicians. Now, as an AT practitioner, I am constantly struck by the effectiveness of the AT to help my clients break the habits formed by their initial injury and bring relief from the chronic cycle of pain, tension, and stress.

Why not consider anxiety, like pain, a habit of the mind and work on changing the habits? In James Clear's post on 4/10/14, he cites research to show it takes, on average, 66 days to set a new habit firmly in place. I usually tell my clients to give it three months to change the way they move. Those who continue longer, progress further. Many experience relief in the early sessions -- a compelling reason to stick with it.

To hell with too little, too late, punishing resolutions you can't stick to. Choose a truly rewarding program for change and seek long-term results. A new routine that feels good today can lock in mood balancing habits for the year to come.

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Changing habits of the mind is as simple as...

Find a friend and commit together to 21 days of habit-changing rituals. Here are five ways to change. Begin with the most compelling new habit: This will be what author Charles Duhigg in "The Power of Habit" calls your keystone habit for change. Once you are doing this every day, you will find the motivation to add in others gradually. Hint: If you aren't exercising, a short cut is to start there.

1) Before you turn in, make a note of all the good things that happened that day. Revel in the success of even the most insignificant victory. This one is stupidly simple but it works by "training the brain to scan the world for positives and reliving them," says Shawn Achor, a Harvard-educated psychologist, and CEO of GoodThink, Inc.

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2) Surround yourself with essential oils that make you happy, can help reduce anxiety, and can help enable you to focus a distracted, fatigued or scattered mind. Several recent studies show that inhaling essential oils can help deliver the plant's micro-particles straight to your brain's emotional center while helping to slow heart rate, reduce cortisol, and lower blood pressure.

  • Some of the most lauded happy oils are bergamot, orange, lemon, grapefruit, cypress, jasmine, *rose and peppermint (also useful for headaches and neck pain).
  • Popular anti-anxiety oils include: *lavender, vetiver, *clary sage, geranium, frankincense, vetiver, ylang ylang, *spikenard and *bitter or mandarin orange (mandarin for children).
  • *Choose these oils if your real issue is insomnia, and use sparingly.

    To use essential oils, inhale for 15 minutes, 2-5 times a day by:

    • diffusing them in your bedroom BEFORE sleep, or in your office.
    • anointing on temples, in between your eyebrows or the sides of your nostrils with an undiluted drop on your fingertips.
    • applying them diluted in an unscented body oil on chest, neck, and shoulders before stepping into your morning shower.
    • putting a few drops undiluted on your palms, rubbing your hands together and cupping over your face for 10 -15 full, slow, very slow, incredibly slow inhales.

    3) Take a mindfulness break. (After #2), sit erect (either back supported or at the front edge of your chair) or cross-legged on a cushion and count your inhales like this: Inhale-one, Inhale-two, Inhale-three, Inhale-four, Inhale-five. If you make it to five you can to do this! Work up to counting for five minutes or more. Always going back to "inhale-one" when you catch your mind wandering.

    4) Cultivate compassion. You can derail your negative patterns by taking the focus off yourself. For example, when you talk to someone who is suffering, express your compassion, listen without suggesting solutions, tell her she's courageous and strong and that you're confident she'll pull through. Give her hope or give her help!

    5) Exercise every day. This doesn't have to be costly, difficult or time consuming (15 minutes of walking briskly without a briefcase can work), but it does involve stopping what you are doing and putting your BASIC NEED TO EXERCISE at the top of your priorities. Here are Duhigg's steps:

    1. To motivate yourself, identify the most compelling reason to exercise. For example, to sleep better, have more energy, feel fit, breathe deeper, boost your immune system, feel good, enjoy moving.
    2. Give yourself a cue. For example, every morning before work I will... after work I will... but end of the day can be harder because motivation is weakened by mental fatigue.
    3. Reward yourself when you are done. For example, turn off your phone so no one can bother you, window shop, get a quality cup of joe, or any of your favorite rewards.

    The finish...
    After your 21 days, take stock of all the changes in your life that are finally in motion. It's not a coincidence. You made these changes happen, and you have new tools to use when you are slipping back into old habits.

    © 2014 Hope Gillerman, all rights reserved