When you think about what stresses you out, what comes to mind? Perhaps things like your job, money, relationships, health concerns or that never-ending to-do list. It seems like stress is everywhere in our lives! And when we think of managing our stress we usually try to come up with things to do differently. We look at situations in our life we can change, actions we can add, or responsibilities we can remove to create more balance.
Yet we often do not pay attention to one of the main causes of stress: our thoughts. Whenever you think about anything or anyone that is upsetting you in anyway, you create stress. And whenever you allow yourself to become overwhelmed with worrisome or fearful thoughts, you create stress.
One of our biggest challenges in life is actually not the challenges we face but rather what we think about them. Our thoughts significantly influence our reality because what we think influences how we react and respond. Take a simple example: if you think that anyone who cuts you off in traffic is a huge jerk who should be punished, you may respond by getting upset, honking, throwing up a lude gesture, or name-calling. These reactions raise your blood pressure and create an adrenalin surge, thereby increasing your stress level. All of this just because you think it's wrong to be cut off and reacted in response to that thought. Imagine if you could shift your thinking to believing that you just did someone a favor. In an instant you have the choice to think thoughts that leave you a stressed out road-rager or a good Samaritan. Which thought feels better?
We may not have control of what is happening in our life, but we do have control over what and how we think about it. Unplugging from negative thinking can be challenging, since most of us have gotten very familiar with the following three stress-producing mental patterns:
- Negative self talk about ourselves
- Negative self talk about others and/or situations
- Negative future fantasizing (aka worry or fear about the future)
I don't care how many yoga classes you take, relaxing meditation CD's you listen to, massages you get, vision boards you make, or green smoothies or exotic tea drinks you consume, if you are not setting a strong intention to unplug from negative thinking, you are missing one of the key ingredients to creating balance in your life.
Of course, engaging in stress-reducing activities is helpful, but you will get more bang for your buck if you are mindful of your thoughts while doing them. For instance, have you ever taken a yoga class (or participated in any other de-stressing activity) and noticed that although your body may have been present doing something to create balance, your mind was somewhere in the past or the future engaged in one or more of the above negative thought patterns?
If you really want to experience less stress in your life, it's time to unplug from negative thinking. Having dominion over your thoughts will support you in feeling recharged and renewed in all aspects of your life!
Now you may be thinking, "Okay Miss Suzy Sunshine, how do you possibly expect me to think positively about something that is just plain awful in my life?" While it's true that a spoonful of positive self-talk during situations like losing your job, facing an illness or grieving a relationship may sound unreasonable, you can ALWAYS choose more life-enhancing thoughts. For instance, "I accept what is going on, even if I do not like it much; I forgive myself for blaming myself or anyone else for this; I am willing to learn from this; I will do something for myself that feels good" and so on.
Unplugging from mental patterns that create stress does take practice and intention. A wonderful first step is to come up with a catch phrase that you can say to yourself whenever you notice yourself stressing yourself out with your thoughts. One of my favorites is: "STOP. This is not my direction, I am choosing different thoughts." Often just internally saying STOP is enough. Additionally, I recommend investing 30 minutes a day of engaging in life-enhancing thoughts. You can break the 30 minutes up into segments throughout your day. Here are some suggestions for how you can spend your time recharging your mental battery with uplifting thoughts:
- Think about gratitude by writing in a journal about all the things you appreciate
- Think about a beautiful memory or a inspired vision you have of your future
- Trigger self-supporting thoughts by talking to a loved one about something that fills you with joy
- Engage in any type of creative thinking
- Repeat affirmations internally or aloud
- Chant a mantra or sing your favorite, most inspiring song
I encourage you to get creative with how you practice unplugging from thoughts that are not serving you. You will notice that the angst and stress you feel will start to decrease as your thoughts become more nurturing, supportive, and in the present moment.
Depak Chopra writes in his book Quantum Healing: "Your immune system is constantly ease dropping on your internal dialogue." Your body is always listening to how much you are stressing yourself out with your thoughts. So take your vitamin C and eat your veggies, but don't forget the importance of feeding your mind with life-enhancing thoughts.