Day 19 – Watching the train go by…

Today let’s talk strategy. When our thoughts are racing, we sometimes feel like we just can’t stop them. We believe the lie that they have control over us and allow them to affect our emotions and subsequent behavior. But as we’ve discussed throughout this series, our thoughts do not have to control us!

Just like in the anxiety series, I described some intentional relaxation techniques to help tame down symptoms of anxiety. Let’s go over a few more here to help eliminate the negative emotions that are associated with out-of-control thoughts.

1)      Watch the train go by… One of the reasons we become emotionally entangled with our thoughts is because we are so close to them. We allow them to define us and we become invested in them, even if they are unhealthy. One strategy is to separate ourselves and in a sense, set up a boundary between our thoughts and who we are. Here’s one of the ways we can do this: Just like I explained with guided imagery in the anxiety series, we must get to a relaxed state. Use breathing exercises to calm down. Then, use visualization to imagine yourself watching a train pass by with each of your thoughts on it. As you stand there, you picture each negative thought flying by. You feel the breeze hitting your skin and you wait patiently for the entire train to pass by. You do not fight against what’s happening but rather allow the train to pass you with no rush or resistance. What you’re doing here is allowing the thoughts to make their way both in and out of your head; what you’re not doing is getting on that train! You’re observing it as an outsider.

2)      Do your thoughts race when you try to go to sleep at night? Keep a notepad next to your bed and write down any thoughts that you find yourself obsessing over. A funny thing happens when you write them down. It’s almost like a sigh of relief for your body and you’re often able to let them go.

Here’s a few additional techniques from the anxiety series:

1) Short and Sweet

2) Visualization

3) Progressive Muscle Relaxation

4) Mind/Body Connection

Hopefully these tools will help you feel more calm when you’re struggling to gain control of your thoughts and feeling anxious!

Day 10 – Silence is Golden

Today’s tip for the day: Ssshhh!!

This does not take long and may even appear simplistic, but trust me, it’s powerful! Incorporating silence into your life has proven to provide health benefits such as reduced stress and a greater awareness of your senses. When you slow down and allow yourself to experience silence rather than the overs-timulation that is usually present in each of our lives, you begin to discipline your mind.

Contrary to popular belief we do have the ability to control what we think; many of our thoughts are automatic but once we become aware of them, as well as how they effect our behavior and feelings, we can then begin to grab hold of our minds and in a sense, “train them,” to think in healthier ways.

When the world around us is noisy, chaotic and stressful, being able to be silent in the midst of that will create an inner peace that remains constant despite our outside surroundings. Peace does not have to be dependent on our circumstances. If that was the case, we would only be able to experience it when life is calm. Life, as we all know, is not always calm and that’s a very good thing! Sometimes it’s exciting and we want to jump up and down and express our excitement with great energy. Other times we grieve, but regardless of our circumstances, we can achieve a level of peace inside ourselves that surpasses understanding.

Becoming disciplined in the area of silence can also impact our spiritual lives. For those of us whose minds tend to wander during prayer or worship times, we can actually begin to concentrate better and deepen our relationship with God. Just as there are spiritual disciplines of prayer and meditation, silence is a discipline that can greatly enhance those aspects of our lives.

Are you sold yet? So here’s an exercise to try: Click on the link below. You’ll be taken to a page with a beachy scene and a two minute countdown. Allow yourself to sit in silence for two minutes. If you move the mouse or touch the keyboard, the countdown will start over. Try it and see what you think!

Day 7 – Visualization

The next technique is called Visualization (a.k.a. Guided Imagery). It is a process of relaxation in which you use your imagination to picture yourself in a peaceful place. Use as many senses as you can to create an accurate picture of wherever you “are.”

This technique is nothing new… in fact, athletes sometimes use it to picture themselves before a big game. When I ran cross country in high school we did it as well and would spend time before races mentally preparing ourselves by imagining exactly what race day would look, feel, smell and be like on as many levels as possible (and of course winning the race)!

The way to make visualization most effective is by being as relaxed as possible prior to doing the technique. Using some of the previous breathing exercises may be helpful first to relax your entire body before attempting to incorporate your imagination into it.

My favorite way to do this is to envision the beach. For me, that is a safe place. I grew up in Huntington Beach, CA and so I associate the beach with safety, warmth, community and home. Other people may feel that the mountains are the safest, most peaceful place or the forest.

While picturing yourself at your location of choice you’ll want to pay attention to everything around you. Take the beach for example:

* What does it look like? Can you see long stretches of sand? What about the ocean? What else do you see around you? What does the sky look like? Are there any clouds? etc.

* What does it smell like? Are there any concession stands nearby? Can you smell hot dogs or other refreshments? Are there any bonfires going? What about the sand and the salt water? etc.

* What does it feel like? Can you feel the warmth of the sun beating down on you? Is there a breeze? etc.

* What do you hear? Are there any kids playing nearby? Can you hear the crashing of the waves on the shore? etc.

You get the point! Visualization can be hard at first especially for people like me whose mind is constantly moving! But when I find myself actually getting to that place of really feeling like I am at my safe place it can be an incredibly peaceful experience!

* Please note: When you finish an exercise like this you may feel a bit drowsy at first, especially if you get to a deep state of relaxation. Don’t just jump up and go for a drive or something after!! You need to ease back into “real life”. As you pull yourself out of the safe place, take some deep breaths and count down from 10. Get up slowly, drink some water and walk around a little to pull yourself out of it.

See you tomorrow!!

Day 6 – Short and Sweet

I can’t remember where I learned this but it has been AWESOME for me! It was helpful during my high anxiety period and continues to be helpful today during times of heightened emotion or even when I can’t sleep because I have too much on my mind.

The technique is:

Count backwards from 100 by 3. (100… 97… 94… etc) while breathing in a controlled manner. You can’t phone this in because it won’t work if you just do it carelessly! Count down… breathe gently… concentrate on the activity… and position your mind and body in a posture of relaxation.

What this intervention does is help you concentrate on something other than anxiety or anger or whatever undesirable thought/emotion has crossed your mind. I love it! Plus while you’re doing it you can actually feel your body starting to relax and your mind slow down.

See you tomorrow!

Day 5 – Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Okay, on to the good stuff! The first technique known to decrease tension in the body is an exercise called Progressive Muscle Relaxation or PMR. This feels so good!! All it consists of is a process of tensing and relaxing your muscles one by one (or in larger muscle groups if you’re in a time crunch) in order to become fully relaxed from head to toe. (Well, really it’s toe to head which you’ll see in a sec). Anywho, here’s how you do it:

Starting with your right foot, inhale and squeeze your right foot muscle as hard as you can (be gentle with yourself but you really want to become aware of how tight your muscle gets). Focus on tensing up the muscle for 8 seconds. Once 8 seconds have passed, exhale, release the squeeze and all your stress at the same time! It feels great! After your right foot, it is suggested that you follow this progression moving up your body all the way to your head:

* Right foot

* Right lower leg and foot

* Entire right leg

* Left foot

* Left lower leg and foot

* Entire left leg

* Right hand

* Right forearm and hand

* Entire right arm

* Left hand

* Left forearm and hand

* Entire left arm

* Abs

* Chest

* Neck and shoulders

* Face

Some tips:

1) Once you have finished, relax with your eyes closed for a minute or two. If you get up too quickly you could faint.

2) Do this between meals rather than right before or after.

3) If you do this in bed there is a chance you could fall asleep so try it in a comfy chair instead.

5) Do PMR in a quiet place with no distractions.

* As always, seek medical advice if you experience discomfort while doing this or have a pre-existing condition.

This can become an awesome habit to get into and a great way to relax!! Try it and let me know what you think!

See you tomorrow!

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