When you stop to listen to the chatter running through your mind, how noisy is it? “I have so much on my to do list, I don’t know ….. I am too busy. Why can’t I get things done? I can’t do anything …… “ How distracting and draining is it?
If you recognize any of these thoughts, you’re not alone. This “mind chatter”, an endless, restless stream of incomplete thoughts, anxieties and self-talk can race constantly through our minds. Daily, we have anywhere from 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts and questions running through our heads. With 80% of those thoughts being negative, this puts our brains into a fight or flight mode which releases cortisol and adrenaline- causal factors of stress.
I have found three ways to calm the “mind chatter” and calm the mind’s anxiety that I want to share with you.
Until you become aware of what your mind is saying to you, nothing can change. You may think you know what your running commentary is, yet actually writing it down can be helpful.
Carry a tiny notebook around with you for a few days. Set a reminder on your phone or a timer on your desk to tell you to stop what you are doing and reflect on what you are thinking about at that moment. Write down those thoughts. They can be a list, snatches of thoughts, or questions. What are your thoughts or questions? Judging those around you? Thinking negative thoughts about yourself- coulda, woulda, shoulda? Feeling like you’re worried, unloved, worthless? What are the words running through your mind at that moment of the reminder? Some psychologists call them “gnats”, which I feel are a great, visual descriptor. Write down your gnats buzzing in your brain.
After a few days, look at the list you have compiled. What stands out to you? What themes have you discovered? What surprises you?
Once you have discovered the themes in your thinking, you are ready to make changes. Remember it takes 21 days to make a habit. What is one new thinking pattern you’d like to start? For me, it’s thinking grateful thoughts as I jump out of bed. I have a tendency to start thinking about all I have to do for the day as soon as my feet hit the floor. Instead, I am thanking God for the day, the breathe I am breathing, even a good night’s sleep, before I get wound up about the day’s activities. I am not there yet but that is one change in my thinking I know I want to make.
If judging is a gnat you’ve discovered, how could you change your thinking about that? One way to do that is to focus on the types of questions you are asking yourself and others. In the book, Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, Dr. Marilee Adams focuses on learner questions, questions that help us learn about people, places and things, rather than judge them. For example, why questions lead us to judging – “Why is Julie doing that?!” What and how questions lead us to learning about people and things. “What can I experience in this situation?”
Finally, when you feel your anxiety rising, stopping to take deep breathes and focus on your one to two word prayer calms the fight or flight response. Being still and deep breathing brings down the anxiety, even when you feel like you’re going to jump out of your skin. When you are doing this, you can notice your thoughts, yet you let them go right past you, like thoughts floating down the river. You don’t have to do anything about those thoughts, just let them go right by you.
Notice how you feel after even 5 minutes of doing this contemplative prayer or another meditation. You’ll find your mind refreshed and your body calm.
I used to believe my body was betraying me, when I would suffer anxiety attacks. I realize now I have strategies to practice which reduce the likelihood of them occurring or lasting very long. I am grateful for those tools. Being more aware of what my mind is saying to me, changing my thought patterns and taking the time to breathe deeply have significantly reduced my anxiety. I know when the anxiety starts to rise, I have things I can do..
I hope these strategies can be helpful to you, too. If you would like someone to come alongside you as you practice these strategies, I would love to accompany you. Contact me for a free coaching session and you can reflect on what your mind is saying to you. A coach lets you move forward faster. I look forward to hearing from you.
Enjoy that deep breathing!
Nancy Booth is a certified life coach and certified brain-based coach. She loves creating safe spaces for women going through life’s transitions to discover and support their visions for health and well-being in an overwhelming world, explore possibilities for next steps and find hope. She writes about taming the overwhelm and reducing stress, looking for ways to motivate, energize and inspire you! You can sign up to receive her weekly blog or contact her to find out ways you can begin to shed overwhelm and stress. It’s time to explore possibilities of new relationships, better life pacing and gain hope and peace.