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5 Strategies for Managing Anxious Thoughts

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Anxiety has a way of hijacking our mind and body to a point of exhaustion. It wants to convince us that worrying can help us control the problem and prepare for the future. Even though we know, that many of the anxious thoughts are illogical, we often can’t seem to shut them off. Here are 5 easy techniques you can use when faced with maladaptive thoughts.

  • Distraction. Find a way of diverting your attention away from the thought, even if it is just for a second. Do that continuously until the thought goes away. For example, listen to music, think of something positive, or mindfully drink a glass of water. You can also wear a rubber band on your wrist and every time a certain thought arises, snap the rubber band.
  • Exercise Outdoors. Anxious mind often contributes to a tense body. When you engage in intense exercise, you help your body release tension and your mind often times relaxes as well. Not to mention a set of physiological processes, that help to elevate dopamine and other helpful neurotransmitters. A series of studies have also shown that walking in nature can stop rumination. Go hiking or running in a park and tune into the sounds and smells around you.
  • Be an observer. Mindfulness meditation can be very helpful with this one. You can practice observing your thoughts and being able to disengage from them. You can allow the thoughts to come, knowing that you do not have to act on them or have an emotional reaction to them. They are just thoughts, not facts, and you get to decide which ones you want to pay attention to. You can notice a negative thought and say to yourself:”my brain is creating stories again but I don’t have to listen to them, I chose to focus on something else”. You can imagine your mind is like a hotel and the thoughts are like guests trying to check it. You can welcome them and kindly say:” I am sorry, I have no rooms available for you”.
  • Talk back. Because anxious thoughts are irrational, you can try to question them. Ask yourself: “Is this really true? What evidence do I have? Am I helping myself by worrying? How can I make this easier for myself? How can I think of this differently?”. You can also come up with short words or phrases you can say to yourself when certain maladaptive thoughts arise. For example: “Let go”, “Not helping”, “Thanks for sharing but I’m not getting on this train of thought”.
  • Have a plan. When experiencing anxiety, we often go towards worst case scenarios. If there is an issue you often worry about, come up with a plan of what you will do if the worst happens (even if unlikely). Also, making To Do lists and creating structure in your day, can calm the anxious mind.

If you are interested in creating a personalized anxiety management plan, please contact me at emilia@whole-living-center.com or schedule the appointment directly through my website. In person or video sessions are available. I can work with you on developing the skills you need to bring more calm and balance into your life.

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Discovering Your Life’s Work

Many of us struggle with career decisions at some point in our lives. L. Boldt in the book “Zen and the Art of Making a Living”, describes the basic factors that will likely come into place, to create your life’s work. The following framework can be a helpful guide in search for an unique vocation:

Integrity – Your life’s work is aligned with your values and things you deeply care about. It is born out of your ideals and visions. It gives you sense of meaning and purpose.

Question: What do I care about? What do I stand for? What are my values?

Service – Your life’s work gives you an opportunity to make the world a better place. It becomes your unique opportunity to contribute to greater good.

Question: How do I want to serve?

Enjoyment – You life’s work is something you truly enjoy to do. Without enjoyment, your creativity may not find a true expression and you are likely to get burned out.

Question:  What do I love to do? What kind of activities help me experience joy, engagement and creativity?

Excellence – Your life’s work is something you are really good at and something you are willing to fully dedicate yourself to.

Question: What am I willing to persist at, until I achieve excellence?

Mindful Mastery of Emotions

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Perhaps the most useful skill we can all learn is emotional tolerance. By mastering this skill, we can open up to any emotion without trying to change it. We also can feel the unpleasant sensations in the body, without being afraid of them. That requires a certain degree of mindful, non-judgemental awareness. Rather than letting our mind try to move away from what is unpleasant, we allow ourselves to be with what is. We accept our emotional states the way they are.

What happens when we do that? We realize, that these emotionally charged sensations change, shift and eventually go away. We also realize that they are not fatal. That gives us enormous power. We don’t have to act on every emotion we have, we can observe it and let it pass.We gain the ability to act despite our emotions. We may be able to feel the fear and do it anyway. We can become overwhelmed with depression and deep down know it is just a momentary state that will not last forever.

Emotional tolerance develops gradually and starts with a single moment of mindfulness. Let yourself become aware of what is happening in your body right now without trying to change it. Observe how these sensations come and go. Accept this moment the way it is.

Three Breathing Techniques For Greater Well Being

c'mon inner peace Breathing happens in the NOW, so as soon as you bring your attention to it, you are in the present moment. The real challenge, however, is to stay there. The stories on your mind and external distractions will try to pull you away from it. Each second, you have another chance to bring your attention back to the breath. Then, an amazing thing happens: your life is no loger controlled by the regrets about the past and fears of the future. Your breath can become a great anchor to the present moment, a way of grounding yourself. Regulating the breath, is a great way to manage the stress response in your body. Throughout the years of working with clients struggling with stress and anxiety, I have found the following techniques to be especially effective:

1. The 4-7-8 breathing This technique acts like a reset button for a nervous system overwhelmed with stress. Try inhaling through your nose while counting to 4, then hold your breath counting to 7 and breathe out through your mouth, counting to 8. Repeat this technique 4 times and observe its effects on the body. You are likely to experience an immediate release of tension and pleasant feelings of greater calm and balance. This technique has been shown to cause lasting changes in the breathing patterns, if used every day for 4 to 6 weeks.

2. Mindful breathing Mindful breathing focuses on mere awareness of your breathing and not on changing it. You are not forcing you breath to be any particular way, just simply observing it. What ends up happening, however, is that the longer you simply observe your breath, the slower and more relaxed it eventually becomes. Take a moment to become aware of the air coming in through your nostrils and traveling down, filling up your lungs, abdomen and stretching your diaphragm muscles. Then notice the air travelling back up and being exhaled. See how long you can simply observe your breath, before you become distracted. Each time your attention wanders, bring it back to a place in the body, where you can feel your breath most vividly.

3. Alternate nostril breathing This breathing technique can help you to calm an agitated mind. Use your right thumb to close off your right nostril, inhale slowly through your left nostril, then hold your breath, while you close off your left nostril, and breath out through your right nostril. Pause for a moment, then breathe in through your right nostril and repeat the process.

The Unbearable Heaviness Of Limitless Possibilities

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

(Marianne Williamson)

When we are feeling stuck and dissatisfied with our lives it is so easy to blame circumstances outside of ourselves. Each time we do it, we give up responsibility for our own lives. Making others responsible for our misfortunes, doesn’t put us in a position of power. It is so much harder to create a real change, if we expect others to remove the obstacles for us.

The truth is, every minute, we are making choices that influence the outcomes of our lives. Sometimes the choice is to stay silent, rather than speak up, when we are being mistreated. Other time, the choice is to sleep in, rather than work out in the morning. We get to choose what we focus on, and how we perceive the events in our lives. To accept that we are absolutely, completely responsible for how we live our lives, is very scary. It implies limitless possibilities, but also comes with the burden of responsibility.

Perhaps this is the reason why change is so difficult sometimes. We are afraid to accept how powerful we are. We may have spent our lives being told the exact opposite. We may have been programed to believe, that there are limits to what we can do. Going against this programing takes effort. Making that effort, means turning off the default mode and taking control. This is the choice we can make very day. A choice to open to new possibilities and a choice to go against our conditioning.

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Effortless Living

Burt Shavitz is a founder and face of Burt’s Bees, a line of natural, personal care products. He is also a subject of a documentary called:”Burt’s Buzz”, that chronicles his life and the story of Burt’s Bees. Burt is an inspirational character, who despite modest income chooses to live in a small hut in rural Maine, without TV, internet or hot water.

His authenticity, contentment with life and resourcefulness, truly amazes me. He appears to have a great strength of character and resilience that draws people to him. He is not a fan of crowds, however, and is known to say: ” A good day is when none shows up and you don’t have to go anywhere”.

Burt, now 80, seems to have the courage to live on his terms. That is something we can all learn from him. Throughout his life, he always followed his curiosity. Rather than focusing on making a living, he chose to focus on making a life. By living simply, he always found a way to support himself. He was not afraid to leave situations that were not serving him anymore.

Perhaps, this is the way to make our life more effortless. We need to trust, that our curiosity can lead us to our calling and that what we have to offer, is enough to create a meaningful life.