You’ve probably noticed that your mind engages in an inner dialogue. It never seems to stop, producing one thought after another.
Like a difficult partner, the mind reminds you of what you did or did not do, what you said or shouldn’t have said, what you noticed or did not notice, and on and on. “I shouldn’t have said that.” “What’s wrong with me?” “Why do I keep doing that?” It’s no wonder that worry and anxiety dominate the mind, making it nearly impossible to get comfortable in your skin.
When unwanted thoughts pick up the pace, the brain prepares to fight or flee by releasing stress hormones. What it doesn’t know is that the threat it’s detecting is none other than itself. What’s worse is that these unwanted thought patterns recycle themselves. When you become familiar with the tactics of your inner critic, you’ll notice that they resemble what author and professor of psychology Judith S. Beck, PhD, outlined in her book Cognitive Therapy:
- Worst-Case Scenario Thinking is about anticipating the worst, engaging in “what if” type thoughts.
- Critical Thinking is the dreaded inner difficult partner, spewing personal flaws and put-downs.
- Catastrophic Thinking is a type of thinking that inflates matters in the worst possible light. This type of thinking heightens anxiety.
- Perfectionistic Thinking is the difficult partner times 10. It’s the slave driver that reminds you that you’re not good enough unless you are doing more, doing better, and doing until you are exhausted.
Over time, negative self-talk breaks down confidence and contributes to ongoing stress. The National Center for Biotechnology Information reported that The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States estimates that stress accounts for about 75 percent of all doctors visits; patient complaints included but were did not limit to headaches, back pain, heart problems, upset stomach, stomach ulcers, sleep problems, tiredness, and accidents.
Negative thinking is a major contributor to the production of stress and worry. However, there are three simple ways to reverse stress, worry, and negative thinking.
This is the aspect of you that goes beyond thought; it’s often experienced as hope and courage during difficulty and emanates as your observing presence. Having greater access to your self-awareness allows you to notice your inner thoughts and transform them.
You can enhance self-awareness by recognizing that you are not your thoughts. In fact, you are the observer of your thoughts. Thoughts originate in the mind. Try to become aware of your thoughts as they arise or grab your attention. For instance, while reading this article, were you aware of your big toe on your right foot? Probably not. But as the thought of it was introduced, your awareness was drawn to it. Suddenly, you’ve become aware of the sensation of your right foot, particularity your big toe.
Thoughts enter and exit your awareness thousands of times a day. Persistent thoughts, however, linger because they “play” like background music in the mind. An easy way to witness your thoughts is to close your eyes and bring up the image of a beautiful flower. Notice how the thought enters and exits your mind. As you practice self-awareness by observing your thoughts, you will notice that some thoughts have more “space” between them and your experience of those thoughts. This is a simple mindfulness-based skill. By enhancing self-awareness, you will notice sensations and emotions as they arise in your body. This empowers you to become the observer of them, instead of being absorbed by them.
This is the highest form of self-care. Rather than “beating yourself up” for a shortcoming, remind yourself that you are doing the best you can and forgive yourself for your mistakes. Move kindly with yourself by carving out a bit of quality alone time. For example, take a few extra minutes to watch the sunrise or sunset, or take a luxurious bath or scenic walk. These experiences not only help you reconnect to your essential nature, but they also help you feel energized.
Meditation is a powerful tool that allows you to go beyond the mind’s incessant chatter and discover the silence between your thoughts. When you meditate, you begin to recognize your true nature—one that is beyond mere thoughts and emotions. You can step away from constant thinking, analyzing, and decision-making.
The best way to get started with meditation is to set aside 5 to 10 minutes each day, making meditation a part of a daily routine. Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Using a timer with a soft chime can help you automatically ease in and out of mediation.
This productive time of rest allows your mind and body to rejuvenate so you can experience greater clarity of mind, inner calm, and expanded awareness. In addition to reducing anxiety, meditation has been shown by recent studies to create new neural pathways (messenger highways in the brain) to encourage beneficial thought patterns instead of the same old worry-based tracks.
By Sonia Brill, LCSW via Chopra.com