It's easy to forget that we are all perfect in our own design. Sometimes we muck it up with habits and choices that do not serve us.
Negative thought patterns we experience in life can occur for countless reasons — and let’s be real: the ever-changing landscape of the pandemic can be straight-up panic inducing sometimes! But we don’t have to just suffer through this upsetting mental state. Mindfulness is a wonderful tool that allows us to tap into a calmer way of thinking and feeling. It is the opposite of rumination, and we can call on it anytime we need to shift out of unhelpful thought patterns.
Here are seven mindfulness tips you can use right now, today, to transform your thoughts and create more peace and calm in your life — even when life feels chaotic.
Name it to tame it: Slow down and notice what is arising. “Oh, that’s anger in my chest,” or, “That’s anxiety in my stomach.” Labeling the emotion gives you some space from the intensity of the thoughts and feelings you’re experiencing, allowing you to observe them instead of being hijacked by them. The very act of labeling your emotions will start to calm your brain down.
Try mindfulness meditation: Even if you’re not an experienced meditator, there are so many ways to dip your toe in these days — including meditations that last just a few short minutes. Meditation slows you down and calms you down. It increases helpful gray matter in the brain. It lowers your heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. It decreases anxiety and depression, increases well-being, benefits interpersonal relationships, and helps maintain healthy lifestyle choices.
(Learn more about the benefits of meditation by reviewing this research in the Journal of the American Heart Association. For an exploration of brain changes when studying meditators, see this 2013 study and this research from the early ‘90s.)
Create a personal mantra: Choose a word that means something uplifting or soothing to you — like love, strength, courage, hope, or ease — and say that word silently in your head on each inhale. Then choose another word to send to specific people (or even to all sentient beings) with each exhale. I often choose to breathe in love and breathe out peace. Whatever you choose, it feels good to be taking action to fill yourself up and send goodness out into the universe.
Use soothing touch: Placing our hands where we find them most soothing releases oxytocin and opiates, helping us to regulate the cortisol and adrenaline stress hormones that flood us when we are upset. Place them anywhere that feels calming for you, such as around your arms, on your cheeks, or on your stomach.
Do something that brings you joy: Now would be a great time to make a “what gives you joy” list. Life is full of emotional chaos — especially when the world is reeling from the effects of a global pandemic — but bringing it back to focused activities that give joy to your soul can mean the difference between feeling like you’re making or breaking it day to day. Take a few minutes to write down a list of everything you can think of that brings you joy — big things and little ones — then pick one thing and do it! There’s nothing like joyful activities to break us out of unpleasant, hurtful, or destructive thought patterns.
Savor the positive mental state you create for a few moments to form new neural bridges. What fires together, wires together! By letting the good feelings land, you are pushing the mental state into a neural trait, resulting in a happier brain.
Get grounded: Drop your attention to the soles of your feet; notice if they are warm or cold, moist or dry. Pay attention to your feet for a couple of breaths. Then focus your concentration on your breath, if breathing feels comfortable for you. Feel and see your body breathing in for four counts and out for six. When your exhale is longer than your inhale, your heart rate and blood pressure will go down, and you will feel calmer.
Change the channel: It can be hard to change the channel as a first step when your thoughts are at their most intense, so you may want to try some of the other tips here first before you try this one. Then, invite yourself to change your channel of thought. Focus on something you are grateful for, perhaps going so far as to write a letter of gratitude to someone. (You don’t need to send it to get the mental health benefits.) You can also pull up a wonderful memory and marinate in those feelings to install the goodness in your body and mind, pushing the mental state into a neural trait so the happy bridge gets reinforced in your brain.
In these times, all of us can benefit from specific strategies to help us step away from negative thought patterns and ruminating and towards feeling calm, safe, and at ease. You don’t have to do all of these things at once; just pick one and try it next time you notice yourself starting to spiral out with fear, stress, or panic. We’re all in this together, and together, we’ll make it through.
Join Panache Desai every morning and for support in reconnecting to the wellspring of calm and peace that lives within you and that has the power to counterbalance all of the fear, panic, and uncertainty that currently engulfs the world.
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