Feelings are not facts, we decide what thoughts to think, it’s a matter of choice and we need to choose wisely.
This really struck me recently when the news of the potential side effects of the Astra Zeneca jab started to hit the headlines. A couple of weeks earlier I had that vaccination, and I was now hearing that women like me were at higher risk of getting blood clots. They were also talking about how rare this was and what a very small chance there was of actually getting one.
None the less I started to get really panicky about it and allowed my imagination to hijack my mind and control my brain. The result was headaches, throbbing legs and pains in my chest, physical responses in my body, created by the thoughts that were running away with me. I like to think of myself as a rational woman, but I was quickly overtaken by anxiety and had to have a serious word with myself.
I managed it by deploying techniques I have learnt over the years and the next thing I knew I felt fine and was back in control of my thoughts again.
Once I’d recovered, I began to ponder the incredible strength our mind has over our body and how much more we can achieve when we use that strength to foster positive beliefs, the first step though, is knowing how to overcome the negative ones.
I thought I’d share a few of tips with you that have worked for me so that you too can learn to manage your thoughts to get your brain to work in your favour rather than against it.
Music – the soundtrack to your life
You know those tracks that make you feel sad, take you back to a dark time, a breakup, grief or trauma? Don’t listen to them! Instead, find those tracks that remind you of the time you won the race, bossed the crowd, lay on the beach with the waves lapping at your feet or drove a convertible in the sunshine.
When I’m preparing for a speaking event, or my confidence needs a boost, I play ‘Wake me up’ by Avicii. It reminds me of a time when I was delivering a huge event at the Excel arena and as I walked on stage that was my intro music – I was so pumped and the event was a huge success. Now, whenever I hear it, I am transported to a time of success and energy and positivity.
Similarly, whenever I hear Morcheeba’s ‘The Sea’ I am taken straight to a beach on Zanzibar on New Year’s Eve in the year 2000 as I lay alone in the dark with the sea at my feet and watched the stars circle overhead as the year clicked over to 2001 and my friends partied in a nearby bar. It gives me a sense of peace and reminds me of adventures, bravery and stepping out of my comfort zone.
Choose tracks that make you feel good about yourself and remind you what you can do and listen to them when you need them.
Remind yourself of this simple fact
When we feel fear, and when we feel excitement, the physiological effects on us are the same, or very similar. Heart racing, sweaty, jittery, flushed, breathless… we don’t panic when we feel excited, we use all that adrenaline coursing through our bodies to run full pelt at whatever we are doing because we are enjoying it so much.
But when we have exactly the same physical responses to fear, we go into fight, flight or freeze mode rather than directing the adrenaline in a positive way.
I did a skydive a few years ago – threw myself out of an aeroplane over St Kilder beach in Melbourne, from 12,000 feet strapped to a man called ‘Spready’ that I’d only met a couple of hours earlier. I was scared, this was a situation in which I really could die…! So, I tricked my brain by telling myself I was excited, not scared, and that I felt sick and giddy because I was so excited, that my heart was racing with the anticipation of an awesome experience…! Ok, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t completely convinced by my own trick, but I did it… and it was an awesome experience!
So, next time you feel fear, tell yourself you’re excited, and do it anyway!
Count your breaths
Interesting fact, when you count you are engaging your neo-cortex, your rational brain. When you engage that part of your brain (I like to call this my adult brain, it’s the logical part) you regain control and settle your mammalian, or emotional brain (I like to call that part my teenage brain) and you reassure and quieten your amygdala (think infant brain!).
When your adult is back in control everything feels a bit better. Add to that the fact that breathing steadily and consistently regulates your heart rate and you have a winning combo that you can apply anytime, anywhere.
So count it out and re-engage your adult brain.
Talk to someone
Talk to someone, but not necessarily about the thing that is causing you stress. Sometimes when we talk about the issue we are feeling anxious about, we put that issue centre stage and it can grow bigger. If you’ve ever had the wind taken out of your sails when you have been all geared up for a downloading of angst only to find the person you have chosen as a friendly ear has just had some bad news, you will recognise how that can really change our perspective and make our problems seem smaller.
So instead, try talking about something else. Just the opportunity to chat is often enough, perhaps talk about something you are looking forward to, or something good that has happened recently. Where we place our focus becomes our reality so make yours more positive if you can.
My man says that when he was young and had anxieties, he would head to his parents for the weekend determined to talk to his Dad about it all and get his advice, but once he got there, he didn’t feel he needed to talk about that at all and would leave feeling better just for having had time with his parents.
Smell the roses (or bread or coffee or lemongrass!)
Like music, scent is really evocative. Perfumes, room fragrances, oils, food, flowers, wood smoke, cut grass, whatever brings you to a place of peace and happiness. Surround yourself with good smells, smells that make you happy. Breathe them in and close your eyes and transport yourself to where you need to be to relax you and give you the space to get your head straight again.
I love the scent of lemongrass; it reminds me of my favourite spa resort in Thailand and transports me there in an instant. I use essential oils in a steam atomiser and breathe, meditate, read or listen to music while surrounded by those scents in order to relax and reduce stress.
So far everything I have suggested is pretty low effort physically but it’s also true that a great workout is a fantastic way to get out of your head and back into your body. Choose the thing that works for you. Some love to run, some to dance, to play sport, do yoga or lift weights.
You can combine that with your breathing, your scented atomisers, music or anything that makes you happy. Personally, I love to swim, even better to snorkel. It’s been a while since that’s been an option but when I can, I find the rhythmic action of swimming and the weightlessness of water really meditative and the very best place to work out my problems.
Next time you need to re-engage your adult and taking back control of your thoughts why not try some of these strategies, and remember, you decide what thoughts to think, it’s a matter of choice, so choose wisely.