Have you ever noticed how much of your day is used up thinking negative thoughts?
Even eternal optimists can be surprised by how often they slip into automatic, negative mode. Most of us don’t give any thought at all to the quality of our thoughts; we may simply be aware that our head is full of thoughts going round and round at a wicked pace. This is most noticeable when we feel overwhelmed, stressed and out of control.
Research indicates we have some 70,000 thoughts a day, 90% of which we repeat again tomorrow and 80% of which are negative. So why do we lean so heavily towards negativity? It simply served our primeval ancestors during a time of ‘eat or be eaten’. We became super vigilant, our brain is still on the look out for anything it perceives to threaten our survival. Survival is it’s number one game plan. Can you see how ‘Stress’ believes that it’s the good guy and completely on our side?
The good news is we no longer have to be concerned about been eaten, well not very often anyway. Here’s the bad news; our brain doesn’t differentiate between perceived threats (public speaking, exam anxiety) and reality, like the real potential danger on the edge of a cliff. Our brain reacts the same way, sending a message to our Sympathetic Nervous System which activates the adrenal glands (the fight or flight center) and adrenaline and cortisol pumps. Now our body is firing on all cylinders, our heart is thumping, our stomach is in a knot we are breathing fast and short. Know the feeling?
This is great for keeping us alert when climbing that cliff or escaping the tiger, however in our modern society when we keep dropping into a state of anxiety, our bloodstream can have too high a level of these stress hormones. This can have a long term impact our immune system and well-being.
One of the tools I give to my clients when that automatic anxiety kicks in is this SOS method for them to take back their control of how they are feeling.
SOS for shifting from tormented to contented
Most of our negative thinking is when we are in automatic mode and our mind wanders off into the past or into the future.
Take yourself away from the tension situation (if physically possible) to a quiet place (and that might be the toilet).
- Stop … Take your awareness to your breath and take 3 deep breaths (which starts to activate the Relax Response)
- Observe your thoughts and how they make you feel
- Sieve your thoughts; choose which ones you want to hold on to and allow the rest to drop through the holes.
Notice how you feel, repeat until you find yourself breathing more gently.