Controlling my Anxious Brain
Our brains are very smart. Even while we sleep, they continually monitor for signs of danger. In times of stress or trauma, our brains know exactly what needs to happen to our bodies to best protect us.
Yes, our brains are smart…so smart that they will take advantage of us if we’re not careful! Much like a puppy learning to walk on a leash, if we allow our brains too much latitude, our thoughts becomes difficult to manage.
The trouble begins when we give them too much freedom.
An untrained mind is very much like my rescue puppy Kona when he was first introduced to a leash. Our “walks” would consist of me either pulling or being pulled by him. He would pause, sniff, and pee on whatever (and whenever) he wanted. As a BIG puppy, Kona was VERY difficult for me to manage.
Our minds are the same as an untrained puppy.
Managing my crazy brain has taken a lot of work. Kona needs multiple “puppy” classes to understand basic obedience and my untrained mind is no different. It is stubborn…and needs a lot of time and effort.
In the past, my mind would wander to my past or future with anxiety or regret seemingly without my consent or control! It would fixate on a mistake I made, or a problem that I MAY encounter in the future, and I would be STUCK thinking about it until my brain decided otherwise. Many times it would affect my mood and it would almost ALWAYS negatively affect my sleep. I felt powerless to change its focus.
It took a lot of work to manage my busy, crazy mind; however, it has been a lifesaver. I found these steps helpful as I learned this skill.
Step 1: Begin to Notice
Pay attention to the times when your mind wanders from what you are presently doing.
When you notice your mind drifting, simply bring it back into the present moment without judgment. Just like any bad habit, we first need to identify the moment it happens instead of recognizing it happened after it has occurred.
You may want to tally how often your mind drifts during a short activity or time frame. Don’t try to do this for a large chunk of time or you’ll only get discouraged.
Step 2: Extreme mindfulness boot camp
The next step to controlling my chaotic puppy-mind was to quiet my mind before it would jolt me into an unpleasant thought.
I began my mindfulness practice when I was in a bad place. My mind was continually focused on the overwhelming past or scary future. Mindfulness is noticing what is happening in the present moment with compassion and without judgment or expectation. During this time, extreme mindfulness was essential. I would focus ONLY on the present moment throughout the entire day.
This was difficult because most people exist in the present moment sporadically throughout their day. Think about it.
- Do you drive on autopilot to work each day?
- Do you remember the commute?
- Do you, like many people, mindlessly shovel their food into your mouth during your lunch break? (I know I just did!)
An example of my extreme mindfulness practice was the time my dishwasher broke. We couldn’t afford a new one, so I would wash the dishes by hand.
My extreme mindfulness boot camp practice would focus ONLY on the present activity of washing the dishes.
- I would notice the dirty dish
- I felt the hot water as I placed the plate in the sink
- I smelled the scent dish soap
- I felt the cooler water on my hands as I rinsed the plate… you get the idea.
It was tedious but I needed to stay out of my busy mind or my mind would wander into dark places.
You don’t need to have a bad event to begin practicing extreme mindfulness. You can begin now! Pick an activity and focus all of your thoughts on that activity. Try not to let your mind wander. When it does, just gently (without judgment and with compassion) bring it back to your present activity.
Step 3: Individualized Mindfulness Practice
Gradually, my “extreme mindfulness” morphed into simply my individualized mindfulness practice that I continue to use today.
This process has been a gift to me! My practice consists of several mindfulness breaks throughout the day which include: drinking coffee or tea, walking in the grass, sitting on my deck, running, walking, eating… there are so many possibilities!
Practicing mindfulness each day allows me the opportunity to practice controlling my crazy puppy mind. My sleep has improved, my stress level has decreased, and my confidence in handling life’s tough events has risen. I am truly grateful for this skill!
Today, it is much easier to manage when a future worry or past regret enters into my thoughts. However, like any skill, I need to continue to use my mindfulness practice each day. I can definitely tell the weeks I don’t practice.
Let me know if you’d like to come in for a FREE 30-minute consultation to see if life coaching can help you create your unique mindfulness practice.
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