Thursday, June 7, 2012

Create Your Mind Culture

I have spent a lot of my life in worry mode. Worrying about money, worrying about what other people think of things I've done or haven't done, worrying about my career and health, and worrying about worrying so much. I got so much into a worry rut that I worried whenever I saw envelopes because they reminded me of bills! I was experiencing the wonders of neuroplasticity. (This post is inspired by Neuroplasticity: Healthy Shortcuts to a Happier Life, which has some great tips).

Neuroplasticity refers to the way the brain changes its functioning based on what you experience. When something scares you, your brain tries to protect you by cataloging what was happening when you experienced  the fear, and may trigger fearful feelings whenever something similar happens. Like my envelopes, sometimes something completely innocuous gets lodged in the brain as associated with a threat, causing extra worry. If you are having trouble with repeated worry, here are a three ways to train your brain to think happier thoughts:

  1. Find a positive thing, and obsess on it. Any healthy positive experience will do. My favorite is to picture myself holding a sleeping baby. I have no children, but that sense of wonder and love is immediate when I picture a little tyke in my arms. Bringing to mind your loved one's smile, a beautiful day at the beach, or a proud milestone in your life will also work. As you repeatedly bring these positive experiences to your mind, you mind treats them like "top stories" on Facebook. Anything repeated must be important, so when random thoughts are whizzing by, the brain tends to send out more like your positive thing.
  2. Don't eat food that makes you crazy. Digesting food stimulates your body to make chemicals. Those chemicals tell your brain to be calm or panic, to feel full or hungry, or to feel at ease or upset. If you are eating unnatural food or food that just doesn't agree with you, it can affect your level of anxiety. I know for me, corn syrup makes me into an almost literal screaming mimi, so I avoid it. Most people are surprised at how much food can affect them. Minimize processed food and keep a food diary so you can see if you have a meltdown within 2 days of going to a fast food restaurant, or can make other correlations.
  3. Debate yourself out of negatives. Too many of us accept our self-talk at face value. "I'll never be happy" is certainly an exaggeration, but if you don't question the thought when you think it, your body responds to it as if it is true. Years ago a counselor taught me to debate myself when I had self-defeating thoughts, and it was one of the most empowering skills I've ever developed. Question any negative thought you have. Bring up instances when "nobody likes me" has been proven untrue, or point out your intelligent accomplishments when "I'm stupid" rears its ugly head. Your self-talk is rarely logical. Argue with it so you have a balanced view of yourself.
You run the show in your mind--you can decide on your "mind culture"--so make it positive! Use the tips above to fight self-defeating thoughts and increase thoughts that lead to growth. What strategies do you use to help your mind help you? I'd love to see your comments!

No comments:

Post a Comment

I'd love to hear your comments!