Our internal conversation about people and events determines many of our own stress triggers. Learning to reframe forces deep self-awareness and will help you short-circuit the flight or flight stress response. The tip this week is to be mindful of your inner dialogue. Do you know how many thoughts you have per day? According to a new study from psychologists at Queen’s University using MRI brain scans, they were able to detect thought transitions and count how many thoughts we have per day. On average, participants had 6.5 thoughts per minute or 6200 thoughts per day.
Other psychological studies suggest that out of all our thoughts, 80% are negative. That’s almost 5000 negative thoughts per day. No wonder we are under so much stress.
So how do you battle the daily bombardment of those negative thoughts that trigger internal stress and destructive behavior? Learning to become more self-aware through mindfulness and reframing a portion of those thoughts will build resilience. You begin to take control and develop qualities that give you power over the obstacles and stress triggers in your life.
Tips for Managing Your Thoughts
Separate yourself from your thoughts
Because we are so bombarded by thoughts throughout the day, even when we notice them we easily allow them to be part of our identity. Negative impressions and even words coming from our others and our outside world are easier to defend against because they are external. As we gain more experience in life we become adept at batting away negative influences. It’s the internal ones that trip up us.
Remember you are not your thoughts. We all have negative thoughts floating through our heads. Without effort, we take them on as our identity, and they become a broken record in our heads. Reinforcing our fears and doubts. Telling us obstacles are impossible to conquer. Catastrophizing events and creating images of disastrous outcomes.
Imagine thoughts as flocks of birds flying overhead. There’s nothing you can do to stop them from flying over, but you can keep them from building a nest on your head. Another helpful image is to think of thoughts as passengers but you are the driver. Whatever image helps, use to separate those negative thought worms from constructing your identity. You are in control and have the power to ignore or direct your flow of thoughts.
Recent studies show a connection between breathing and brain health. Being intentional about your breath has the ability to slow your mind and become aware of all those pesky little thoughts. One study in 2016 found breathing rhythms actually can control our emotional states.
Counting your breath influences “neuronal oscillations throughout the brain”. When participants in a research study controlled and counted their breath, the parts of the brain related to emotion, memory, and awareness showed a more organized pattern.
Also, slowly breathing through the nose has been found to reduce heart rate, widen blood vessels, and lower stress responses. This breathing process doesn’t need to be complicated. Simply counting to 5 or 6 for each inhale and exhale for as little as 2 minutes will calm the mind and body.
Learn to relax your body
Relaxing the body also has an impact on the mind and our thoughts. Our emotional states change and even become relaxed when the body calms down. Thoughts begin to slow as well. Like the rapid chatter we experience in our minds, many of us live in revved-up caffeinated bodies.
Taking time to intentionally relax will help control and calm stressful thoughts. Relaxation can be difficult for many of us. While we may experience some of that relaxation during sleep or while vegging out while binging Netflix, it is helpful to have moments where we consciously focus on releasing physical tension.
Visualization can help. Sit in a relaxed position either sitting or lying. Imagine your body is a filled-up balloon and you begin releasing the pressure of the balloon through your fingers and toes. Imagining your body as so heavy you sink into your chair also helps.
The most common way to fully relax is to do a full body scan starting with your head until you reach your toes. Sense each part of your body and release the tension. Occasionally, you will have trouble relaxing parts of your body. If this is the case, do the opposite. Tense the muscle you need to relax as hard as you can, then let go. It will instantly relax.
Because the body and mind are intimately connected, learning to relax will help all those intrusive thoughts.
Create personal slogans
You’ve probably heard and used mantras or affirmations to rewire your brain circuitry and gain a measure of control over your thoughts. Yet for many people, those terms are loaded with “new-age” or “religious” practices so they steer clear of a valuable tool.
Rather than positive affirmations, think of them as personal slogans. These are short pithy statements that you can repeat to yourself throughout your day. They have a double-edged benefit. On one hand, the repetition of the words will help you crowd out the negative streams of thought. On the other hand, you begin reprogramming your brain in a positive direction.
If you ever played sports, you’ve undoubtedly had a coach that spouted constant statements to help players get their heads straight and motivate them to play better. Or you had a teacher or parent, you had repetitive statements to keep your attitude in line. Grab a hold of those that made you smile and perform better and use them throughout the day.
Reframe your thoughts
Reframing is the ability to reinterpret your thoughts. While ignoring negative thoughts can help. Sometimes you need to practice something more aggressive. Reframing thoughts is like judo for the mind. You redirect that negative energy into something much more positive.
Here are some examples:
Suppose your mind keeps telling you that you are bad because of a failure. Reframe the thought as a stepping stone to success. Being thankful for failure because of what you learned and how you will do better next time. Maybe you are in a bad mood, and can’t seem to get out of it. Tell yourself you are just passionate about the situation driving your attitude.
Looking for the proverbial silver lining always helps. We usually always find a positive slant on a negative thought or situation. When negative thoughts are especially pesky, using humor or putting a ridiculous absurd slant on the thoughts will stop them in their tracks.
Our thoughts have a massive impact on both our stress and resilience. Learning to manage and control that internal dialogue will build resilience in your life. Pick one or two of these actions and incorporate them in your daily life and you will find yourself much more resilient against daily stressors.
If you are looking for a more objective measure of your internal dialogue, Fierce built the new Pulse App to monitor those biometrics in your body that indicate stressful thoughts are attacking you. Pulse gives you a measurable way to develop self-awareness to control stressful thoughts. Click here for more information about Pulse and the results Pulse participants have had.