How Stephen Hawkings challenged his illness with mind over matter
Lately, I've had a lot going on.... I mean, a lot of changes work wise.
And I decided I need to ask you something.
---> Have you ever taken a risk, be it personal, financial, career-based, without any clue as to how it is going to work out? It's pretty hard to focus on being present and calm when you have a lot riding on a future outcome, isn't it?
Well, I recently signed an agreement to start practising my wares out of a health centre in the Sydney CBD. Maybe it doesn't sound like much to you, but it involved quite a bit of upfront money, and a massive dose of courage to put myself into a new space and share my passions with new people. For me, this was BIG!
You might be surprised by this. You might even think I'm Queen of Calm and 'have it all together', but, like anyone else, doubts and fears can rise in times of uncertainty and risk. I'm not immune.
Truthfully, I'm super excited but I'm pretty damn nervous too! I mean, a whole day to offer all kinds of stress relief treatments to stressed out people in the cbd?! I can't wait to start!! But it is a big change too.
I wasn't always a business owner and I am still not used to risks like this, so it is easy for that voice of panic and anxiety to jump in and have a say in what's happening!
"No one will come! You'll lose all that you invest! Who are you to be offering that?!"...I mean, it's just incredible what these anxieties say!
Can you relate to this?
Do you find yourself catastrophising the outcome of some future events?
Do you find it hard to sleep or stay calm, thinking of all the different ways it can go wrong?
Well you're not alone. Many people tend to spend more time focussed on the past or the future, without really being present in the present! And it seems to increase in times of uncertainty or change.
Now, I'm not saying anxiety is a bad thing altogether. Anxiety and fear are equals to happiness and anger in the broad range of human emotions. All human emotions are valid. There can be a positive twist to anxiety, which is motivation. Imagine being extremely anxious about an upcoming exam, versus laissex-faire and super relaxed? Which one might help you be more prepared to take action and study?
Clearly there are benefits to recognising potential threats, be they social, physical, mental, or environmental and taking action to avoid them. The question is, are you taking action (physical response) on threats which are not real or cannot be changed?
Take a look at the timeline below.
Where do you spend most of your thinking time? If you close your eyes right now for a minute and let the thoughts flood in, where are they focussed? Past? Future? Right this moment?
When you're about to take a risk, or there's some type of uncertain event playing out, you might be spending a lot of time hanging out in the future. Playing out different scenarios, possibly getting yourself into a state of anxiety over what 'might' happen. Maybe you have a doctor's appointment you're dreading, maybe you're about to invest in a new business or a new home and you're wondering if it will all fall down around you ---future focusser.
On the other hand, if you've just done something with a strong emotional investment, possibly with a poor outcome, chances are you are currently dwelling in the past. Maybe that first date didn't go so well, or your boss had a go at you in a staff meeting, or you said something you regret to someone you love. Now, you're going over what went wrong, replaying the scene in some kind of torturous replay again, and again, your mind can't let it go. You are ruminating on it --- past dweller.
This is where our anxieties get the better of us.
Now, let me be clear here before we go any further. I'm not talking about the medically-diagnosed psychological disorder of Generalised Anxiety Disorder or all the other classifications of Anxiety in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V of Mental Disorder of the American Psychiatric Society. If you feel that you are suffering from a level of anxiety that is beyond the 'normally expected' levels, and is persisting for months please go straight to your GP for a referral to a specialist.
If, however, your anxiety is not ongoing and is specifically related to an event or series of unusual life events, you may benefit by thinking about where you focus your thoughts.
It is possible to train your mind to bring awareness to the present, despite your mind's desire to dwell in the past or future.
Really. It is possible!
Why is this important?
One of the main answers is: the body can't tell the difference between what is real and what your mind is saying. Your body will react to your fears in the same way as if it was really happening. If you imagine a terrible scenario, like your manager ripping you apart in a meeting, your body believes that you are actually being threatened, even though it is only in your thoughts.
What happens? You prepare for 'flight or fight' of course!
Your adrenals start pumping out stress response hormones to engage your body. Your muscles tense. Your heart rate increases. Your breathing shortens and quickens and you are ready to roll. All to prepare you for a 'flight or fight' response to something which probably won't even happen, or if it has happened, can't be changed, and is probably not the catastrophe you think it is.
What a waste of energy!
It is your thoughts which are creating a scenario which your body is reacting to. It just isn't real!
So how do you get yourself out of this and back into the present moment?
In short ---> mindfulness and focussed awareness is a great way to get your wild imagination back to NOW.
German-born Eckhard Tolle, a famous author and speaker who resides in Canada, has spent many years studying and researching spiritual philosophy and psychology. He has worked as a counsellor, a teacher, and an author. One of his most famous books is called, 'The Power of Now', which extols the transforming virtue of living in the present moment. Because the present moment is all we really have.
In this short video, Tolle outlines some steps you can take if you find yourself being overwhelmed by anxiety:
- Firstly, recognise what is happening with your thoughts and the impact it is having on your body. How is your body currently reacting to your thoughts? This takes quiet awareness.
- Then, choose (actively make a decision) to step out of the situation. This is difficult sometimes because the thoughts are very powerful, especially at the beginning.
- If you can't manage to get yourself out of the anxious thought process, it is enough to just recognise that you are in it. Notice what is happening in your body and mind. Later, as you progress, you can start trying to step out of the anxious thoughts. Just knowing the anxious thought has control over your body and mind is already a step forward.
- Next, take a conscious breath --- long, slow belly breaths, not chest breaths.
- Lastly, remove the tension from your body. Shake your body, hands, arms, clap your hands, move your jaw to release tension. Or just notice where you are sitting, look around, notice where you feet are, where your hands are resting, the position of your body.
He describes it as a kind of awakening and returning to your body and returning to the present moment.
This type of thing takes time. If you are used to getting caught up in 'what ifs' and creating panic in your body, it will take some time just to become aware of the thoughts themselves. Let it happen slowly, and as you become more used to noticing the anxious thoughts for what they are, you can begin to start making an active choice to step out of the process.
Creating your own alternative thought pattern can also help you. So consider this:
A. You notice yourself in the throes of anxious and unrealistic thinking.
B. After practising, you are able to choose not to stay in that anxious thought.
C. You take a long, slow belly breath.
D. You shake your hands, shrug your shoulders and move your body to release tension.
E. You choose an alternative pattern of thoughts to focus on. You might choose something more mundane, like planning your shopping list. Or you might choose to look around you and find something positive to focus on in the present moment, like your children happily sitting in front of you, or the delicious taste of your early morning tea as you sip it.
What do I do?
Well, thankfully, I noticed pretty quickly that I was getting a little anxious and overwhelmed with my changes because over time I've become used to noticing subtle changes in my body. So firstly I added a few extra personal yoga classes to my schedule as I had let them slide recently. I also increased my morning meditation time and decreased my morning cardio time.
Yoga is my go-to when I am anxious. It is an incredibly meditative way to get into the present moment as you use your breath to switch on your parasympathetic nervous system (aka the 'rest digest' response), the opposite of the 'flight or fight' response. Through yoga you become mindfully present in your practice and in your meditation, allowing more time to notice damaging thoughts and bring the mind back to the present moment.
I'll finish with this.
When in the grips of anxiety, it can seem as though it has complete control over your life. It can seem as though all the worst things are going to happen and they are all targeting you. There is a window though, for you to recognise those anxieties and, with practice, choose to step out of them and into the beautiful present moment.
Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness allow us to be more present. I feel absolutely thrilled that I can offer these gifts to others, and call on them when I need them myself. Just send me a message right here if you'd like me to share them with you. xo
Links and resources:
Wisdom Talks, 2015, Get Rid of Fear and Anxiety Today, videorecording, Youtube, viewed 28 February 2016, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ze0-vGa-MQ8>
beyondblue depression and anxiety organisation Australia : https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
Note: As stated above, if you feel that you are suffering from a level of anxiety that is beyond the 'normally expected' levels, and is persisting for months please go straight to your GP for a referral to a specialist. In fact, while I'm at it, if you are in Australia, you can also contact Beyond Blue, a fantastic organisation which can give you advice and point you in the right direction to receive good care. If you are not in Australia, please speak to your GP for a referral to a mental health professional, and try Googling for a similar organisation in your own country so you can talk to someone straight away. I need to say this because if you are mentally ill, reading a blog is not going to be enough to remove chronic anxiety. It is in your best interests to seek the care you need from appropriate qualified health professionals.
Sydney CBD watch out - here I come!
Whether you need to relax and escape a hectic world through massage, find some balance and release with yoga, centre yourself with meditation, or reach for a better you with stress management and wellness coaching, you and your colleagues can find a way to Sunrise Well.
Stress management coaching (all weekdays) face-to-face, phone, Skype - by appointment only
Yin yoga and meditation (all weekdays) private, corporate or group - by appointment only
Massage on Fridays - by appointment only
Group meditation and mindfulness sessions (all weekdays) private, corporate or group - by appointment only
Stress management and health workshops and talks at your workplace - by appointment only
Ph: 0421 487 406 Email firstname.lastname@example.org Or book here!
So if you or someone you know needs to unwind, you want to treat your friend to a secret Friday escape, give me a buzz and we'll set up an appointment.
Let's be honest with each other. You know as well as I do that stress is not our friend. Activating the sympathetic nervous system for a 'flight or fight' response is pretty darn handy when fleeing rampant tigers a la thousands of years ago. But it is not so useful today when we activate it daily, over long periods of time at work, opening emails, dealing with difficult customers, and so on. Sure, it can be handy to help us meet that deadline and remain alert in a busy environment but, long term, activating the sympathetic nervous system can lead to a whole gamut of physical damage, a lot of which can have you ending up in hospital (or worse) down the track.
These days, to state that chronic stress damages the health is stating the obvious. But if you need more convincing, watch this simple video here which explains it well. In short, long term stress is an uninvited friend and you need to develop strategies to deal with it when it shows up in your life.
*hint*...while we can make some changes in order to minimise stressful situations, it is near impossible to eradicate stress completely! The best thing to do is have a tool belt full of strategies you can whip out when that 'friend' knocks on the door.
Here are 3 simple and effective strategies to try out over the next few weeks. The best way to do this is to interweave all three of them into your week. Find what works for you and try to practice it daily for at least a few weeks to start building it into your routine. At first you will probably try it and forget it later on. It's like remembering someone's name at a party. If you hear it once you will probably forget it. If you repeat it several times, it concretes itself in there a little more. So, if you are really serious about tackling stress and reducing it's presence in your life, why not put a timer on your phone and select designated times to perform your chosen activity. Over time, it will become routine and you won't need to set up a timer for it. It will be part of your every day life.
An oldy but a goody, we are starting with this one. Long, slow, diaphragmatic breathing immediately triggers the 'relaxation response' via the vagus nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system. In times of stress, we tend to constrict the chest, taking short, shallow chest breaths - preparing ourselves for our tiger run. This activates adrenaline and cortisol throughout the body which, as explained in the video above, are not particularly helpful for our long-term health (though they are great energy boosters when used at the right time!).
Try this method: Either lie down, or sit upright in your chair, in a relaxed but open posture. Begin by relaxing your belly muscles - give them a poke to check! Holding the belly in will force the air into the upper chest which is the opposite of what you want to achieve here. So, with buddha bellies ready...take a long slow inhale through the nose. Try to inhale for the count of 5 slow beats. Hold the breath in for another 5 beats. Release the air slowly for 5 to 7 beats. Pause a moment. Then begin the process again. You should notice your belly doing most of the moving, but don't force it. Just let it fall in and out naturally. Repeat the process five to ten times and you'll notice a lighter and warmer feel to your body and mind, and your thought become more clear - this is the Relaxation Response!
Keep a diary of your stress levels. Use a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 = absolutely no stress, and 10 = extreme stress. Set an alarm and record your stress levels at certain points throughout the day. Do this over a period of one to two weeks for a complete picture of your life stressors. Doing this is a good way to check in and become more aware of your stress. It is also a useful strategy to see any patterns or triggers that may be bringing on or increasing the stress in your daily life. Once you know what the triggers are, you can start to develop some plans to work around and overcome them.
If you record a stress level of 5 or higher at any time during the day, give Tip #1 a go.
If you do notice you are being driven by that unfriendly sympathetic nervous system response, get moving! Typical signs: shallow breathing, tense shoulders, tight jaw, clenched butt. Use that energy that is flooding your system right now. Release it, and move on.
If you're at work, try and find a quiet place to jump down on the floor and do ten situps or pushups. Or stretch your body up and out, and swing your arms in a gentle fashion. Or go for a short walk. It doesn't have to be for long. A brisk five-minute walk around the office or up and down the stair-well will use up the energy you've been releasing.
After that short release, place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Step into the centre of your awareness, slow down your breathing and activate the parasympathetic response with ten slow belly breaths.
As I said, stress sometimes shows up uninvited. Becoming aware of when you want it to hang around and when you'd rather chill out alone is important for your long term health and wellness. Give the tips above a good go and see if you can bring these changes into your routine. Let me know how you go!
* Remember! Long term changes are best made through ongoing coaching and behaviour change. Call or email Ruth today to schedule a free 15 minute discovery session to see how she can help you deal with your long term stress*
Note: Please see your GP if you are concerned about stress and anxiety or any of it's related symptoms and diseases.
Heya! So I'll keep this short and sweet...there is a mindfulness summit coming up online in October with training, talks and research...it looks like it will be amazing!
Whether you practice mindfulness often or you've never done it at all, I recommend jumping online and registering for the event - even registering will give you some helpful free audios and trainings. Pop into as many sessions as you can over the month of October and see if you can build up your personal practice of mindfulness.
Here's the link to check it out and register:
Let me know how you go!!