Comments Off on 6 Ways Your Mind Can Protect You From Stress and Pain
When I first heard someone say that my mind could help me overcome my stress, I laughed. Out loud. For a long time. I mean, my mind is one of the things that stresses me out the most.
When left to its own devices:
It idles at about a million miles per hour. I literally can’t keep up with my thoughts sometimes. Neither can my mouth; I sometimes get halfway through a sentence and can’t remember where I was going with it because my mind has long ago left that thought and moved on past several others already.
It gives me the ability, which borders on superpower status, to totally overthink pretty much anything, which reduces my ability to see a situation clearly.
It lets me quickly and easily jump to some of the wildest conclusions in a single bound.
It grants me the ability to rationally and logically come to the wrong conclusion at the drop of a hat.
It allows me to develop some very unrealistic expectations about pretty much anything and everything.
The Bad News
In no way am I the only one whose mind is one of their greatest stressors. Our own mind is one of the biggest stressors we all have. The reason is both simple and complex, and ultimately boils down to our past experience, the things we were taught directly and indirectly while growing up, and our in-born personality. All of these things color the way we see the world.
If you grew up with parents who constantly worried, you’re more likely to be some degree of worrier yourself. The same is true of complaining, having a negative outlook, or any of the other myriad behaviors the adults in your life modeled for you growing up.
It’s not easy to overcome or see past these filters because most of them don’t spring from one vivid or traumatic incident in our life. Many, indeed most of them, began forming before our conscious memories begin. We therefore may be totally unaware of even having some of these filters, or they may seem perfectly normal in a “doesn’t everyone see things like this” type of way.
The Good News
The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind. ~ William James
Altering our “attitudes of mind” is not easy. In fact, it’s downright difficult at times, but it’s absolutely essential that we learn how. With no intervention from us, our mind will continue to stress us out in the same way it always has. I can tell you from experience that getting some control over your mind will lead to a marked reduction in stress, which will then lead to a reduction in pain. Here are the 6 things that helped me most:
Mindfulness – Mindfulness is a useful prerequisite for many of these skills. Without it, life is more stressful in every way. There are whole books devoted to developing mindfulness, and there are many techniques for doing so. Which technique you use doesn’t matter, as long as it works for you. The end result you want to achieve is the ability to be in the present moment, not thinking about the past or worrying about the future. It means doing one thing at a time with your full attention – listening to your conversation partner, recognizing your thoughts, smelling the flowers, etc. It also means eventually recognizing when you’re not being mindful, because you will not be 100% mindful, 100% of the time. I guarantee it. But take heart, the meditation masters who are generally better at this than the general public aren’t fully mindful all the time either.
Understand the whole problem – This involves the willingness to research your own medical conditions, as well as those of family, friends, & coworkers that have an impact on your life; understand another person’s point of view; look at a problem from all angles; consider possible alternative motivations and meanings to words and deeds; and most importantly, being honest with yourself and others about the exact nature of, and your reaction to, whatever the problem is.
Resilience – You need the ability to be centered and balanced enough to rebound when negative things happen in your life. That takes a certain amount of flexibility, humor, and toughness. It also requires a healthy dose of realistic optimism, which means acknowledging how crappy your situation is at the moment while simultaneously acknowledging that it doesn’t have to, and most likely won’t, stay that way. Resilience has no place for catastrophizing, i.e. assuming that the worst will happen.
Self-efficacy/control – This is just a fancy way of saying that you’re self-motivated and trying to be the best you that you can be. You pursue personal growth and do your best to reduce the number and influence of the self-denigrating thoughts we all have from time to time.
Accept responsibility – Simply put, you need to step up and own your mistakes, your misdeeds, your part in misunderstandings, or any other thing that may have brought negative consequences into your life. You also need to find and learn from any lessons that may be present in the situation. An often overlooked aspect of this is the bad habit that many people have of accepting the blame for someone else’s mistakes or misdeeds, either because they have difficulty standing up for themselves or because they’re people-pleasers.
Realistic expectations – Here’s the truth: Some people are mean and some are nice. Some people lie and some are honest. Some people have biases/prejudices that you don’t share and some are accepting of things that you find offensive. The list goes on and on. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone or every situation to conform to the way you think they should be. In fact, it’s almost certain that you’ve got unrealistic expectations when you’re using words like should and shouldn’t. The key to having realistic expectations is accepting people and situations for who and what they are. You don’t actually have to like anything about a person, you merely have to acknowledge them for the person they are.
If it seems completely overwhelming or impossible to develop or increase your skills in these 6 areas, pick one and work on it. As you get comfortable with that one and it starts to become automatic (a majority of the time anyway), add another one, then another, and another. If you don’t know where to begin, I highly suggest starting with mindfulness, because its usefulness spans every aspect of our lives.
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