Kate McLisky is a clinical psychologist with a background in mental health research. Kate works clinically with an integrative therapeutic approach to help clients of all ages to manage and reduce symptoms of mental health disorders.
Using our minds to calm the storm
Often, we try to deal with unwanted thoughts or feelings by responding to them with more helpful thoughts. This can be an excellent strategy! It’s clear that our thoughts impact our feelings and behaviour, so spending time with more helpful thoughts can be a great way to manage feelings like anxiety or frustration. Finding thoughts or thinking style that is rational, whilst also being compassionate, can help to calm our nervous system and pull us out of our funk.
When our minds become the storm
Some days, however, this just doesn’t cut it. Sometimes the feeling seems too big, or too persistent, to be soothed by our thoughts. We might even find that the more we try to use our minds to calm ourselves, the more we feel tangled and stressed, and that our mind feels increasingly busy. Have you ever felt like you just want to take a holiday from your own mind? Let’s talk about how you can do that, no ticket to Fiji needed.
Cut off from our bodies
In today’s world, it is increasingly common for people to use their bodies less and their minds more. Our jobs often dictate that we are seated for a large part of the day, and movement might be restricted to a walk to and from the bus stop, or 30 minutes or more of intentional movement at the beginning or end of your day (well done!). Either way, we are moving our bodies less now than we ever have over the course of human history. To add to that, many of us use devices, alcohol, food, or other habits of avoidance or escapism to disconnect from our body and try to "switch off" from uncomfortable feelings.
Our emotions are intrinsically linked to our bodies due to the way that our emotional and physical selves have worked together to keep us safe over the course of evolution. Our minds and bodies work together to alert us if there’s danger, and what we need to do to stay safe. So while we can work hard to calm our mind with soothing thoughts, if our bodies are tense, they will continue to set off our psychological alarm system, and we’ll continue to feed that anxiety, stress or frustration we’re trying to escape!
So what can I do?
Take a breath:
The very first step is to stop and take a breath. You’re thinking, "Well that’s a useless suggestion, I’m breathing all the time," Right? Yes, but… When we’re caught up in our minds, our breathing tends to be shallow, rapid or we can even “hold” our breath. This means we are not calming the tension in our body, which means we're still stuck with a tense mind! So stop and take a deep, slow inhale, all the way to the bottom of your rib cage. Pause a moment, then allow yourself a long, slow exhale. Repeat this four more times. How do you feel?
Shift your awareness:
Now try bringing your awareness to your body. How are you feeling? Where do you notice tension or sensations you hadn’t noticed until now? Try scanning your awareness over your body, to each body part. See if you can release any of the tension sitting inside you by relaxing your muscles, or simply by asking yourself to "let go". Notice whether your eyes, jaw, mouth, hands, stomach, chest or shoulders are holding any tension. Let it go.
Move your body:
Finally, experiment with some movement. Stretch your arms above your head. Roll your shoulders forward, and then back. Rock side to side and back to front. Try squeezing and then releasing some muscle groups. Shake your hands, then arms, then chest and torso. This all sounds really silly, but 90% of the time, you will be surprised with how much of a difference makes to how you’re feeling.
Try checking in with your body a few times a day – the more practice you do, the more effective it will become! While these strategies may sound simple, they’re powerful, and often what you are needing when you can’t think your way out of a feeling.
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Article written by: Kate McLisky
All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.