Updated: Jan 26, 2021
Five ways to turn down the noise overwhelming your thoughts.
"Stress is caused by being 'here', but wanting to be 'there'..." -- Eckhart Tolle.
Mental health has been playing on my mind lately - a lot. I've felt a shift in emotions; people seem disconnected, overwhelmed, and completely fatigued.
Back in March, every window was decorated with hand-crafted messages of hope and gratitude, we were coming together as a nation, as neighbours. Clapping and cheering on our doorsteps every week, and sweating with the kids and Joe Wicks every weekday.
The shadow of devastation was often overcast with stories of inspirational kindness. Remember Captain Tom? There was hope.
Lockdown 3.0 feels completely different. The rainbows and paper-chains have been taken down and I can't remember the last time I saw a loaf of banana bread on Facebook. Have we given up hope?
We cannot be hopeful, creative, or focussed when we're stressed, and we're not able to make positive changes to our life when we're exhausted from limited sleep.
Through a combination of therapy and mindfulness practices, I've been able to turn down the noise of the inessentials in my life, and focus on growth - how I become the best version of me.
I've created a 'mindfulness toolkit', a list of simple techniques to help shift your mindset - I use these daily and you can use them too.
1) Write down your Thoughts
Often negative thoughts or emotions run on a loop in our mind. A constant merry-go-round of stressful mind talk focussed on the past, the future, or what you should be doing.
Think about your thoughts as though they were books in a library. When books are organised in a logical way we can make sense of the system, and easily find the book we need when we need it.
Reflect on your thoughts the same way.
By writing down our thoughts we're acting as the 'librarian' of our mind, removing ourself from the centre of the drama, and giving ourself a chance to tidy up our mind chatter.
The simple act of writing down our thoughts brings us back to the present moment. Allowing us to rationalise what we're thinking about, which then giving us the headspace to create a logical filing system.
For every thought you write down, ask yourself these questions:
1) Is it essential - does this thought add value to my life?
2) Can I control it - does thinking about it change the outcome?
3) What action can I take - what can you do to improve the situation?
2) Reframe your thoughts
William James the American philosopher said: "The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.".
How often do you guilt-trip yourself into doing things? Or get upset because someone didn't do something the way you would've liked? How much pressure do you put on yourself every single day?
I read an article recently about how specific words stimulate bad thoughts and negative emotions:
I should = guilt / regret
They should = anger / disappointment
I have to = pressure / obligation
By having awareness of how we frame things in our mind and the words we begin our sentences with, we start empowering ourselves to take control over how they make us feel.
This goes beyond trying to stop thinking about something, in fact, by attempting to stop thoughts, you're going to make them louder.
No, hoovering will never be joyful for me, but it gives me pride. Yes, constantly motivating my son for homeschool is exhausting, but I get energy out of seeing him achieve.
I don't allow myself to give up when things aren't sexy or feel tough - simply because I've gained control of my perspective and learnt how to flip them into a positive.
Today, whenever there's something on your mind making you feel guilt, disappointment, or pressure - sit with your thoughts and allow your logic to reframe them into a positive. Find the purpose in every task, and if you can't, question how essential it is.
Give it a try.
3) Are you Expecting too much?
I have this theory that we create much of our own stress through expectations - both of ourselves and others. We very rarely allow things to happen without imagining how they might turn out.
I think expectations are a combination of standards (how we want things done), and our predictions of the future (versions of events in our mind). Because we have expectations for most things every day, they're filling up a lot of space in our minds.
We've developed internal standards for ourselves and how we want others to behave around us. The fundamental issue with this is communication, we just don't talk to each other. For whatever reason we very rarely share our expectations upfront - perhaps we just expect people to read our minds :).
As a consequence, we allow ourselves to feel let down or disappointed and wonder why we're so pis*sed off when things to go the way we expected.
It's beyond toxic. It's entirely unfair to you and the people you love.
Step one: Lower your expectations and do less.
Stop nitpicking every detail, stop beating yourself up over slight mistakes, stop thinking you can be everything to everyone.
Give yourself a break.
Take a breath and ask yourself... Does it really matter?
Step two: Communicate your expectations to anyone involved.
Be upfront about the outcome you'd like to achieve and by when - be flexible.
Set boundaries for how you like to be treated.
Start saying no if you're fully committed.
Communicate with good intentions and an open mind.
4) Switch off Fake News
Social media is powerful and in some ways keeping us 'connected' whilst we're unable to physically be with one another. But social media is misleading and exasperates our anxiety on many levels.
Every action you take on social media determines what content you see on your feed. Social platforms ensure you're only ever seeing stuff you're interested in so you keep opening the app every day.
For instance, if I follow sausage dog accounts on social media and only like sausage dog- related posts, all I will see is content about sausage dogs. Algorithms will track my sausage-dog loving behaviours, and show me things that other sausage dog lovers have liked - a dog collar or dog food brand for example.
This same approach is used in relation to gossip, celebrities, politics, scandals, global events, and covid-19 (plus anything else you can think of!).
It's dangerous because it reinforces your belief system and blinds you from alternative perspectives - you stay stagnant, and reassured that what you think must be true because so many other people around you (on social media) think the same.
Life is not one dimensional, and there are always several sides to a story.
Take some responsibility for how you're consuming the world around you, and do some research of your own. You'll quickly see beyond polarisation, and will become much more balanced and grounded.
5) Accept the simplicity of Meditation
There' a reason why so many happy people talk about meditation - it's because it works.
There' even a guided meditation series on Netflix - check it out 'Headspace Guide to Meditation'.
Whenever I offer meditation to friends or family I immediately feel their eyes roll, I don't understand why. It doesn't cost anything, you can do it anywhere, and you can start with just 5 minutes practice at any time of the day.
Ahhh, perhaps the reason people don't bother is that they just don't believe that something so simple could work...
From your very first practice meditation is having a positive effect on your brain. Over time, meditation has been linked to larger amounts of gray matter in the frontal areas of the brain. This grey matter can lead to more positive emotions, emotional stability, and heightened focus during daily life.
Why wouldn't you want to try this?
If you feel silly meditating or you're not sure where to start, my only advice is to just give it a go. It's not about stopping thoughts, allow the thoughts. It's about awareness and developing a healthy sense perspective.
There are so many apps with free content that guide you through the process of getting started, here's a few:
10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics
My mum said something quite profound about mental health recently:
"Everyone has mental health. Just like physical health or financial health. Some of us have conditions or experience things that make it harder to have good mental health - but some just neglect it, so it turns from good into bad.".
We have to be willing to take responsibility for some of the noise in our mind.
If you're experiencing issues with mental health and you're not coping seek help from a professional. Don't put it off, take action.
Mental Health Support.
Charity providing support if you have been diagnosed with an anxiety condition.
Phone: 03444 775 774 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5.30pm)
CALM is the Campaign Against Living Miserably. A charity providing a mental health helpline and webchat.
Phone: 0800 58 58 58 (daily, 5pm to midnight)
Men's Health Forum
24/7 stress support for men by text, chat and email.
Mental Health Foundation
Provides information and support for anyone with mental health problems or learning disabilities.
Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.
Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)