Do you ever struggle with things like distraction, insomnia, easy weight gain or energy crashes? I sure have, at various times. From talking to lots of people about their health, I’ve realized probably all of us have these symptoms to some degree. I’ll explain how your mind can be a trigger of many of these symptoms and how you can help it work better.
I’ve proposed that most of our modern symptoms can be traced back to the stress response. This response was a good thing when we lived like cavemen and cavewomen, but in the modern world, it gets set off far too often in situations in which it is no longer helpful. If we can keep this stress response in check, we will feel happier, have better relationships and fewer health issues.
As hard as we try to manage the many events around us, our mind alone can be one of the biggest triggers of the stress response.
It's Normal To Be Fearful
Imagine your great, great, great (1,000 more greats) grandmother roughly 20,000 years ago. She is fast asleep near a fire when she hears a branch break from the dark forest nearby. She could assume it was something harmless (like the wind) and go back to sleep, or she could feel fear and panic and alert the rest of her tribe to a possible predator.
Those who panicked easily felt more stress, but also survived better and produced easily-panicked offspring, like us.
Mark Twain said:
“I . . . have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
It is important to realize that all of our minds are fearful. This is normal. The moment we are free of distraction or habit, our minds start trying to figure out around which corner the next danger might be lurking. These imagined fears can turn on the stress response, even when they are fleeting or below the level of awareness.
Sometimes these fears are so strong that they break into the surface of our awareness in the form of annoying and intrusive thoughts:
- “That will never work.”
- “They are going to laugh at me.”
- “Who are you trying to kid?”
- “I can’t stand the way my hair looks.”
- “Wow, the last thing I said really sounded stupid.”
When I was in college, I needed to have roommates in order to pay the rent. As annoying as some of them were, none were as annoying as the daily, self-chatter I heard from my own mind.
The Present Moment
The more focused your mind is in the present, the less it can upset you with unwelcome, possible, future scenarios. As we move through the day, our minds will become more and more detached from the present.
You may have heard that spending hours a day, for decades, on meditation can help calm this internal chatter. I’ve trained in many types of meditation over the years. Some seemed as complex as I imagine brain surgery would be and took over an hour each day to do properly. My best intentions and discipline would carry me along for some time in these practices, but inevitably, life and my other interests would get in the way, so I’d soon be off track. Maybe you have gone through this pattern with meditation also.
The good news is we now know it doesn’t take heroic efforts to get major benefits. By doing nothing more than lying down and resting for a few minutes, you can transform your mind and lower your stress response. You’ll feel more alert and energized, better focused on your goals, have fewer headaches, less digestive symptoms and sleep better.
A Simple Technique
Try this crazy, simple technique for just five minutes each morning for the next week, and see how you feel:
- Set a timer for five minutes.
- Lie on your back.
- Focus your eyes on a spot on the ceiling.
- Count each time you breathe in.
- If you lose count, start over.
When the timer goes off, you’re finished. That’s it.
It Really Does Work!
In my clinic, I’ve seen that this simple technique lowers anxiety scores and improves the measured levels of stress hormones, sleep and short-term memory. Some people see benefits in the first few days!
The reason this works is because it trains your mind to stay present through thinking about your breath and visually watching a fixed point. It is brief enough that you don’t get antsy and agitated, as many can during prolonged, formal meditation. By having your eyes open, it also keeps your mind from wandering as easily.
I challenge you to test it for just two weeks. Watch the nature of your mental chatter as you go along, and see if it improves. You might be surprised how much better you feel when you don’t have to deal with so many of what Mark Twain called, "the troubles that never happened.”