Peace: How do we stop worrying?

Constant worrying, negative thinking, and always expecting the worst can take a toll on your emotional and physical health. It can sap your emotional strength, leave you feeling restless and jumpy, cause insomnia, headaches, stomach problems, and muscle tension, and make it difficult to concentrate at work or school.

So how do we take control and bring about a peaceful mindset?

Thanks to the following guests for participating:

Don Joseph Goewey, executive director of the De Mello Spirituality Center and is the author of The End of Stress, Four Steps to Rewire Your Brain.

Clinical hypnotherapist Janet Adams

Anton Dybal, founder of Next Level Artwork

Here are some of the resources from the show:

Paul McGee talks about worry on his own YouTube channel:

Books looked at this week:

Don Joseph Goewey: The End of Stress, Four Steps to Rewire Your Brain

Paul McGee: How Not To Worry: The Remarkable Truth of How a Small Change Can Help You Stress Less and Enjoy Life More

PS. I do not receive commission for reviewing books and talks.

Transcription

Exploring how we can master ourselves by looking at how experts say it is possible with your host Suswati Basu.

Intro music

Welcome to episode 23 of How To Be…with me Suswati as your timid presenter, guiding you through life’s tricky skills by taking this learning journey with you.

May is mental health awareness month hence I’m continuing with our theme of stress, but this time focusing on worry and how to avoid or make the best of our situation. So how do we bring about a peaceful mindset?

Here is clinical hypnotherapist Janet Adams on what she thinks helps with worry.

JANET ADAMS

Our first book is from Don Joseph Goewey, who formerly managed the Department of Psychiatry at Stanford Medical School as well as a pioneering research institute focusing on methods to cope with catastrophic life events. He is now the executive director of the De Mello Spirituality Center and is the author of The End of Stress, Four Steps to Rewire Your Brain.

We spoke earlier this week about his fantastic book. Find the full interview on www.howtobe247.com.

DON JOSEPH GOEWEY

The book reveals how adopting a peaceful mindset will set you on the path to increased productivity, creativity and intelligence.

Goewey believes stress keeps us from reaching our potential. When we’re stressed, our brain releases toxic hormones that damage our higher brain functions and consequently hamper our mental performance.

Our higher brain, or the prefrontal cortex, is where we derive our human intelligence where big decisions are made. Furthermore, the prefrontal cortex enables social intelligence, helping you to discern other people’s emotions and evoking compassion.

Your stress hormones, however, disable these high-order functions thus you end up prone to making poor decisions.

Stress hormones also sever the connections between your brain cells and shrink your brain’s neural networks. As a consequence, stress prevents your brain from making the new connections that are necessary for learning and creativity. It’s also terrible for our physical health as well.

Goewey says, however, there are ways to change this. The right attitude adjustment will literally rewire your brain and mollify your stressful thoughts, thanks to your brain’s neuroplasticity. The brain can apparently reorganise itself creating new neural pathways and expanding its neural networks just by changing the way you think.

It’s important that you make a habit of not believing your own negative and stressful thoughts he says, and instead opt to experience peace and tranquility. In addition to altering your perspective, changing your attitude is also about letting go of fear.

From an evolutionary perspective, stress is merely an expression of fear. In our collective past, fear of danger was a useful thing: it kept us alert and prevented us from being gobbled up by our predators.

But today’s world is much safer, and most of our fears aren’t even real. This was verified in a study at Cornell University, in which subjects were told to write down their worries for two weeks and then track which actually came true. They found that the vast majority of their worries – 85 percent – never ended up happening! Of the 15 percent that did actually happen, it often wasn’t that bad: in fact, 79 percent of the time things went better than expected. Hence sometimes you have to stop and think are your fears actually rational? And actually is there a better way to manage it?

Whenever you find yourself having stress-provoking thoughts, make an effort to impartially observe them. Don’t interfere with your negative thoughts; just be aware that they are there – in your head, but not in reality.

In any difficult stressful situation, you face three choices:

– Change it. Identify where you have influence and then put it to use;
– Leave it. Sometimes it’s best to simply walk away and close that stressful chapter of your life. While this process can be painful, it’s also sometimes necessary; or
– Accept it exactly as it is. Sometimes there’s just nothing that can be done about your situation. Acceptance means choosing not to complain or judge, and not to demand change.

Acceptance is the hardest choice, requiring a lot of mental effort and a powerful determination. In order to accept your situation, you’ll have to embrace the fact that there are things in life that you can’t completely control. The one thing you can influence is your attitude here.

You can develop a peaceful mindset by practicing some of these exercises regularly.
One, start your day off quietly. Close your eyes and listen to your breathing. Think about the things that you’re grateful for, like the people you love or the opportunities you have.

Another complementary strategy is to take a thirty-second “time-out” a few times throughout your day. Disengage from whatever you’re doing or from whatever is occupying your thoughts, and allow yourself to relax. Clear your mind, letting go of all your thoughts just for a moment. Take a slow and easy breath and relish in the feeling of peace that washes over you.

Once your stress is tamed, you can take advantage of your brain’s capabilities and how creative it is. One way is by going on a stroll and giving yourself mind space to wander as relaxation is key to innovation and breakthroughs in thinking.

An important part of letting go of stress is letting go of your ideal self as well. Shame is essentially the fear of being judged and rejected by those whose opinions matter to you, and, as you already know, fear means stress. Conforming to others’ expectations is constant work, and that means constant anxiety and thus constant stress.

In order to curtail your shame, you’ll first need to be able to recognize it for what it really is: a fabrication.

He also says loneliness damages your health. In fact, current science suggests that experiencing loneliness is as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. So fostering good relationships is key.

And lastly faking it until you make it can be helpful. Science shows that the mere thought of a desirable outcome can set into motion the inner resources and actions that will ultimately fulfill your desire. This is known as the Placebo Effect. Hence harnessing the power of suggestion can help to improve your health.

The final brilliant book comes from one of UK’s top motivational speakers Paul McGee. How Not To Worry: The Remarkable Truth of How a Small Change Can Help You Stress Less and Enjoy Life More is an accessible road map to defeating anxiety, stress, and worry.

Here he is on his own YouTube channel:

PAUL MCGEE

McGee says worrying is part of a cycle, where the next stops are anxiety and stress. More precisely, it’s a mode of thinking that leads to anxiety, which in turn, triggers your body’s survival instinct – a series of physical reactions that fall under the category of stress. It forms a feedback loop and the cycle can be triggered at any stage. It also weakens your immune system and mentally it robs you the valuable headspace you need to make sound decisions and live in the present moment.

One of the main reasons people worry is their past, he says. Many worriers were conditioned to be anxious during their childhoods. Painful experiences are another common cause of worry. Past experiences can often manifest themselves as hypersensitivity to potential danger.

Consequently, one of the first steps to conquering your worries is becoming aware of the way events trigger memories of your past. Then there’s the fear of the unknown – one of the most powerful causes of worry.

The unknown is worrying because it’s beyond your personal control. It’s frustrating to feel like you don’t have your destiny in your own hands or have to rely on others.

McGee says luckily there’s a way out. When you get to know yourself better and ask yourself why you’re worrying, you’re much more likely to be able to put things in perspective, and that’s a great basis for tackling your worries rationally.

Like Goewey, he agrees that worry is located in the primitive and emotional parts of your brain. The primitive brain is located deep within your subconscious and controls the “fight or flight” stress response.

The emotional brain works together with the primitive brain. Together, they release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline during moments of intense stress, which boost your energy levels. Worrying is part of the survival strategy of these two areas of the brain. That obviously made sense for our hunter gatherer ancestors but less so for a stressful meeting except our brain can’t tell the difference.

The rational brain, by contrast, helps keep worries in check. Located in the higher brain – or neocortex – it’s responsible for problem-solving, memory and other complex tasks.

You can train yourself to tap into the rational brain when your worries are spiraling out of control all through awareness. Essentially, it’s a way of tracking a worry down to its source.

Here’s how you do it: Ask yourself “Where is my worry coming from?”

Next, sort your worry into one of three categories – situational, anticipatory or residual stress.

Situational stress is a form of anxiety related to what’s happening in the present. Then there’s anticipatory stress: This is the anxiety you feel when you’re thinking about the future.

Residual stress pertains to the past. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a good example of a particularly severe form of residual stress. Categorizing your worries allows you to better scrutinize the source of your stress.

It short-circuits mindless anxiety and puts you in a position to calmly ask yourself “Why do I feel this way?” Its an important first step to tackling the source of your anxiety.

Next is the sorting process reflecting on the root cause on individual worries. That means asking whether they’re historical, hysterical or helpful.

Historical worries are a form of anxiety that mirror your experiences in the past. Hysterical worry is the exact opposite – it’s deeply irrational. Finally, there’s the helpful worry – a form of rational behavior. This kind of worry is caused by reflecting on a real problem. Now it’s time to think about what can be done.

If you’re preoccupied by a historical worry, your best bet is to seek emotional support so turning to a therapist or counselor or even a friend. It just needs to be an outlet for your emotions. With hysterical worry, the key here is to contextualize your anxiety by looking at relevant statistics, and interrupting your own thought process. You can also challenge your own thought processes by asking yourself how often your predictions have come true.

With helpful worry, the key is to identify the outcomes you do have some influence over and focus your energies there. Use a sliding scale of zero to ten – zero means you have no control whatsoever, while ten means you’re fully capable of determining the outcome. The more influence you perceive yourself as having, the more likely you are to take action.

According to a scientific study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, optimistic people who regularly overestimate their influence are less likely to suffer from depression than those with a more realistic view. So basically going in with a glass half full attitude.

McGee says we can also harness our imaginations for the positive by changing a negative situation by thinking about positive ones. So channelling Michelle Obama if you’re feeling shy. Or imagine four advisors you can ask for assistance in important areas like work, health and relationships. It could be anyone from the Dalai Lama to Warren Buffett.

Importantly, don’t put yourself down, people please and learn to ask for help.

So to sum up:

Goewey says in The End of Stress that stress inflicts major harm on your health, intelligence and performance. Luckily, you can overcome the negative influence of stress by incorporating certain exercises into your life and adopting the right mind-set.

Hawaiianize your mind when faced with stressful situations. So think back on a memory that brings you contentment and peace: maybe your honeymoon or the smell of grandma’s freshly baked cookies. Feel how the memory calms you, and relish the experience. Now that you feel calm, you’re better equipped to fully utilize your brain’s higher functions and increase your performance.

McGee says in How Not To Worry that worry, stress and anxiety are part of a cycle that’s bad for your health and happiness. The best way to get out of this feedback loop is to analyze the source and nature of your worries. Once you begin categorizing them, you can sort out baseless and unhelpful worries and start doing something about the things you can actually influence.

Hence he recommends exercising as a remedy for anxiety. Getting your blood pumping improves your circulation and releases natural opiates called endorphins, leaving you feeling cooler, calmer and – most importantly ­– happier. Once you’re in that state, you’re ready to start tackling your problems head-on rather than simply fretting away at them.

Just by talking this week to Don Joseph Goewey and thinking about the effects of stress has made me stress less thankfully.

And to end this week, here’s Anton Dybal, founder of Next Level Art Work on how he brings about a peaceful mindset. And if you enjoyed this please hit subscribe!

ANTON DYBAL

Published by suswatibasu

Suswati Basu is a writer, journalist, producer and feminist activist residing in London. She has written for the Guardian, Huffington Post and the F-Word blogs, and has worked for various media outlets such as the BBC, Channel 4 and for ITV News/ITN. She currently works as a senior intelligence expert.

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