Reboot your brain: We’re in a permanent fight or flight mode, says PAUL MCKENNA – but you CAN switch off stress with these ingenious mind tricks
The pandemic’s left so many of us stressed and worn out. But today Paul McKenna launches a major Mail series with a three-step plan to help you press reset on your emotions…
Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve become good at training ourselves to consider worst-case scenarios. And no wonder.
For almost two years an ancient part of our brain, called the amygdala — which is where we process feelings of threat and fear that trigger a fight-or-flight response — has been receiving almost constant stimulation.
Protecting ourselves from Covid, as well as the people we love, has become the background theme to our lives.
As we navigate our way through this health crisis that is a crucial message. But living with it becomes exhausting.
For almost two years an ancient part of our brain, called the amygdala — which is where we process feelings of threat and fear that trigger a fight-or-flight response — has been receiving almost constant stimulation PAUL McKENNA writes
The Gradual Confidence Booster
1 Imagine a slightly more confident ‘you’ sitting or standing in front of you.
2 Now, I’d like you to imagine stepping into that more confident you. See through their eyes, hear through their ears and feel the feelings of your more confident self.
3 Notice that right in front of you is an even more confident you — sitting or standing a little bit taller, with a look of slightly more self-belief behind their eyes and emanating a little bit of extra charisma.
4 Now step into this more confident self and then notice that in front of you is an even more confident self — more passion, more power, more ease, more comfort.
5 Then again, imagine an even more confident you sitting or standing in front of you.
6 And step into that more confident new you. Feel your confidence overflowing! Be sure to notice how you are using your body — how you are breathing, the expression on your face and the light in your eyes.
Imagine the amygdala as a button. When it gets pressed it makes you feel anxious, on edge and under threat.
As time passes that button starts to stick. The more often it gets pressed the harder it becomes to re-set. Eventually, it refuses to switch off at all.
That’s where we’re at now: in a collective state of alert, struggling to switch off our fight-or-flight responses. And it’s playing havoc with our emotional wellbeing.
Of all the techniques I have developed over my career, I believe the most powerful are those that help people to dial down their own stress levels.
We all know what it’s like to feel so wound up you can’t think straight.
Stress makes rational thinking much harder; worst-case scenarios play out in your head much more vividly than any with a positive outcome.
As well as being mentally exhausting, stress also blocks us from feeling creative, optimistic and happy.
I can’t remove stress from your life. Experiencing it is an integral part of being human.
But I am going to share with you a series of techniques that will settle your emotional equilibrium and dampen down those feelings of impending doom.
They’re easy to follow, quick to master and they work. Best of all, this is a skill you can utilise long after the threat of the pandemic is behind us — the ability to switch off stress so you can think clearly, rationally and creatively whatever life throws at you.
Once we have more control over our thoughts and feelings, we have control over our choices and behaviours and ultimately control over our lives.
LEARN TO THINK LIKE EINSTEIN
Albert Einstein, one of the most creative thinkers of all time, used to undertake what he called ‘thought experiments’. These were simple visualisation exercises that helped him understand possibilities.
So, let’s do our first thought experiment because it’s not just what we think about, but the way we think about it, that is important.
Make yourself comfortable and remember a time when you felt very good. Return to that memory like you’re back there again now. See what you saw … hear what you heard … and feel how good you felt. Make the colours rich, bright and bold … the sounds loud and feelings strong. Right now, you should be feeling really good.
Next, I’d like you to think about a mildly uncomfortable memory — maybe a time when you had an argument, or you felt disappointed or upset.
Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve become good at training ourselves to consider worst-case scenarios. And no wonder PAUL McKENNA writes
Reset your worry thermostat
‘Worry’ comes from a Greek word meaning ‘divided mind’.
That is what worry feels like — a stream of thoughts pulling you in different directions.
It also has a purpose. Just like any negative or uncomfortable emotion, worry is a messenger sent by your mind and body to let you know it’s time to pay attention to something.
So, for example, if I have a worrying feeling and I stop to notice what comes to mind and, say, it’s the image of an upcoming meeting, my mind is trying to alert me to things that might go wrong in that meeting and to make sure I am well prepared.
The problems come when your worry thermostat is set too high, making life uncomfortable.
This exercise is a brilliant tool that will help you reset your worry thermostat. Read the instructions, below, all the way through first, then work through each step:
1. Think about something you have been worrying about.
2. Ask yourself: ‘What is the positive intention of this worry of mine?’ Often, the answer is ‘to keep me safe’ or ‘so I’m properly prepared’.
3. Focus on three new ways that you could think about this without triggering the stressful feelings.
4. Question whether you are comfortable with this alternative to worrying. If there is any hesitation, go back to your mind and ask it to sort out any internal conflicts.
You will know you’re ready to move on when feeling completely at peace with your alternatives.
5. Picture yourself doing the things that are keeping you safe, or mean you are well prepared, instead of worrying about what might or might not happen in the future.
With practice, you will soon be applying this simple method to any source of anxiety in your life, keeping your worry thermometer in check.
Step out of that memory, step out of yourself and look at yourself as though the event is happening to somebody else. Next, drain all the colour out of that event and make it black and white. And then gently fade it out. Right now, you should be feeling significantly less upset.
So many of us have a negative internal voice — running self-destructive messages that hold us back. Stopping that negative bad talk is a key part of learning the power of internal positivity.
It’s not just what you say to yourself, it’s also how you say it. Consider how the world sounds when you’re stressed.
What does your internal dialogue sound like — is it worried, anxious?
How do you speak to yourself? Calmly? Or do you sound frightened and concerned?
If we are talking to ourselves inside our mind in a way that is stressed and frightened, it will make us feel more stressed.
I’d like you to tap into your inner voice, so, let’s try another thought experiment. Talk to yourself inside your mind now in a very gentle, calm way.
With your internal dialogue, use the same tone of voice that you’d use to tell a bedtime story. Say something calming such as, ‘All is well. All is well’. Notice how that feels.
Remember, in addition to what we tell ourselves inside our minds all day long, the way we say it is very important, too. Progressive relaxation…
Using that calm, internal voice we’re going to imagine ourselves into a calmer and more and more relaxed state.
As you step, or float into that more relaxed self, you are going to increase the level of relaxation you feel.
Practising this technique will give you the power to be able to put yourself into a deep state of relaxation whenever stress takes over.
Close your eyes and imagine another ‘you’, one that is twice as relaxed as you are now. Imagine floating over and into that more relaxed you. See through the eyes of your more relaxed self, hear through the ears of your more relaxed self and feel this deeper relaxation. Repeat this process and feel this deeper relaxation. Pause for a little, while you notice the feelings.
Then, if you wish, repeat this process again and again. Continue imagining a more relaxed you and floating into it, until you are totally relaxed. Stay with this feeling for as long as you wish. You will be able to return to full, waking consciousness, refreshed and alert as soon as you are ready.
Make friends with your inner voice
1) Locate your internal voice. Just ask yourself, ‘Where is my internal voice?’ and notice the location where you hear the words. At the front of your head, the back or the side.
2) Now, I would like you to imagine how your voice sounds if it is totally confident. Is it louder or softer than usual? Is it clearer and easier to hear? Is it stronger or weaker?
Do you speak faster or more slowly? However your voice sounds when you are positive and confident, put that voice in the same location where your old internal voice was located.
3) Now, in a strong, calm voice, say these words over and over: ‘All is well, all is well, all is well,’ and notice how that makes you feel.
4) Next, think of some of the negative suggestions you have given yourself in the past — things such as ‘I’m shy and nervous’, ‘I am rubbish at giving presentations’ or ‘I will never find someone to fall in love with me’.
5) For each statement, come up with its positive opposite: ‘I’m naturally confident’, ‘I give excellent presentations’ or ‘I am extremely lovable’.
6) Finally, I want you to repeat the new, positive suggestions to yourself in your new, confident internal voice — say the new statements over and over again.
Don’t be ruled by your feelings
Even though some of our feelings may be uncomfortable, all of our feelings are part of our emotional intelligence — their purpose is to let us know we need to pay attention to something.
When something makes us happy, it lets us know we feel good, so we seek more of it.
However, there are other feelings that are uncomfortable, but necessary in order to protect us and keep us in the natural balance of life.
Fear warns us something bad could happen, so pay attention and be prepared. Anger often motivates us to get away from a situation where one of our standards or boundaries has been violated.
Frustration is in the same family as anger. It arises when we’re not achieving the level of results that we believe we should. The message is usually to get us to re-evaluate and motivate us to achieve the goal.
Even though some of our feelings may be uncomfortable, all of our feelings are part of our emotional intelligence — their purpose is to let us know we need to pay attention to something PAUL McKENNA writes
Sadness is the result of feeling that something is missing from our lives, either because we’ve lost it or we’ve lost touch with it. The underlying message is both to appreciate what we’ve lost and to be grateful for what we still have.
However useful these feelings can be, we don’t want to be ruled by them. The following technique is inspired from the work of my friend, the Zen master Genpo Roshi.
Place your hands out in front of you with your palms turned up.
Next, let yourself focus on the feeling that is bothering you, whatever it is. It could be a fear, anger, or something else. As you notice it, ask if there is anything that feeling would wish to say to you. If there is, make a note of it — if there is not, that is fine, too.
Now imagine holding the feeling in your left hand, in front of you and get in touch with it. Then think of the opposite of that feeling — for example, peace, calm, comfort.
Bring that opposite feeling to mind — peace, calm, comfort — and notice how it feels. Next imagine placing that opposite, positive feeling in your right hand, in front of you.
Now move your attention up to a few inches above your head and keeping your attention in that position experience both feelings at the same time.
Continue to feel the two emotions simultaneously with your attention above your head.
As you do that, your emotional system will re-calibrate so that you can experience that difficult emotion at a lower level as it re-integrates into your emotional intelligence.