The Power of Thoughts
Let’s assume the human body and brain together are like a big computer. So a computer has the processor – the thing that processes the information and turns it into what you experience and use; it also has hardware – keyboard, mouse, monitor/screen, these are the hardware, they deliver information to the processor – to be processed; then a computer has software that tells the processor how to process the information it has delivered to it.
Now we know the ins and outs of computers on a basic level. So how does the body and brain compare? Let’s again assume that the brain is the processor and the body itself is the hardware: the 5 physical senses are the hardware that deliver information to the brain to be processed into our experiences as reality. Eyes for Sight/Seeing; Ears for Sound/Hearing; Nose for Smell/Smelling; Tongue for Taste/Tasting; Skin/Hands for Touch/Feeling.
So if the brain is the processor and our bodies physical senses are the hardware; what is the software? Thoughts. Our thoughts are the software that tell our brain/processor how to process the information it is given by our bodies hardware/physical senses. Essentially, our thoughts are what shape our reality. Our thoughts tell our brain how to process information and in essence how to process our reality.
If you allow yourself to have negative thoughts of “I’m just not good at anything.” or “Ugh. This sucks.” or “I hate this” or “People suck.” … Then you are programming your brain to be pessimistic and negative. Your brain will then become accustomed to negativity – it will be programmed to see all the negativity in the world and in your life. You will have a filter of negativity placed in front of your reality. So while the good may still be there – you will not be able to see it as well but you will be able to see the negativity easily.
‘Is this where positive thinking comes in? Should I just ignore all the negatives and only focus on the positives?’ Well no. There is such a thing as toxic positivity. It is basically the reverse of the above. You are shielding yourself from negatives in life and not allowing yourself to live honestly. By being overly optimistic – you are still lying to yourself and not living honestly.
‘So if I shouldn’t be optimistic and positive all the time and I shouldn’t be pessimistic and negative all the time – then what should I be doing?!?’ The answer to this question is be honest with yourself in a real way. Instead of saying to yourself: “I hate people” or “People just suck.” You want to ask yourself if those are objectively true statements. Do you really hate people? If so, that’s a strong emotion to have for people in general. That’s heavy. It would take a lot of effort to hate everyone with no cause or reason. So no. You don’t hate people. You may find interacting with strangers to be stressful sometimes but even then it’s likely not all the time. So the honest way to phrase this to yourself would be “ok. Meeting new people is hard for me but I like people fine for the most part”. Or something like that.
Life is meant to be balanced. There is good in the world. There is also bad in the world. Light and dark. Heavy and light. Health and sickness. Fun and boredom. Happy and Sad. Fear and Courage. Black and White. Don’t hide from the pain and negativity of the world – face it head on. It is just as important to life as the Love and positivity of the world. Both are full of lessons and learning. Sure – Love and Light is great and feels good but there is a lot to learn about pain and sorrow too. Important lessons. And amazing growth occurs when we allow ourselves to face the hardships of life and to move through them.
We Humans are living life and through all the good, the bad; the fun, the sad; the darkness and the light; and every experience in between, we are all just striving for balance.
“The Power of Thoughts” by Jeremy Case, 4/23/2021
How can Mindfulness help me? … Also, What is it?!?
What is Mindfulness?
According to Jon Kabbat-Zinn, “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally”. Quoted from https://www.mindful.org/jon-kabat-zinn-defining-mindfulness/
“Ok. But what does this mean to me?” Well that’s a good question. Here is a quote that kind of illustrates this point:
I both like and dislike this quote. It does kind of insinuate some blame on the person for their depression and anxiety. I don’t think anyone is to blame for these symptoms, but they can reduce the intensity of their depressive and anxious symptoms by taking control of their awareness using Mindfulness.
As the above quote states, being depressed is associated with having your awareness in the past. Focusing somewhat on the things you have done, the mistakes made, embarrassing situations, foot-in-mouth moments, painful experiences, traumatic memories, losses, grief, and more.
The opposite is true for anxiety. Focusing on the future. The things we need to get done, worrying about finances, stressing about getting chores done, cleaning that needs done, dinner that needs made, kids that need put to bed, homework that is waiting for us, paperwork to be done, etc. Feeling overwhelmed by all our responsibilities in life at home, work, school, social life, family life, and more.
Mindfulness is pulling yourself out of the worries and painful memories and seating yourself fully in the present moment. Right now, you are reading this blog. As you read this blog and fully immerse yourself in this experience right now, all those things in the past and future are momentarily left outside of this moment.
There are many different mindfulness techniques that can be helpful in putting yourself fully into the present moment. Basically, what it comes down to is fully emersing yourself in any one or more of your physical senses. Fully seeing with eyes, Fully hearing with ears, fully feeling with any part of your body, fully smelling with your nose, fully tasting with your tongue.
I think the easiest way to start is to close your eyes and sit and try to feel everything you can feel with your whole body all at once. You can do this now as you read (of course with your eyes open but when you read all the way through, you can try with eyes closed). Then, start down at your feet, notice the feel of the ground against your feet, notice temperature, sensation, comfort, discomfort, anything at all. Then shift up to your legs, notice all the same things. Don’t judge any pain or discomfort, notice it and move past it. Then shift to your bottom and hips, notice all sensations you can. Then lower back and stomach, notice external sensations, temperatures, etc, then notice internal sensations if you can. If you can’t, that’s ok. Then shift up to upper back and chest. Do the same. Then shift attention to shoulders and neck. Notice any tension, pain, discomfort, temperature… just notice it and then move on. Don’t judge it. You can roll your head gently at this moment if you need to. Then notice your face and scalp. Notice any tension or sensation or temperature. Recognize it and then open your eyes.
Now as you look back, you may recognize that this exercise took effort and because of that effort, even you were had a distraction, you were most likely able to shift away from it and back to the exercise with fair ease.
You can do a similar exercise with all the other senses as well. With taste, you can use a piece of chocolate and don’t just toss it in your mouth and chew and swallow, but place it in gently and let it sit. Notice all the different things that happen when you do. The salivation that happens on its own. Notice the temperature of the chocolate and how the temperature changes quickly after your place in your mouth. Notice the texture of it and how it changes slowly as it melts. Notice the taste as well and how the taste fills your awareness once your focus on it. Notice how it makes you feel. Notice any and all other things related to this experience as you can. Then after you feel like you have noticed everything you are able to, then chew it slowly and notice all the changes you can. And swallow it and follow it for as long as you can with your awareness. This is called mindful eating and it can be done with any and all foods. Best to do so with foods you like but to each their own.
For sleep issues, I like to use mindful listening. If you find that difficulties with sleep come from an overactive mind, this can be a very helpful exercise. It is very simple too. Lay in your bed in a comfortable position and then focus all your attention on a sound in the room. A constant sound if you can. For me, I use my ceiling fan. I listen with as much attention as I can to my ceiling fan. The gentle humming sound as it whirrs. When I notice my thoughts trail off, I just stop myself and re-focus back on the ceiling fan. Just gently nudge yourself back to the constant sound. Try not to say “Dang it!” when you get distracted. It happens and it’s ok. Just stop yourself and go back to the sound. You may have to nudge yourself back to it a few times. That’s ok. Just keep at it. It will get easier with time.
Mindfulness is a skill and like any other skill such as running, or writing, or typing, or anything else you can think of, to get better at those skills, you need to practice. Your Mindfulness skills will improve with time, patience, and continued effort. Mindfulness has been studied and it has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, and more. It has also been shown to have actual physical changes to the brain too – in a positive manner. For more on this, visit this link. https://www.ted.com/talks/richard_j_davidson_how_mindfulness_changes_the_emotional_life_of_our_brains_jan_2019?language=en
So Let’s make an agreement right now. To be more fully present, even if just for a moment, every day. You may be surprised on all the things you tend to miss out on just because you are pulled in the past or the future – just like so many of us. Find that peace for yourself. You deserve a little peace sometimes. We all do.
“Mindfulness” by Jeremy Case, 4/23/2021
Why take a deep breath?
We have all been told at some point to “take a deep breath and just calm down”. I don’t know about you but when I hear this statement; it is less than helpful in the moment. I feel like for many people who have heard this said to them in moments of discomfort, it has really left a bad taste in their mouths about the concept of deep breathing.
In moments of pain and discomfort, being told to “just take a deep breath” comes off as a little invalidating. It says more about how your emotional reaction in the moment is making the person trying to comfort you uncomfortable. It makes us feel unheard and may even make us even more upset in the moment because now we have the added discomfort of knowing that our emotions are now negatively impacting someone else. So in that moment, we may either get more upset or may do our best to get ourselves back to a state of composure and tuck those feelings aside for later.
Firstly, if you have ever said the statement above, this is not an attack on you. You mean well but those words do more harm than good. Instead, in that moment, you may try something like “I see you’re upset. If you would like, we can take a deep breath together and you can tell me about what’s upsetting you. Or I can just be here with you if you don’t want to talk about it.” This does a lot of things. It validates how they are feeling and shows support without adding the insinuation that you are uncomfortable with their display of emotion.
So now, on to why deep breathing can actually be helpful. There is a lot going on with emotions and breathing. Did you know that we can measure emotional reactions with bio-feedback equipment? These items measure, pulse/heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, skin conductivity, brain waves, etc. Some measure some of these aspects but very few measure all. Regardless, these measurements show that the body reacts in a physiological manner to changes in emotion. Your blood pressure, breathing, heart rate and all the rest change in sometimes subtle and sometimes very noticeable ways depending on how you are feeling.
While this is all interesting, we will focus on the changes in breathing first. Nearly everyone can identify a time when they were feeling really nervous, anxious or even scared and they felt breathless, out of breath, or even felt like they had difficulty catching their breath, maybe even started to or actually ended up hyperventilating.
If you noticed a person with an angry look on their face, hunched shoulders who was breathing fast and forceful – you might think this person is about to lose it and go off on someone or anyone. You might just end up getting away from that person because you can see the rage in their body, expression and breathing.
Those are just a couple of examples but they are ones that most people have either experienced themselves or noticed on others. Basically it comes down to breathing changes in some way depending on how you are feeling. It’s simply the bodies physiological response to emotion and feeling. It is almost mechanical in a lot of ways.
Deep breathing uses this connection between mind and body by basically taking control of breathing and thereby taking control of you emotions in the moment. By taking slow, deep, full breaths, you are slowing down your breathing/respiratory rate, which in term can slow down your heart rate, which can end up decreasing your blood pressure, relaxing your muscles, and increasing blood circulation to your extremities and brain. This often feels like your body gets warmer, softer, and heavier. Because your body starts to relax. When your body starts to relax and slow down, your brain recognizes the change and starts to turn off the alarm signals and begins to experience a state of calm and peace.
It is NOT a light switch. Although for some, it can certainly feel like that sometimes. For most, I like to use the analogy of a red mercury thermometer. When you are in an intense emotional state, your thermometer will look filled to the top with red. When you take a deep, slow, full breath, intentionally, the red in your thermometer won’t just go all the way down to the bottom immediately. Instead it might sink down a small bit. Then you take another set of deep breaths, and it goes a bit further down. And another and a bit further down, and so on until you can finally notice a major change in how you feel. It often takes about 2-3 deep breath sets before you really start to notice a difference. If you continue using them, your body and mind will continue to become more and more calm and relaxed. It just will because that’s how it works.
How do I take a proper deep breath? This is a good question. There are many, many deep breathing exercises out there and many of them can be very helpful to many people – but not all of them are going to be helpful for everyone. If a deep breathing technique ever makes you dizzy or lightheaded – you want to adjust the count until it is comfortable and relaxing for you. The one that I have had a lot of success with, with many people is called 4-1-8 breathing.
4-1-8 Breathing: You start by breathing in through your nose for 4-5 seconds or so (as comfortable), slowly. You will expand your stomach, not just your chest. You will hold your breath for 1-2 second or so. You will then breath out through pursed lips – blowing a steady stream of air for 8-10 seconds (as comfortable). Then you will breath normal for a moment. Then you will repeat until you notice a feeling of being relaxed and calm.
These deep breathing techniques are good to use on your own but they always seem more effective for me when doing them with more than one person. There is just something about being with other people that make these techniques noticeably more effective.
Being that this is a great relaxation technique, it can be great to use for sleep difficulties. Taking 2-3 sets of deep breaths as you lay in bed can go a long way toward helping your body and mind to calm and relax in preparation for sleep.
Deep breathing is considered a coping skill. The word skill is important. Because like any skill you can think of: reading, writing, running, jumping, sports, etc… Skills take practice to improve. Deep breathing will become a more useful tool for you if you practice regularly when you do NOT need it. Practicing on a daily basis is a great way to build your skill level and improve deep breathing as a coping skill for you for when you need it.
Deep breathing is a great relaxation technique but it is not to replace actual processing and experiencing of your emotions. It can be great to use when you feel you are having difficulty calming yourself down or when you just need to be more relaxed and calm in a situation. It should not be used to deny yourself from having to experience your emotions and to move through them. But that is a topic for another entry. Coming soon.
“Why take a deep breath” ~ Jeremy Case, 5/11/2021