Eliminate Stressful Thinking

"Mental health is simply the healthy and helpful flow of
intelligent thought."

--Richard Carlson

Every summer I reread one of my favorite books, "Slowing Down to the Speed of Life" by Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey. This simple book is one of the best I've read on managing the mind and eliminating stress and I love to start the summer by taking a refresher course. This week I thought I'd share some of what I've been reviewing with you.

Many of us believe that the stress we experience on a day-to-day basis is caused by outside forces -- the job that demands a ridiculous amount of time or the kids who need our nonstop attention and care, for example. Often we think that if we could just eliminate or handle the external factors, we'd experience the peace of mind we long for. But, how many times have you completed your to-do list, sent the kids off to camp, or finished a project at work, only to find yourself right back in the same stressful place ruminating over things that make you crazy?

The truth is this: your stress is always generated by your thinking, not external circumstances. Your busy schedule or endless to-do list may seem to be the culprit, but in fact it's how you *think* about them that creates your feelings of overwhelm. For example, when you start to worry about not having enough time to finish your daily work, your thinking speeds up and you start saying things to yourself like: "I can't possibly get these phone calls completed by the end of the day. How will I ever write that report with all the meetings I have to attend? There's no way I'll ever get everything done before the kids get home from school."

As these thoughts start to generate stress, it often escalates to even more unproductive thinking like: "I never have enough time to meet my deadlines. I'm always behind schedule. My office (or home) is a mess and I'm so disorganized." Pretty soon these low quality thoughts start to affect your mood and you naturally begin to feel annoyed, resentful and overwhelmed. By this point it can seem like the whole world is out to get

So what to do? Here are three things to consider:

1. Understand the cycle. Your thoughts are directly linked to your feelings. If you think angry thoughts, you'll feel angry. If you think about a past relationship that ended in a painful way, you'll start to feel upset. Your emotional state always *follows* your thought patterns. So, if you want to eliminate stress, you'll need to eliminate your
stressful thoughts.

2. Let your feelings be your guide. Check in throughout the day and pay attention to how you feel. The moment you notice uncomfortable feelings, ask yourself "What am I thinking right now?" For example, if you're feeling anxious, you might notice that you're thinking about all the things you need to do within the next hour. Your hurried thoughts are creating anxious feelings. By checking in this way, you can begin to use your feeling state as a barometer for the quality of your thoughts.

3. Shift your thinking. Once you notice that your thoughts are creating uncomfortable feelings, stop thinking those thoughts. While this sounds simplistic, oftentimes the act of noticing your thoughts in and of itself will break the cycle. If not, shift your thinking by using a phrase like "I feel peaceful and calm," or focus on a relaxing image. Trust me, the moment you shift your thoughts, you'll enter into a more resourceful state and you'll be in a much better position to handle any challenging situation.

Learning to eliminate stress by managing your thoughts takes time and practice. Start with this week's "Take Action Challenge" and let the peace begin!

~*~ Take Action Challenge ~*~

This week, notice when you start to feel stressed and immediately shift your mind away from your stressful thoughts. For example, don't beat yourself up for being late, don't create a mental list of the things that are driving you crazy, or don't get caught up in blaming outside circumstances for your frustration. Gently shift your focus away from these unproductive thoughts and allow yourself to step back into the present moment. To remind yourself of this stress busting practice, put the words "High Quality Thinking" on your bathroom mirror or somewhere in
your home or office and start enjoying life!



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