Do you ever struggle with things like distraction, insomnia, easy weight gain, energy crashes?
I sure have at various times. From talking to lots of people about their health I’ve realized that probably all of us have these symptoms to some degree. I’ll explain how your mind can be 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. It 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 have fewer health issues.
As hard as we try to manage the events around us, our mind itself can be one of the biggest triggers of the stress response.
Imagine your great, great, great, (1000 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 gone back to sleep, or she could have felt fear and panic and alerted 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 we 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 they 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, that last thing I said really sounded stupid.”
I remember in college having to have roommates to help me pay rent. As annoying as some of them were, none were nearly as bad as the daily self chatter we hear from our own minds.
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 taken training 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 and soon I’d be off track. Maybe you have gone through this pattern with mediation also.
The good news is that we now know it does not take heroic effort 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 so that you can feel more alert and energized, focus better on your goals, have fewer headaches and digestive symptoms, and get better sleep.
Try this crazy simple technique for just 5 minutes each morning for the next week and see how you feel:
When the timer goes off you’re done. That’s it.
In my clinic I’ve seen that this simple technique improves the measured levels of stress hormones, lower anxiety scores, improve sleep, and improve short term memory. Some people see benefits in the first few days. It works 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 won’t get antsy and agitated as many can during prolonged formal meditation. By having your eyes open it will also keep 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 and see if it doesn’t improve. You might be surprised how much better you can feel when don’t have to deal with so many of what Mark Twain called the ‘troubles that never happened.’