Relaxing in Difficult Times

Relaxing in Difficult Times

This week, the world is giving us more reasons to be tense. It can be hard to take care of ourselves but so important to do so. So for times like these, it’s important to direct the mind from the part where emotional activation occurs, to the part that that allows us to calm ourselves. We’ll do this by focusing on a directed thought exercise will help us to relax. Directed thought is one of my favorite tools because our minds tend to always be thinking subconsciously, if not also consciously. In normal, day to day functioning, we can’t stop that. It’s like trying to stop the lungs from breathing. The only way to keep our brains from making us anxious is to take control of our thoughts. The key is to not let the brain think too spontaneously, as a lot of us will spontaneously go to a negative and anxious place.

With directed thought, we give our brains a statement with just a blank to fill in. The statement I would choose is I can relax because_____. Make this statement over and over, filling in the blanks with a short statement. You don’t want to go into any detail because you are trying to stay away from spontaneous thinking.

In any situation, there are reasons you could feel anxious and reasons you could feel relaxed. You’ve already got the anxious ones covered and you want to stop thinking about those. You do these statements so that you force your brain to also think of the other part of the reality of any situation, the reasons you have to relax.

For example, let’s say you fear a heart attack though medically you’ve been assured you are ok. You might say I can relax because- it’s most likely gas from that meal. I can relax because- I didn’t have chest pain while working out, I can relax because- everything was fine at my last physical, I can relax because- I’m young.
The key is that you say I can relax because and then you give some reason that you can believe. If you don’t have that reason there and you just tried to tell your brain that you can relax, you would automatically reject it. By having the reason that you’re focused on trying to come up with, you are allowing your brain to tell itself “I can relax, I can relax, I can relax, over and over again, in a way that it can accept.

The key with this practice is to decide ahead of time how long you are going to do it, for 5 minutes or at least 5 statements. If you don’t decide ahead of time, you might lapse back into negative spontaneous thinking. The more time you can spend doing this exercise, the better you will feel.

So try this when the news around you gets overwhelming. There are still always reasons to relax.

If you’d like to know more about how you react to difficult situations and get a free recording and tips to empower you to shift the way you feel, take my Free Quiz

Have a great week!

Alicia Ruelez Maher, M.D.

Alicia Ruelaz Maher, M.D.

Spiritual-Neuroscience.com

 

Guiding the Mind to Feel Better

Guiding the Mind to Feel Better

This week, let’s get rid of another unhelpful cognitive distortion that can lead us into feeling depressed or anxious. This one is what’s called the mental filter. This is where you pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened. It’s the mental equivalent of adding a drop of black ink to a glass of water. It will make all the water dark.

This tends to happen when something doesn’t go our way and it feels like nothing does. For example, you get a parking ticket and it feels like your day is ruined. Maybe you have thoughts like, “why is everything so difficult?” Or, “why me?”.

The key to reversing this distortion is similar to the previous one. When you recognize that you are feeling bad about an event, it’s important to balance that occurrence with the positives that are also occurring.

Yes, you feel bad and no you don’t like the event that occurred. It’s certainly not about being in denial of the negative, it’s about not allowing yourself to deny the positive.

So, when you notice yourself feeling bad about a parking ticket, for example, can you make yourself think of 5 related or unrelated positives? For example “I don’t like this ticket but I am glad I have a car” “I don’t like this ticket but I’m glad I have money to pay it” “I don’t like this ticket but I’m glad it’s this rather than my car being towed”. “I don’t like this ticket but I’m glad it’s on an intact windshield and not one that’s been smashed”. “I don’t like this ticket but I really like the color of my car”. If it’s too hard to think of ones that are directly related, it’s totally ok to branch out. Like “I don’t like this ticket but I like the trees in this neighborhood, or the haircut I got last week, or the friend I just spoke with”.

So this week, commit to thinking of 5 positives and list them in your head along with what you don’t like, anytime you notice you have a negative mental filter in your mind.

If you’d like to know more about how you react to difficult situations and get a free recording and tips to empower you to shift the way you feel, take my Free Quiz

Alicia Ruelez Maher, M.D.
Have a great week!

 

Alicia Ruelaz Maher, M.D.

Spiritual-Neuroscience.com

How to Stop Catastrophizing

How to Stop Catastrophizing

It seems like this pandemic has led to a constant need to adapt. First it was adapting to things closing down and now it’s adapting to things opening back up. A very common mental reaction is that of catstrophizing. When the future is unknown, the brain fills in that unknown with the worst case scenarios. A lot of times we don’t even recognize that we are doing this.

For example, your boss is angry or disappointed with you and you start feeling anxious. It may take a bit of digging into your subconscious to recognize that the anxiety the situation is causing you is that you’re imagining you might get fired. But your brain doesn’t stop there, your subconscious is already imagining that you won’t be able to pay the rent and you’ll have to move from the neighborhood you love and you might end of homeless or living with your parents.

When it comes to catastrophizing, it’s important to stop yourself when you recognize you’re anxious about a future that may or may not happen. Remind yourself that you can’t see the future and the things you fear aren’t what are happening right now. Consciously state to yourself the current facts. He isn’t firing me, he’s just angry. And then think of a few reasons that the future might take a more positive route. So, instead of I’ll wind up homeless, go back. They are too understaffed to fire me, I could get another job or roommate to pay the rent, I might even be happier with a new job, etc.

This requires you to agree that you can’t be sure of the future and commit to wrestling your brain into looking at the positive. Yes, you might be wrong, but your negative imaginings could also not only be wrong but have led you through hours or days of anxiety for no reason.

So this week, notice each time you are thinking about the future. It’s ok if your brain comes up with possible problems but force it to also look at why those problems might not occur and the positive future you could be looking forward to.

If you’d like to know more about how you react to difficult situations and get a free recording and tips to empower you to shift the way you feel, take my Free Quiz

Have a great week!

Alicia Ruelez Maher, M.D.

Alicia Ruelaz Maher, M.D.

Spiritual-Neuroscience.com

 

Mind-Body Mental Health

Mind-Body Mental Health

Have you noticed yourself reflecting on your thoughts and feelings more during this quarantine? For many, the additional time and lack of things to do has led to a greater noticing of what’s going on inside. This week, I encourage you to really focus on this, by noticing whether you are contracted or expanded.

To put it simply, on some of level, all of our problems come down to choosing contraction over expansion. Feeling bad is all about contracting, rather than expanding. The expanded state is what you feel when you are safe and joyful.

Imagine a time when your heart felt open, when you felt expanded. It might have been looking into the eyes of your pet, appreciating the beauty of a sunset or the immensity of the stars, the birth of a child. Really feel into that expanded state. Notice what is happening in your body as you get into this feeling.. Do your shoulders want to move back? If so, allow them to. Does your chest feel open? Do you feel warm and relaxed? Or maybe you feel a huge surge of energy?

Notice if the way you are feeling now is different than the way you were feeling before thinking this way. Or to make the difference between expansion and contraction more obvious, think of how you feel in a situation where you are being judged negatively by another person. Notice feeling tense, fatigued or frightened. Notice if your shoulders roll forward. Now, again, think of a beautiful moment, when you felt so much love for, or from, another person or animal. Notice the feeling in your body and really breathe into it. Roll your shoulders back, consciously relax your muscles and feel energy flowing freely throughout your body. Go back and forth between these two states until you can create that expanded state, at will.

Each day, this week, take some time to do this exercise.

When you’re ready, notice when a negative situation puts you into a contracted state and use this practice to consciously expand.

If you’d like to know more about how you react to difficult situations and get a free recording and tips to empower you to shift the way you feel, take my Free Quiz

Have an expansive week!

Alicia Ruelez Maher, M.D.

Alicia Ruelaz Maher, M.D.

Spiritual-Neuroscience.com

Quarantine Mindfulness

Quarantine Mindfulness

One might think the stepping back so many of us are experiencing in this quarantine could naturally promote mindfulness. But sometimes a house full of people with unstructured time can also mean more noise and stress. When we start feeling stressed, there’s a quick, simple mindfulness practice that may help. This is a mental exercise to decrease the reactivity we have throughout the day. This one can even be humorous, if you’d like.

What we’re going to do is label things with neutral statements. This is something that you can go ahead and practice now, while you are hopefully feeling calm. The more you practice, the more you will be able to bring this in when you are reactive, in an effective way. So right now, I want you to look around the room, or other place that you are in, and describe things in the most neutral way possible. Neutral meaning there is no emotional content. So, for example, “the couch is green”, “the lamp is on”, “the window is open”, etc. If you notice any emotional reaction- like “who the heck left the lamp on or the window open”- don’t engage with it, just go on to another object and try to make more statement that feel neutral.

Sometimes it is helpful to go even more general when what you are noticing starts to bother you- so instead of noticing objects in the room you would state- “I am in a room”. “The room has 4 walls”, “the room has a ceiling”.  “The room has a floor”. “You could go all the way out to I am on planet earth”. “I am in the milky way”. So long as what you are saying is true and you don’t have an emotional reaction, you are calming your nervous system. You are activating part of the frontal lobe in a way that takes energy away from the reactive part of the brain and you don’t have room for reactive thoughts when you are making these neutral statements. So try this for a few moments now.

This can be a great exercise to use when you notice yourself getting reactive to circumstances. Let’s say your kids are arguing and it’s causing you to feel stress. You can make neutral statements about them such as “She has brown hair”. “He is wearing black shoes”. This is where it can make it even better by making it a bit absurd- “there are sounds coming from the hole in his face”, “that one is breathing in and out”.   Sure these sound a bit ridiculous but if it can make you laugh, it can be even more helpful in decreasing that reactivity. Even if, at some point, you have to jump in and do something about the argument, taking a couple of minutes to make these neutral statement in your mind can help you do so from a centered place.  And if it’s too hard to feel neutral about the situation in front of you, it’s fine to step back and make it more general.  For example, thinking “we are in a room”. “There are lights in this room”. “This building has electricity”, etc.

Practice these now and when things aren’t so rough so you can really get a feel for the effects. It may seem too simple but it really can work. You could try to spend a minute or 2 on each of these, 5 times today. You could set an alarm or plan times to do them. After you’ve practiced, you’ll be able to bring them in as desired or needed, to handle the stress and be able to enjoy moments of this quarantine from a more relaxed state.

If you’d like to know more about how you react to difficult situations and get a free recording and tips to empower you to shift the way you feel, take my Free Quiz

Be Well,

Alicia Ruelez Maher, M.D.

Alicia Ruelaz Maher, M.D.

Spiritual-Neuroscience.com

Self Gratitude and Motivation

Self Gratitude and Motivation

What has been your biggest struggle as we completed another week of quarantine? The main issue my patients seemed to struggle with, this past week, was feeling unmotivated to do more with this time and then guilty about that. Besides the obvious benefits of forgiving ourselves for this time our nervous systems seem to need to adjust to this new reality, are there tools to feel less guilty, that could even lead to more motivation? Thankfully, there’s an enjoyable one, that really seems to help. I call it the Self Gratitude Exercise.

Once we appreciate the good of who we are, it will be much easier to be compassionate when we are, inevitably, performing less than we’d like to. For this, we’re going to do a streaming gratitude practice towards ourselves. Streaming gratitude is where we make one gratitude statement after another- not spending too long on any particular one or giving it too much thought.

The statements all begin the same: in this case, the statement will begin with “I am grateful to myself for___” and then you’ll fill in the blank. It’s important to structure the statements in this way so that the brain isn’t thinking completely spontaneously- as it may tend to go off on negative tangents. When you fill in the blank with something true, your brain won’t reject the statement that you are grateful to yourself and you will slowly transform to feeling self gratitude and love.

To start, I want you to do this for 5 minutes. If that seems impossible, you can say 10 statements, or some other parameters, but the key is that you decide before you start. Otherwise, we tend to quit when we run out of easy things to say rather than pushing ourselves to keep going to the point of actually shifting the way we feel. Usually, it will take at least 5 minutes of doing this exercise to shift the way you feel about yourself.

So, try this now. Start saying “I am grateful to myself for ____” and fill in the blank with such things as characteristics that you like about yourself- like kind, thoughtful or funny; things you’ve done (no matter how small), things you accomplished in the past, decisions you’ve made that you are proud of, things you’ve done for others, or just that you’ve kept going and are trying things like this exercise to feel better.

Commit to doing this practice each day, 10 statements or more, and then 5 minutes, any time you are starting to feel down.

If you’d like to know more about how you react to difficult situations and get a free recording and tips to empower you to shift the way you feel, take my Free Quiz

Enjoy you this week!

Alicia Ruelez Maher, M.D.

Alicia Ruelaz Maher, M.D.

Spiritual-Neuroscience.com