Except our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power.”~Rene Descartes (French philosopher, scientist, and mathematician)
Does my body hear everything my mind says? If so, how do these thoughts affect my body? Well, let’s break this down a little. If our mind is wandering around thought to thought (see Part I post), with very little control on our part, what kind of negative self-talk might there be?
“I’m tired. I wish I exercised more. I will exercise every morning.” If you don’t get up then you might think, “I’m tired. I can’t exercise. I’m a failure.”
See how these thought patterns can lead to the negative self-talk “I’m a failure?” What affects do these thoughts have on our physical body?
It doesn’t matter if these thoughts come from our own mind or it is said by someone else, the result is that the mind hears it. When we “hear” negative information about ourselves it may trigger anger, shame, or regret. Our heart rate and respiration increase and our body goes into “fight or flight” mode of the sympathetic nervous system. Various hormone reactions occur with a result of the stress hormone cortisol being secreted throughout our bloodstream. Cortisol creates a hormone cascade within our bodies that can cause increased stress, inability to fall asleep, and imbalances in blood sugar. You feel awful from your hormone feedback loop being out of balance, so, you are tired. Cue the bad thoughts again. See how this can result in a negative feedback loop?
So what can we do about our thoughts? “I’m tired. I wish I exercised more.” Bring awareness to the thoughts and ask a question. “Well, why am I tired?” Really think of an answer without judging yourself. “I have trouble falling asleep.” Think of a small action you could take. “I could do some focused breath work or pray before bedtime.” Or maybe think a compassionate thought about your self-criticism. “I am tired because I am working extra hours right now. I am doing this to provide for my family.” Bringing awareness to your thoughts is a practice that will help you to dig beneath the negative self-talk and find out more about yourself.
Taking time to review your thoughts and examining them with honesty and compassion can prevent the “fight of flight” system from engaging and keep you in the “rest and digest” of the parasympathetic nervous system. This keeps the heart rate and respiration normal, which allows you to remain calm and use your mind to examine thoughts and look for solutions.
As discussed in the previous post, I have used the practice of meditation to increase my self-awareness and keep in the “rest and digest” mode as much as I can. Any mindfulness practice (meditation, prayer, yoga, Tai Chi) will bring us in touch with our mind, emotions, and body. Do I still have negative self-talk? Uh, yes, I’m human! But the practice of meditation along with acknowledging my thoughts and working through them has helped. After all, practicing a skill is how we learn best.
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