When we are stuck in negative thinking and feelings, the tendency seems to be to either try to ignore the thoughts or change them into something more positive. Both methods, while on the surface seem to be logically helpful, can actually serve to keep us stuck in negativity. Why is this?
Basically, it’s because we are trying to hard to use our thinking minds to change our thinking minds. The feedback loop between mind and body gets stuck in a kind of striving to ignore or change what is already there into something different, using the same area of the brain (our prefrontal cortex) to do so. In essence, it’s like walking down the same path over and over again in attempt to find a new destination. Each time we do this, however, we frustratingly keep ending up in the same place.
Instead, why not try walking down a different path? Instead of attempting to run away from or change your thoughts, try tuning in to the feelings in your body to make the desired changes. When we are stuck in stress, the thinking brain separates from the emotional brain which means that any activity in the thinking arena never reaches the part of your brain that can actually make an impact on how you feel. However, if you can bring up feelings in your body such as gratitude, happiness, love, hope or joy, the message from those feelings is sent immediately to your emotional brain, calming your amygdala (the fear and worry centre) and stopping the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response) from activating.
Try this the next time you have worried thoughts in your mind. First, notice the worried thoughts for what they are – just thoughts, neither true nor untrue, but 99% of the time untrue. Then, immediately think of something you are grateful for. It is best if you can think of something you are grateful for right now – for instance having a roof over your head or people in your life who care about you. Get that feeling of gratitude up in your body (this is important). Really feel it somewhere; perhaps in your heart centre or anywhere at all. Breathe into that nice feeling in your body – noticing and feeling it. Then, be aware of what impact this has on your mood and thought processes.
What you are doing is stopping the sympathetic nervous system from going online and, in turn, sending a clear message to your emotional brain that the trouble has been averted and there is no need to panic. Notice too what this does to your thinking process. You may have no further negative thoughts or be thinking more positively, without even trying.
The more you do this, the more you are using your felt sense (your body) to communicate with the emotional part of your brain, which in turn will help to calm the thinking part of your brain. It will also help to reconnect your thinking brain with your emotional brain so that it will become easier and easier to move effortlessly through stress as time goes on. This is called “activating your vagal break.” For more information, learn more about the research done by Stephen Porges and the Polyvagal theory. Here is the wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyvagal_Theory