Techniques to Gain Control Over Your Thoughts
Relaxation and relaxed techniques like mindfulness and meditation help you to gain control over your mental life, similar to the way in which getting exercise gives you improved control over your physical life.
Most people who take the time to learn these techniques never look back, and they go on to credit the process with all sorts of positive life-changing experiences. The only argument against learning these techniques is that it takes time to practice them before they become automatic.
There are many pros: There are no side effects, you don’t need a prescription from the doctor, you can do them anywhere, and you don’t need equipment. The more you practice, the less time you need to get into the same relaxed state.
Cons: Time is a scarce resource for many, and learning to be confident with these techniques takes time. In the current culture, where things are expected to happen immediately, the time involved in learning the specific can be off-putting. The benefits are gradual, and they increase with practice.
Do you recognise any of these thoughts? “It’s too hard, I get distracted and find it difficult to relax!” or “I have so much other stuff to do. I don’t have time!”
Remember, if you carry on as you are are, you will keep getting the same thoughts; if you change your approach to your thought processes and take some active control over them by using relaxation and meditation, who knows what you could achieve? Perhaps the things you think you have to do, which are stopping you from giving your mental health some time, are not worthy of the importance you are attaching to them.
“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is a nobler art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials” Lin Yutang.
How much do you want a change?
If stress and anxiety are impinging on your day to day life, imagine what a release it would be for you if you gained some control over this rather than these thoughts/feelings controlling you. For me, it is a bit like learning to drive, looking back over your years of driving, and imagining what life would have been like if you hadn’t thought it worth the effort to learn to drive and eventually pass your test. The benefits far outweigh the effort involved.
“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself” Ralph Waldo Emerson.
More and more research in neuroscience is pointing to our ability to change our thought processes – like a river changing its route or taking a different road when driving. We are not stuck with what we have now, but just have to be willing to change the direction of the steering wheel, turn the indicator on and see what happens!
For more information on neuroplasticity, this article may be of interest: https://neuro.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?articleid=1213973
Tips and Suggestions for Relaxation, Mindfulness and Meditation Practice.
- Never do relaxation exercises while driving or operating machinery.
- You should only do what you feel comfortable with; at no time should you strain yourself doing these exercises.
- Always try to be somewhere relatively warm; your body temperature drops a little when you are sitting still, and this can be enough to distract you from the job in hand.
Relaxation can help to relieve the symptoms of stress. It can help you calm down and take a step back from a stressful situation. Although the cause of the anxiety won’t disappear, you will probably feel more able to deal with it once you’ve released the tension in your body and cleared your thoughts. All relaxation techniques combine breathing more deeply with relaxing the muscles. Don’t worry if you find it difficult to relax at first. It’s a skill that needs to be learned, and it will come with practice. Sometimes people find they are overwhelmed by thoughts flooding in when they relax. This is okay, don’t get concerned about it. Just let the thoughts come and go. Each time you practice the less this will bother you and the more quickly you are likely to find yourself relaxing.
Point to note: You can’t be anxious and relaxed at the same time – it is physically impossible.
Find out what works for you – examples of techniques available:
Practice deep breathing at a regular time and in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Loosen or remove any tight clothes you have on, such as shoes or jackets. Make yourself feel completely comfortable. Sit in a comfy chair that supports your head or lie on the floor or a bed. Place your arms on the chair arms, or flat on the floor or bed, a little bit away from the side of your body with the palms up. If you’re lying down, stretch out your legs, keeping them hip-width apart or slightly wider. If you are sitting in a chair, don’t cross your legs.
Start to breathe in and out slowly and in a regular rhythm. Fill up the whole of your lungs with air, without forcing. Imagine you’re filling up a bottle so that your lungs fill from the bottom. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Breathe in slowly and regularly counting from one to five (don’t worry if you can’t reach five at first). Then let the breath escape slowly, counting from one to five. Keep doing this until you feel calm. Breathe without pausing or holding your breath. Practice this relaxed breathing for three to five minutes, two to three times a day (or whenever you feel stressed).
“There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace. You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden or even your bathtub” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
Deep Muscle Relaxation
This technique takes around 20 minutes. It stretches different muscles in turn and then relaxes them to release tension from the body and relax your mind.
Find a warm, quiet place with no distractions. Get completely comfortable, either sitting or lying down. Close your eyes and begin by focusing on your breathing, breathing slowly and deeply, as described above. If you have pain in specific muscles, or if there are muscles that you find it difficult to focus on, spend more time on relaxing other parts. You may want to play some soothing music to help relax. As with all relaxation techniques, deep muscle relaxation will require a bit of practice before you start feeling its benefits.
For each exercise, hold the stretch for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat it a couple of times. It’s useful to keep to the same order as you work through the muscle groups:
Face: push the eyebrows together, as though frowning, then release. Neck: gently tilt the head forwards, pushing chin down towards the chest, then slowly lift again. Shoulders: pull them up towards the ears (shrug), then relax them down towards the feet.
Chest: breathe slowly and deeply into the diaphragm (below your bottom rib) so that you’re using the whole of the lungs. Then breathe slowly out, allowing the belly to deflate as all the air is exhaled. Arms: stretch the arms away from the body, reach, then relax. Legs: push the toes away from the body, then pull them towards the body, then relax.
Wrists and hands: stretch the wrist by pulling the hand up towards you, and stretch out the fingers and thumbs, then relax. Spend some time lying quietly after your relaxation with your eyes closed. When you feel ready, stretch and get up slowly.
The 60 Second Tranquilliser
This is a short exercise utilising breathing and positive affirmations.
Remember, if you are relaxed you can’t be tense!
“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop” Ovid
Paced breathing involves counting your breaths using a watch initially but as you get used to the process and how it feels you will find that you can time it more naturally yourself.
We recommend that you perform ten paced breathing cycles 3 times a day. A breathing cycle is a breath in, holding your breath for a short period, and then breathing out, emptying the lungs. Paced breathing can increase energy mentally and physically, increase the oxygen saturation of the blood, increase the circulation of lymph and the removal of pollutants. There are 3 levels of breathing cycle you can use, each uses the ratio 1:4:2 in relation to the breath in holding your breath: breathing out. You should start off by practising 10 cycles 3 times a day at level 1 and progressing towards doing 10 cycles 3 times a day at level 3.
Level 1: Breathe in over 2 seconds, hold for 8 seconds, breathe out over 4 seconds.
Level 2: Breathe in over 3 seconds, hold for 12 seconds, breathe out over 6 seconds
Level 3: Breathe in over 4 seconds, hold for 16 seconds, breathe out over 8 seconds.
“Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer” William S Burroughs.
Walking and Breathing
Paced breathing can also be carried out when walking, using each left and right step as your count instead of using a second in time. For example, using the ratio of 1:4:2 you would breathe in while taking one step, hold the breath while taking four steps, and breathe out while taking two steps. A more simple walking and breathing technique is to breathe in over eight steps and out over twelve steps or less. Many people find this technique to be very relaxing.
A brief blog article here which takes you through the process of diaphragmatic breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing is breathing from the stomach rather than the chest.
“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between 2 deep breaths.” Etty Hillesum
An audio podcast recorded by our own Dr David Mason Brown, takes you through a relaxation session. This podcast includes a brief introduction, progressive relaxation, breathing and visualisation.
Visualising a safe place
“There are times when we stop. We sit still….we listen and breezes from a whole other world begin to whisper” James Carroll
Taking a few moments to think of a safe place. This may be somewhere you have been to before, or somewhere purely from your imagination – close your eyes but visualise what is all around you in this safe place, the noises, the smells, the feelings. Breathe in the scene. With every breath try to breathe in the air from that scene so that it becomes more real to you with each breath and more vivid each time you exhale. There are no limits to where this place might be.
Here are some examples:
- Floating on a cloud
- Lying on a beach
- Soaking in the bath
- Lying on your bed
- Sitting in a forest in a garden
If you want to discover more there are lots of relaxation resources on the internet and youtube, there are also an increasing number of apps. Find something that works for you and expand it from there – good luck!
This is one of a series of articles on how to switch off after work. You can access them all from this post Stress Management Tips How to Switch Off After Work.
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