Thought creates feeling, and feeling creates action.
Imagine this scenario: I wake up in the morning and immediately think of all I have to do today, it's a long list, and the thought comes "How will I ever get all this done?", quickly followed by "X always looks so in control, and she's busier than me, why am I such a failure, when will I ever get it together?" In response to this thought, my heart sinks, my shoulders slump, my head feels heavy. I feel tired already, so I turn over and go for a snooze. When I wake, it's late and I think "sure half the day is gone, what's the point??".
This is the power of thought.
Now imagine an alternate scenario: I wake up in the morning and immediately think of all I have to do today, it's a long list, and the thought comes "How will I ever get all this done?" --I immediately step in and ask myself "Where will this thinking take me?". I decide instead to remind myself that I am a person who can get things done, that even if it all isn't done by evening, that doesn't make me a bad person, and, that I am worth the effort to do the work of choosing to think and act differently. (It does take effort, especially in the beginning when all evidence points to the futility of even trying, but persist, and it will get easier.
Are you worth it?
"Your thoughts are a catalyst for self-perpetuating cycles. What you think directly influences how you feel and how you behave. So if you think you’re a failure, you’ll feel like a failure. Then, you’ll act like a failure, which reinforces your belief that you must be a failure." - Amy Morin
If you knew that your body doesn't know the difference between a thought and reality, would it change how you think?
When we worry - when we run scenarios of what can go wrong, or bad things that might happen, the body actually produces stress hormones in response to the worry thoughts, and we enter stress responses such as the fight/flight/freeze responses. If we do this often enough it can lead to inflammation in the body, and while we sit home safe on our sofas, our own thoughts are making us stressed and ill.
Check in regularly with your mind, and when you find it wandering off to worry, or into fearful places, come back to the present.
Ask yourself - is there actually any danger right now?
In this moment, is there actually anything to worry about? - If there is, then what action can you take?
If there's no action you can take right now, can you let those thoughts go?
"The body cannot tell the difference between events that are actual threats to survival and events that are present in thought alone." - Joan Borysenko
There is a Buddhist saying: "Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional". This is often illustrated with the story of the two arrows.
Imagine you are walking along and you are hit by an arrow, obviously it will hurt! There is nothing you could have done differently to avoid the arrow, you were in it's path and that's that.
The 'second arrow' is how you react to the first. If you react by focusing on how you should never have been shot in the first place, or maybe getting angry at the person who shot you, or getting into a story of how unfair life is--this is adding a second arrow of suffering to the first.
Instead, we can choose to accept and observe the pain of the first arrow, letting it move through us and fade into the past, perhaps learning not to walk that same path we got shot on again!
We can see how this translates to life. Pain is indeed inevitable. No life is free from pain, we fall over, we lose people, we get ill, we want things we can't have. All these are first arrows. We can learn, with patience and Mindfulness, to accept these first arrows without creating second ones.
Something I find helpful to when I've found myself busy with a second arrow, is to remember that we are not here for long, we never know the date or hour when life ends or is altered forever, so it is up to me; how do I want to spend my time here?
“When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90 second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.
Something happens in the external world and chemicals are flushed through your body which puts it on full alert. For those chemicals to totally flush out of the body it takes less than 90 seconds.
This means that for 90 seconds you can watch the process happening, you can feel it happening, and then you can watch it go away.
After that, if you continue to feel fear, anger, and so on, you need to look at the thoughts that you’re thinking that are re-stimulating the circuitry that is resulting in you having this physiological response over and over again.” - Jill Bolte-Taylor, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Sceintist’s Personal Journey
This quote reflects what Mindfulness training is all about.
As long as we are alive, as long as we love and care for people and things, there will be joy and pain. We can't avoid our emotions, and efforts to do so usually wind up causing more pain. Better to learn to form a healthier relationship with our emotions, so we can live and love fully and fearlessly.
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness, and how to apply it in your life, click here.
"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." - Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
One of the trickiest things with depression and anxiety is that they can steal your motivation to do the things that will take you to a better place mentally.
Any of us who experience depression or low mood will know how it is to have the internal battle of knowing that a walk for example will make us feel better, but struggling to find the energy to get up and go do it.
Those of us with anxiety may relate to feeling wound up, having the thought that doing a mindfulness meditation will help us, but feeling that we'll be too anxious to make it through to the end of the recording.
It's a catch 22 that we need to stop in it's tracks. If we wait til we feel like doing the thing that will help us, we'll never do it. Anxiety and depression will see to that. However, if we can do our best to ignore the feeling and do it anyway, over time, the depression will lift, and the anxiety will soothe.
If you're not feeling great today, do something. Take a walk or do some yoga, do a meditation, phone a friend, something. It's a step in the right direction. Do the same tomorrow and you've taken another step, same the next day, and the next. Before you know it, you'll be in a better place.
In times of uncertainty, instability, and change, it's really important to ground ourselves, and connect with the inner stability we are all capable of.
This short meditation is excellent for tapping into our inner stillness and strength, see if you can manage to do it every day this week.
(It may take a few seconds to start after you press play, thanks for your patience!)
Stay safe and well.
“Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look.”
We've had a lot of change in the past few weeks, changes we never dreamed we would see in our lifetimes. Last week it was all a bit novel and weird, this week, I think the realities are hitting home more.
You might be noticing your feelings more these days, not surprising when there are a lot of feelings to be felt at this time, and, we have more time on our hands to notice them, and fewer options to distract ourselves from them.
We tend not to want to, or allow ourselves to feel our feelings, we say things to ourselves like:
This is now wallowing, it's just allowing. When we stuff down feelings, they tend to come out whether we like it or not. We might snap at a partner (there's no escaping them these days! :)), or we might snap more at ourselves, or we may start reaching for the extra cookie or glass of wine.
On the other hand, we can allow the feelings some air time, name them, offer ourselves some compassion (imagine how you would reassure a frightened child), remind ourselves of the strengths we have to face the uncertainties of current life. This way we can face our fears, and remind ourselves that we have what it takes to get through this strange time.
Stay safe, stay well.
*apologies for the lateness of the weekly minute this week, I was finished writing it Monday and my website crashed, deleting it all. Then I had to go feel some feelings... ;)
The effects of the Covid-19 situation are being felt by all, and there's not much we can be sure of at the moment. That in itself is a challenge, we humans tend to feel uncomfortable in the face of uncertainty.
It would seem that things will be this way for a while, and our best bet is to take good care of ourselves until life returns to 'normal'. Instead of fighting against what is, or getting stressed, we can learn to accept, and turn toward the difficult, and not allow an already challenging time to defeat us.
This week's Weekly Minute is a meditation which teaches us to be with difficult thoughts, emotions, and sensations in an easier and more calm way.
As with all mindfulness practices, it's the doing that helps, so see if you can challenge yourself to revise this meditation daily, knowing that each day, you're building your tolerance to be with the uncomfortable.
The Guest House
Fact: The Weather is Bad (For everyone but the ducks)
Thoughts about the fact: Oh my God if I see one more day of rain I'll go crazy. I'm sick of the cold, the wet, the weekend storms, the grey. I can't go anywhere, I can't do anything, this has gone on so long I can't remember summer, no wonder I'm so porky I can't get out to do any exercise. I was supposed to have the garden prepared by now and it'll be too late by the time this stops, it'll be ruined for the year now.............
Thoughts about the fact: Wow the queues into Tesco this morning, everyone is out buying up stuff, should I be out buying up stuff? Where would I put it, this house is so small, imagine being quarantined in here I'll climb the walls! What if we all get it, will we turn on each other for supplies? I hear they're shunning people who recovered from it in China, what if that happened to me? What would I do if all my friends and family shunned me?.........
The mind can run wild (and often does) when we are faced with adversity. There's the fact of the thing, and then the thousand thoughts we have about the fact.
We are programmed as humans to problem-solve, and this part of our brain kicks into action when a problem arises, this is generally a good thing. However, when we are faced with a problem we don't have much control over, many of the thoughts we have about it are pointless.
We can only do what we can do (remember your umbrella in the rain, wash your hands properly to avoid Coronavirus etc.), then, we should try as much as we can to let other thoughts go. Worrying increases our vulnerability to stress, and can have an impact on the body. To be at your best so you can effectively face life's challenges, let worry go, that means, choosing to disengage from worry thoughts.
"The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another" - William James
In the movies change is often depicted as happening in a big transformative event, where someone has a revelation that changes their life forever, and they live happily ever after.
The reality is quite different. Change is more likely to be a collection of small decisions, made over and over again.
What change will you make today?
“A year from now you will wish you had started today.” - Karen Lamb
The Weekly Minute is a blog I write each week with the aim of providing legitimate tools to help promote positive mental health.
The collection of short, practical mindfulness and therapy tools for self-reflection and self-improvement, can equip people to take their mental well-being into their own hands, and improve their quality of life.
The Weekly Minute is posted here every Monday, or you can sign up to get it delivered to your inbox via the link below.
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