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Be Well

Emotional Wellness part 2: Our Thoughts are Not Always our Reality.

Olga Gulati

I was feeling a little bit stuck thinking what was the best way to connect today’s post with my blog on “being aware of our thoughts”. So I decided to go on twitter for a break (haha, yes crazy woman) and the first tweet that I read says something like: fight your negative thoughts, they are your demons “only your mind can harm you, nothing else”.  

Thank you universe! That was exactly what  I needed to read. 

See, I completely agree with the idea that only our minds can harm us. The part that doesn’t resonate with me is the “fight your negative thoughts”. We can’t really fight our thoughts. It is not like we can go and exterminate them like we are killing enemies on a video game. By the time we realize that we have had a negative thought, the thoughts been had.  Do you know what I mean? 

Trying to fight or get rid of your thoughts could end up being a very exhausting, but mostly frustrating task. 

What I propose instead is becoming aware  that your thoughts are not your reality.  To better explain this I’m going to give an example of how it works in my mind, and how I’ve learned to deal with it. 

I have a crazy mind.  I understand that probably not everyone is like this, but I’m sure all of you have experienced this type of thinking at least once in your life. We both know this is not fun at all. 

Today is a good example:

I get up in the morning thinking I need to start working on the next post for the JHW be well blog. I sit in front of my computer and after writing and deleting 5 paragraphs because I don’t like what is coming out, my mind starts thinking like this : 

“Gosh I can’t write today, actually I say this all the time, the reality is that I can’t write at all. Period.  I can’t believe I’ve been here for an hour and nothing has come out yet, what a waste of time. I guess this whole Juno Health and Wellness thing is a waste of time. What was I thinking when I started this? What was I thinking when I even thought I could write blog posts? Even worse, what the hell was I thinking when I thought I could write something readable in English? Go back to Colombia woman.  And by the way, who cares about my blog posts? Who cares about what I think? Nobody. This is another proof that I need to do something else, that I better just go and find a different job. Maybe I can’t even be a good coach. God, why is it that I never have a clear mind? I’m never going to be able to to this”.  And so on……..

Imagine me trying to fight these thoughts. I can’t even picture what that looks like or what that really means. 

What I’ve been doing instead, is becoming more and more mindful of when these thinking patterns start, so I can redirect my attention. But even more importantly, I’ve learned that I need to realize that these thoughts are not my reality.  This is important- very important.  The problem is not  that I had a couple of very uncomfortable minutes or seconds of negative thinking, the problem is that I gave so much credence to these thoughts that they went as far as giving me physiological responses. Yes, my heart started beating faster, my hands started sweating and I also started feeling a hole in my stomach.  Who wouldn’t have all these responses when you are thinking that your whole career is a failure? Anyone right? 

When I was not aware of the difference between my thoughts and my reality, I would also end up depressed. 

Guys, I started writing blogs about emotional wellness and related stuff a long time ago. But never posted them because I was believing what my mind was telling me. I even have pictures of my notebook saying “my first blog to be launched” with dates from 3 years ago. Can you believe that?  I was so sure that my mind chatter was correct that I decided never to share what I was writing. 

Today, with the help of inspiring books and therapy I’ve learned that my thoughts are crazy. Haha! not all of them, but the hurtful ones for sure. So what do I do?  I stop, take a second to breathe very deeply and reconnect with the present. I do this by observing what my reality is.  So for example I go into JHW website and I see posts there, this means I do know how to write (yes I need proof reading from my husband, but that is ok). 

Many times our negative thoughts are focused on all the possible things that could go wrong in the future. This is why getting grounded back in the present is a great way to putting into perspective these thoughts. Yes, they are being manufactured in your brain, but not because of that they are the objects of reality.  Just like I need to remind Juno that her thoughts on chocolate as her most suitable lunch are definitely not going to be her reality ;).

This practice of reconnecting with the present and observing our thoughts as products of our minds but not dictations of our reality is called Mindfullness. 

There is a quote that I find quite useful from a workbook on mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy that I worked on. 

“Mindfulness asks that you view physical sensations just as you see thoughts and feelings. They are experiences. Pain is pain, and we can all agree that it feels bad. But if you let it feel bad and leave it at that, you maintain clarity. Clarity is what enables you to see the difference between a headache and a brain tumor”. 1

This talks about physical sensations, but the same goes for thoughts. If we understand that our thoughts are just our thoughts, and we leave it at that, then we can also gain clarity and know, that our present reality is probably more warm and friendly than what our minds made us think for a moment. 

Hope this brought more clarity on my previous post about “being aware of our thoughts”

and I also hope you find this helpful. 

Would love to hear back from you and know what are your ideas and experiences with this. 

Much love

Olga

1. Jon Hershfield, MFT. Tom Corboy, MFT. (2013). The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD. Oakland, CA. New Harbinger Publications. 

 

Emotional Wellness Part 1: Being Aware of Our Thoughts.

olga gulati

The equation to health and wellness consists of the following four aspects:

1.     Emotional wellness

2.     Nourishing eating habits

3.     Movement (exercise or other activity like gardening)

4.     Spiritual connection

During the next few Being Well posts I focus on the first aspect: Emotional wellness.

There are many aspects to emotional wellness.  One of the most import aspects is our thoughts.  Generally everything in our lives is affected by our thoughts:

  • Relationships
  • Work life
  • Mood
  • Our ways of parenting
  • Our relationship to our bodies
  • Our energy
  • Our physical health
  • Etc.

In my experience as a psychologist and more important, my experience as a client in therapy, I’ve come to the realization that if we don’t address the type of thoughts that we allow to stay in our minds, there will always be something that can make us sad, mad or anxious.  Or just simply have us disconnected from the present moment. It happens to me that I’ll space out while having a conversation with someone, or while I’m playing with Juno, and that is not fair for anyone.

Lost in thoughts.

Lost in thoughts.

For this reason I want to invite all of you to take a moment and bring some awareness to check if your thoughts are nourishing your life or harming it.

Sounds simple and obvious, but the truth is that it takes a lot of work and courage to step into our minds, look at what is happening, and then have the determination to change thinking patterns if needed.

Our thoughts, even when they get very negative are a comfort zone.  Crazy but Yes! It is all too easy to let our minds go in the direction it wants and not do something about it – even if its hurting us.

Perhaps this occurs because we connect the action of changing negative thoughts with the idea of controlling our minds.  And that alone, with out even trying, sounds exhausting.  Believing that we can heal our thoughts by willpower alone is ultimately another way of harming our emotional wellness in the sense that it contributes to the vicious cycle of negative thinking.  Changing thinking patterns takes a more loving approach that includes opening our hearts and having compassion towards us.

There are techniques that I will share with you in future posts.  For today I want to focus on the first step: Bringing awareness to our thoughts.  Opening our hearts to listen to our inner mind chatter is not only the first step but also the most important one.

Once we’ve identified negative thinking patterns, we have opened the door to work with them.  Thus the most important thing that you need to do is to let these thoughts pass.  Don’t avoid them, don’t ignore them, but also don’t hang on to them.  Let them Go.  Yes!  Like the song in Frozen the movie (off topic, my daughter is driving me nuts singing that song.  I’ve heard it a zillion times).  Dwelling on negative thoughts can trigger a lot of anxiety that can also lead to feelings of depression.

Now be patient.  This doesn’t mean that you need to feel bad or stressed about the fact that you have these thoughts.  What I’m proposing is to observe without judgment.  Notice what goes on in your mind without naming it good or bad.  Just observe and let your thoughts go in and then let them out.  If you struggle with this, start by trying out a breathing exercise, like the square breathing I shared on my post about going back to sleep in the middle of the night.

Once you’ve allowed negative thoughts to pass or once you’ve grounded yourself with breathing exercises, you can more easily understand they are just your thoughts. They are not necessarily the reality.  If it is a negative thought connected to something that happened in real life, you can better connect with the present moment and understand that you are not in that situation anymore.

Achieving this non-judgment and releasing step is fundamental to moving forward. It takes some time and practice, and this is why it’s important to focus only on this part initially.  If you can get to a place where you can really observe your thinking patterns without judging them, then you are ready to take the next step and open up space to start building more nourishing thoughts for your life.

Start here and let me know how it goes. I would really love to hear what has been your experience with this.

Much love and Let it Go ;)

Olga

Relaxation Techniques to Fall Back to Sleep in the Middle of the Night

olga gulati

We’ve all been told and know by common sense, that replenishing sleep is key to good health.  The challenge comes when despite our desire to sleep, we don’t seem to be able to get proper rest.  

One of the things that I find the most challenging  is waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep.  Those following mornings are the occasions when I feel the most tired.  I get up and feel like a ton of bricks hit my head.  It is like I’m in some sort of different dimension.  Everything feels heavier, louder, I’m slower, I can’t hear very well, etc.  These are the days when the butter ends up in the bathroom cupboard and the toothpaste in the fridge.

I have found breathing exercises to be helpful.  I even make my husband do them when he awakes with a head full of thoughts and is unable to fall back asleep .

Yes, breathing exercises. I can read your mind and I know you may be thinking, “Yeah, I've tried that.  It doesn't work”.  Tonight I’d encourage you to try it again.  But before I tell you how it works, I need to remind you that you must be patient and consistent.  Carry out the entire exercise before deciding if this is something that works for you or not.

If you have been up for more than half an hour in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep, this likely means that your mind is already busy thinking.  Perhaps it’s errands that you need to run the next day or problems of all sorts that you are dealing with.  You probably say to yourself, "Ok, I need to sleep.”  You turn around, and then keep thinking some more.  Trying to make your mind go blank is absolutely impossible.  We can’t just stop thinking out of the blue.  This is not how we are wired.  This is why we need to introduce some type of technique.

The technique that I created for myself is a combination of different cycles of square breathing and the Savasana yoga pose.  I like breathing exercises because they are one of the few things that can help us get grounded, come back to our bodies, and calm the mind (exercise has the same effect but you don’t want to go out for a run when you are trying to fall back to sleep).

We refer to it as mastering the mind through the body.  You need to do something physical to change your mind state and help your body relax.

Square breathing is great because it requires of your full attention, which makes it quite effective to break stressful thinking patterns and take the body to a state of deep relaxation. Again, it can’t just be focusing on good thoughts.

Square breathing is a type of deep breathing that helps regulate the flight/fight response when we are stressed.  The more we breathe, the more we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for slowing down our heart rate and relaxing our muscles.  Most of the healing in our bodies occurs when our parasympathetic nervous system is activated. 

It is performed by creating a cycle of inhalations and exhalations that last the same amount of time.

Savasana or corpse pose is a yoga pose that consists of lying down on your back with your legs and arms partially opened.  You let go of all tension that you can identify in your body bringing consciousness to this parts by breathing.

The benefits of this pose include:

-          Relaxing the nervous system

-          Stress relief

-          Decreased beta waves and a shift to slower brain waves

-          Reduced insomnia and improved sleep

-          Reduced headache and fatigue

 

Now, the way in which I’ve put this together goes like this:

 

1.       Start by lying in bed in Savasana pose.

2.       Start doing belly breathing (deep breathing) at a slow pace.  About 10 deep breathes

3.       Do 7 repetitions of square breathing (described below) counting 7 seconds each step (inhaling, sustaining, exhaling, sustaining)

4.       Take a break and take 5 deep breathes.

5.       Do 5 repetitions of square breathing counting 5 seconds each step.

6.       Finalize with another 10 deep breathes.

 

If you feel like you need to repeat the whole exercise, go ahead. Sometimes I have to as well.

 

If this is the first time you do this and you are getting dizzy, stop, take a break and start again counting only 3 seconds each time.  As you gain practice you can add more time (seconds) to each step.

 

This is what the 7 count square breathing looks like:

1.       Inhale counting 7 seconds

2.       Hold your breath for 7 seconds

3.       Exhale for 7 seconds

4.       Hold your breath for 7 seconds

Then start again until you complete 7 repetitions.

For the 5 count cycle you would do the same.

I always include the 5 count cycle because one of my main spiritual guides (my doctor in Colombia) taught me that square breathing also makes you resonate with different vibrations in the universe. The number 5 is the one that connects you with the vibration of Love.  I like this very much because it makes me feel like I’m doing meditation, and so far has helped me fall asleep.

If this doesn't turn out as effective for sleeping, be sure you have given your body some time to relax, repair and regain some energy.

Try this out and let us know how it works for you.

Salud!

Taking Care of the Mind

olga gulati

Whenever I share with people my history with bulimia and recovering from it, I often get the question: “What was the one thing that healed you?”  A psychiatrist?  A psychologist?  Medication?  A support group? A program?  Spiritual work?

To be honest, I’ve tried each of the above, and my answer is all of them.

peace.calm_mt.tam_sunset

Each one of the therapy approaches, spiritual guides, and general help that I’ve received, has taken me to where I am today.  Each one of them prepared me to get to the next level.  I’ve seen therapists who I never would have trusted years prior.  However, then came the time for them to be exactly what I needed. 

There is no perfect doctor or treatment. It is more about finding what suits you at the moment where you are at, and committing to it. The path for health and wellness must be enjoyable for it to be sustainable, albeit, commitment is of equal importance. 

It took me a while to figure this out.  I also started my path of seeking help thinking that I was going to find, that one thing that was going to heal me.  Then I realized that: (1) it was a process and (2) what was most important was that I needed to commit to it.  I needed to be flexible with the tools that I was learning, utilize different approaches that I was encountering.  I needed to be flexible with myself.

What I learned from this was that our minds and souls require nourishment on a daily basis, just like our bodies do.  We shouldn’t go days without eating (unless you are on some sort of crazy fast), the same way we shouldn’t go days without doing something to take care of our emotional wellbeing.

I truly believe that all of us need this type of routine nourishment.  While suffering from an eating disorder, this realization was apparent for me.  Nonetheless all of us are emotional and spiritual beings with minds and souls deserving of care.

In the present I don’t go to therapy every week like I have in the past.   However, I know that I maintain an anxious personality and still need to find ways to counter the anxiety to help my brain and soul feel better. Everyday

run_for_calm

I know I’ve repeated it ten times by now, but I can’t stress enough the importance.  Running is one of my soul foods at the moment.  I try to run at least 5 days per week.  I’ve found that running balances my mindset and gives me a good start for the day.  When I stop running I can see how I’m less patient and significantly more irritable.  Please don’t mistake me for an avid runner.  I can’t run more than 3 miles at a time, but that is ok.  It’s enough to take care of my anxiety and negative thoughts.

Perhaps a couple of years from now an alternative method of mind and soul nourishment will serve me better.  We will see what my body and mind ask for.

I encourage you to explore whatever it is that nourishes your mind and soul.  Try different things out. See what works best for the present moment, and stick with it.  You are going to thank yourself for doing it.

I will continue to share with you what I have in my soul food kit and would love to hear what are the things that have worked for you.

Much love and Salud!

Olga