What You’ll Learn
- The truth is that you have far more control over your emotional landscape than you think.
- Realizing this and stepping into your agency can be liberating.
- Your emotions are created by your thoughts, and you can change your thoughts.
- We’ll dive right into how immediate actions like meditation, breathing, and movement will help you change your thoughts in times of stress and therefore change your emotions.
When Facing A Crisis, How Can We Respond Best?
Every single day most of us experience stressful situations. Some days those could be as routine as hurrying to get errands done, or responding to an irritable co-worker, or buying only a few groceries until the next paycheck. But other days are different. Perhaps you’ve learned that you or someone you care about has a serious health condition. Or your business lost a major client crucial to your bottom line. Or, the World Health Organization has declared that there is a global pandemic from a new strain of coronavirus. In the latter situation, the effects are especially tricky because they affect you and unknown amounts of people in the community around you, including their reactions from disbelief to panic.
When human bodies—yours and mine and everyone’s—have an adverse emotional reaction to external events, it will start by affecting our mood. That mood can trickle out into your words, your expressions, and even your actions with other people.
And ultimately, those negative emotions can adversely affect health (which could even make you feel sad and guilty for putting yourself in that situation).
There is ample evidence and research out in the world that shows a direct relationship between negative thoughts and stressed-out emotions and our bodies’ health. Emotional stress promotes the release of cortisol—the body’s stress hormone. Along with cortisol, the body’s reaction to emotional stress can often lead to gastrointestinal symptoms (the origin behind the idea of “feeling something in your gut”) and even long-term systemic conditions that thrive in an environment of inflammation and stress hormones.
Of course, none of us want to allow what is happening in the world to make us sicker and sadder. But many of us believe that external events CREATE our emotional reactions—that it is a matter of cause and effect. Luckily, this is not true, and we all have much more agency over our happiness.
What if you knew that—regardless of any events happening in your environment—you always had agency with how YOU personally respond to the world around you? That kind of knowledge is not only powerful, but it is within your reach. Let’s dive in.
Simple Actions Will Lead to Profound Benefits
All of the actions and habits we’ll outline here are simple, easy to do by anyone, and will individually and cumulatively contribute to your full expression of health. They include breathing, specific kinds of meditation, letting go of sleep stress, and managing your thoughts.
Each action you take to balance your outlook and to soothe your system is well-researched and practiced by people all over the globe. They are time-tested, inexpensive (or free!), and effective—there is no reason why they cannot start benefiting you immediately.
Adopting Calming Habits Is For Everyone
There is no prerequisite for learning and adopting these habits. Everyone and anyone is capable: we encourage you to retrain your brain and harness the power of your thoughts to create positive feelings. The benefits you will feel will start with you and will spread out to touch other people in your life.
Four Actions For Cultivating Calm And Equanimity
Each one of these four actions are, on their own, excellent to add to your life. But together? They pack an amazing punch to your moods, your resilience, and your approach to the world.
Breathwork: More Than Just In And Out
There are many different targeted breathing techniques you can learn to affect different areas of your life. Many have been studied and reported on in medical literature, but we’ll touch on two to give you a starting point: alternate nostril breathing and 4-7-8 breathing.
First, Nadi Shodhana (also known as alternate nostril breathing) has been used for many years to focus the mind, relax the body, and help with sleep. Sometimes it is taught and used at the beginning of yoga classes to help students turn in to their bodies. Translated, Nadi Shodhana means “clearing the channels of circulation”. When performing this breath, you will use the fingertips of one hand to control which nostril you are inhaling and exhaling through. Watch this video to get an easy instruction on this powerful technique:
Next, the 4-7-8 Breathing method is called “the relaxing breath”. This incredibly simple technique was created by Dr. Andrew Weil to help with acute anxiety and moments of stress or frustration. Slow breathing can change your life through modulating your autonomic nervous system and dampening anxiety, depression, anger, and sadness.
Here’s how to do 4-7-8 breathing:
- Empty your lungs of air
- Breathe in steadily for 4 long seconds
- Hold your breath while counting out 7 more seconds
- Purse your lips and exhale through the mouth with pressure for 8 full seconds. Make a ‘whoosh’ sound and really use your diaphragm
- Repeat for a total of 4 cycles
Concentration Meditation: Let Go Of External Guidance
Some of us already have a meditation practice, whether that is using an app such as Headspace or Insight Timer or just setting an alarm and sitting for 15 minutes. All kinds of meditation are beneficial, so if you already have a great meditation practice, don’t stop. But if you have a regular practice (as I do) of listening to guided meditations to drift off, consider learning something new with your daily practice time. I’ve found that tuning in or zoning out to someone else’s voice has a different effect than working on my own mind’s ability to allow thoughts to appear and pass by.
“You hold in your hand an invitation: to remember the transforming power of forgiveness and loving kindness. To remember that no matter where you are and what you face, within your heart peace is possible.”– Jack Kornfield
One kind of meditation—concentration meditation—is particularly helpful to train the mind to focus on one thing (often the breath, but it could also be sounds or other items in your awareness). By learning concentration meditation you are building a foundation that will allow you to have a rich mindfulness practice down the road.
All of these techniques help your bodily health by observing thoughts, letting them occur, and allowing them pass by without judgement or attachment. Your entire nervous system is calmed by this kind of practice and your immune system becomes stronger as a result.
The best way to learn concentration meditation comes from (ironically) a guided meditation from Jack Kornfeld. Listen to the meditation several times until the methods he describes become second nature and you can sit silently and practice the same calm thought-management by focusing on your breath.
When you are ready to practice in silence, continue to sit in the way you’ve started: cross-legged or on a chair while still remaining upright yet relaxed, jaw soft and shoulders at ease. Allow your eyes to remain open but your gaze unfocused: this helps with keeping out unwanted thoughts by giving your brain a little bit of visual stimulus. With eyes closed, it is sometimes easier for the mind to wander off and create distractions for itself.
Sleep, But Don’t Freak Out If It’s Not Perfect
You already know that sleep is one of the best things you can do for your immune system and your overall well-being. But stressing out about not getting enough sleep, or the right kind of sleep, or even the necessary interruptions from members of your household? That can even backfire and create more worry in your life, which of course you do not need.
Here’s a few ways to take a new approach to healthy sleep, keeping yourself grounded even if your sleep isn’t perfect:
- Permission to stay up! If you wake up and fret about getting back to sleep, just give yourself permission to get up and be alert. Waking up at 3 a.m. isn’t what we plan on, but tossing and turning for another 4 hours is also stressful. So when that 3 a.m. alertness hits, go with it instead of against it. Do some journaling. Drink some tea. Have sex. Relax and when you are ready to sleep again, your body will let you know.
- Have a “first 5 minutes” morning routine. Instead of carefully planning out your pre-bedtime habits, put your focus toward the morning. Create a habit of one or two particular actions you take every single time you wake up, no matter what your sleep was like. Maybe it is 3 minutes of journaling plus 2 minutes of stretching. Maybe you prefer 2 minutes of brewing coffee and 3 minutes sitting and breathing. Do the same thing until it becomes a calming routine your brain will anticipate when your head hits the pillow each night.
- Abundance mindset magic. Instead of thinking how little sleep you are able to get, say to yourself how grateful you are that you got extra work done last night, or that you are able to take time to get to a morning yoga class, or even that your body can do the work it needs to do on an abbreviated amount of sleep. Thank your body for its capacity, and welcome in more sleep when you are ready. Point your thoughts away from scarcity thinking around sleep and rest, and think about the good energetic qualities of each hour of sleep you do get, and you might find you naturally are drawn to “receiving” additional sleep.
Create Emotions By Guiding Your Thoughts
This final tip might just upend the way you think about your emotions – in a good way! So far, we’ve learned a few of the physical actions we can take (breathwork and meditation) that will calm down our thoughts and therefore soothe our whole system of cascading reactions.
Now, you’re about to learn something so powerful it could change your life for the better from this day forward. If there is any “secret” to resilience and a healthy balanced spirit, it is this:
Your emotions are created by your thoughts.
This is as simple as the words above. Emotions do not automatically or inevitably arise from situations, actions, or people outside of yourself. They are created by YOU, and what creates them are your thoughts. ONLY your thoughts. This is powerful. Again:
Your emotions are not the result or fault of anything outside yourself.
Let’s pause, do a round of 4-7-8 breathing, and take this all in. Okay. Now, having the realization that your thoughts create your emotions is incredibly exciting. Why? Because you do not have to feel helpless over your emotions. You do not have to fear emotions that you assume will happen from future “bad” events. And, perhaps most importantly, you will lose your resentment and anger towards other people when you realize that no one causes you to suffer or is to blame for how you feel.
“To be empowered—to be free, to be unlimited, to be creative, to be genius, to be divine—that is who you are…. Once you feel this way, memorize this feeling; remember this feeling. This is who you really are….”– Joe Dispenza
This realization will change your life. Thought-work is an amazing tool you can learn to take back control of your happiness, resilience, and joy. We are only touching the tip of the iceberg here, and there are many resources out there to dig deeper, including the work of Joe Dispenza, who can show you the steps to create a future self that brings you peace, Lisa Feldman Barrett, whose TED talk outlines research on thoughts and emotions, and Bruce Lipton, whose book The Biology of Belief digs into how our consciousness affects everything from our neurochemistry to epigenetics.
Finally, here is a guided and straightforward 5 Step Exercise to releasing an unwanted thought that was leading to negative emotions. Give it a try and see the benefits in your immediate present.
You Are In Control: Empower Your Physiological Resilience
Emotional resilience is not something a few lucky folks were born with—just like riding a bike or driving a car is not instinctual. We ALL can learn the physical and mental skills that empower us to take control of our reactions and to better our moods and our wellbeing.
Everything you’ve read so far outlines simple and effective ways to bring a sense of calm to your life, with nothing more required of you than a nugget of time and an eagerness to feel better.
With better breathing, better attention to your body, and better awareness, you will have better moods, health, and thoughts.
The reasons to do this are many, with benefits that manifest far beyond you. You will be supporting your own positive daily experiences. Your emotions can become calmer and radiate out into your friends, your family, and your community. Like attracts like: when you radiate calm, you’ll attract the energy of other mindful folks. And you will serve as an example for those who have not yet been able to shake off their worry and fear.
There are quite a few things you can do to keep your body and mind ready for challenging times, from eating whole foods to drinking water to supplementing with a few key adaptogens. But most importantly, it is through intention and mindful actions we can achieve the most. With that knowledge, you can move toward the kind of life we promote here at Innovative Medicine: one that marries wisdom with science, agency with holistic results. You will be living a calm and optimistic life, full of empowerment and healing.
Let us know in the comments if our suggestions have been working for you, or if there are additional practices that you love for increasing calm, resilience, and optimism. We love seeing results from each and every one of our tribe.
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