Letting go of stress and worry*Posted: January 15, 2016
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.”
“One is Evil – It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
“The other is Good – It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
–Author and source unknown
Are you stressed and worrying what will happen? Are you thinking of all that could go wrong? Do you feel overwhelmed and anxious?
It is very challenging to let go of negative thoughts, images, memories and anticipations. These negative worries can be useful if they mobilize you towards active planning and action; however, in most cases, the thoughts continue to go around and around in our heads. The more we worry, the worse we feel. Often our shoulders and neck tighten and our stomach churns. The worries and concerns may become a pain in the neck and we no longer can stomach the stress.
Begin to take charge and realize that even though health and healing is not our control, we can contribute and support the healing process. Regardless how overwhelmed we are, begin with the basics. Start the day by respecting your body so that it can run well. It needs:
Proper fuel. Begin by having breakfast—not the sugar coated cereals or snack bars on the run—but an egg, oatmeal, and some fruit or other non-processed foods. Even when you think you do not have the time, fuel up your body so your body engine can work well. Drink only one cup of coffee with little sugar. Drink water or tea and avoid all soft drinks and any low calorie drinks. Remember that people who drink low calorie soft drinks increase their abdominal girth by three inches as compared to people who do not drink low calorie soft drinks (Fowler et al, 2015).
Follow-up with lunch and dinner, do not skip meals! Many of my college students do not eat breakfast or lunch before coming to class, as a group they are more reactive, anxious and perform significantly poorer on exams than the ones who do eat.
If you haven’t eaten, or eaten only high sugary snack foods an hour or two before, your blood sugar will lower and you become more reactive “Hangry” (the combination of hungry and angry). As the blood sugar drops, the brain reactivity pattern changes and you become much more impulsive (Peper et al, 2009).
Dynamic movement. The moment you do some movement your urge to snack, smoke, or ruminate is significantly reduced. When you begin physical movement (especially when you do not want to), the built up tension from the personal and interpersonal stress will decrease. You are completing the biological alarm reaction. When you physically move, you dissipate the fight/flight response and are shifting your body to a state of regeneration. As the alarm reaction response decreases, it becomes easier to do problem solving and abstract thinking. As long as you are in the alarm state, you tend to react defensively to the immediate events. Thus, when you feel uptight and stressed, take a hike. Walk up the stairs instead of taking the escalator, get off Muni one stop earlier and walk rapidly to your destination.
Positive and peaceful thoughts. Remember your thoughts, memories and images affect your body and vice versa. Experience how your thoughts effect your body. Have someone read the following to you. It takes only a few minutes.
Sit comfortably, and gently close your eyes and imagine a lemon. Notice the deep yellow color, and the two stubby ends. Imagine placing the lemon on a cutting board and cutting it in half with your favorite kitchen knife. Notice the pressure of the knife in your hand as you cut the lemon. Feel the drop of lemon juice against your skin. After cutting the lemon in half, put the knife down and pick up one half of the lemon.
As you look at it, notice the drops of juice glistening in the light, the half-cut seeds, the outer yellow rind, and the pale inner rind. Now get a glass and squeeze this half of lemon so the juice goes into the glass. As you squeeze, notice the pressure in your fingers and forearm. Feel droplets of lemon juice squirting against your skin. Smell the pungent, sharp fragrance. Now take the other half of lemon and squeeze the juice into the glass. Now take the glass in your hand. Feel the coolness of the glass and bring it to your lips. Feel the juice against your lips, and then sip the lemon juice. Taste the tart juice and swallow the lemon juice. Observe the pulp and seeds as you swallow (Adapted from Gorter and Peper, 2011).
What did you notice? As you imagined the lemon, did you notice that you experienced an increase in salivation, or that your mouth puckered? Almost everyone who does this exercise experiences some of these physical changes. The increase in salivation demonstrates that these thoughts and images have a direct effect on our bodies. Similarly, when we have thoughts of anger, resentment, frustration, or anxiety, they also affect our bodies. Unknowingly we may tighten our shoulders or our abdomen. We may unconsciously hold our breath or breathe shallowly. This response interferes with our ability to relax and heal. If this kind of tension is a constant habit, it reduces the body’s ability to regenerate.
Although we may dismiss our experience when we did the imagery exercise with an imaginary lemon—it was only an imaginary lemon, after all—it is fundamentally important. Every minute, every hour, every day, our bodies are subtly affected by thoughts, emotions, and images. Just as the image of the lemon caused us to salivate, our thoughts and emotions also cause physiological change.
What to do when consumed by worry. Although it seems impossible, you have a choice to focus on the negative or positive thoughts. When you feel stressed and overwhelmed, ask yourself, do I have control over this situation?
If “No”, acknowledge that you feel frustrated and stuck. Recognize you want to let it go and have no control. Ask yourself “does this thought serve any purpose or help me in any way” If not, let go of the thought and the sensations in your body” If there is a purpose or value act upon the thought (go feed the parking meter, make that call). Then do the following thought interrupting practice.
Sit up and make yourself tall on your sitz bones with your lower spine slightly arched at the same time look up and take a breath in. While inhaling, think of someone who loves you such as your grandmother an aunt. For that moment feel their love. Exhale softly while slightly smiling while still looking upward. As you exhale think of someone for whom you care for and wish them well.
Each time your brain begins to rehash that specific event, do not argue with it, do not continue with it, instead, initiate the thought interrupting practice. Many people report when they do this many, many, times a day, their energy, mood and productivity significantly increases. Initially it seems impossible, yet, the more you practice, the more the benefits occur.
If “yes,” make a list of all the things over which you have control and that need to be done. Acknowledge that this list appears overwhelming and you do not even know where to start. Begin by doing one small project. Remember, you do not have to finish it today. It is a start. And, if possible, share your list and challenge with friends or family members and ask them for support. The most important part is to move into action. Then, each time your brain worries, “I do not have enough time”, or “there is too much to do,” practice the thought interrupting practice.
Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes you
– Frank Outlaw (1977)
Fowler, S. P., Williams, K., & Hazuda, H. P. (2015). Diet Soda Intake Is Associated with Long‐Term Increases in Waist Circumference in a Biethnic Cohort of Older Adults: The San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 63(4), 708-715. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jgs.13376/pdf
Peper, E., Harvey, R., Takabayashi, N., & Hughes, P. (2009). How to do clinical biofeedback in psychosomatic medicine: An illustrative brief therapy example for self-regulation. Japanese Journal of Biofeedback Research..36 (2), 1-16. https://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/howdoyouclinicalbiofeedback19.pdf
Gorter, R. & Peper, E. (2011). Fighting Cancer-A Non Toxic Approach to Treatment. Berkeley: North Atlantic: Random House. http://www.amazon.com/Fighting-Cancer-Nontoxic-Approach-Treatment-ebook/dp/B004C43GAQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1452923651&sr=1-1&keywords=fighting+cancer
Outlaw, F (1977). What They’re Saying Quote Page 7-B, San Antonio Light (NArch Page 28), Column 4, 1San Antonio, Texas, May 18, 1977 (NewspaperArchive).
*Adapted from: Peper, E. (2016). Legend of two wolves is a beacon across time for healthy thinking. Western Edition. January, pp 6, 8. http://thewesternedition.com/admin/files/magazines/WE-January-2016.pdf