Woman standing in front of a board with a jumble of arrows and question marks with text overlay: Who's In Charge - You or Your Thoughts?

[Wellness] Who’s In Charge – you or your thoughts?

I haven’t written anything on my gratitude page for almost a week” I said to my hubby. “That’s because you’ve been too busy putting quarters in the jar.”

Okay, let me explain…. For Lent this year, I decided that I was going to give up negative speech – fussing at the TV, complaining about someone else’s actions, speaking negatively to myself….. anything that wasn’t constructive or had the potential to put me in a negative frame of mind.

In order to give myself a physical reminder, every time I catch myself being negative, I put a quarter in a little jelly jar I put front and center on our coffee table. I was doing pretty good for a little while, but now, it’s March 18th and I’ve already put in $10.00. Yikes!

Words are powerful, and the thoughts that precede those words can be even more powerful. For this Wellness Wednesday, I’d like to talk a little about our thoughts and how they affect our overall wellness.

According to Ron Breazeale Ph.D. in his article, Thoughts, Neurotransmitters, Body-Mind Connection in Psychology Today,

the mind is capable of immense effects on the body. The literature has demonstrated again and again that thoughts affect neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that allow the brain to communicate with different parts of itself and the nervous system. Neurotransmitters control virtually all of the body’s functions, from feeling happy to modulating hormones to dealing with stress. Therefore, our thoughts influence our bodies directly because the body interprets the messages coming from the brain to prepare us for whatever is expected.” 

Since our thoughts can have such profound effects on our overall wellness, it’s important that we not just let our thoughts run willy-nilly through our brains. In her book How to Switch On Your Brain, Dr. Caroline Leaf says, “Purposefully catching your thoughts can control the brain’s sensory processing, the brain’s rewiring, the neurotransmitters, the genetic expression, and cellular activity in a positive or negative direction. You choose.” We can actively choose which thoughts to entertain.

According to the Mayo Clinic, positive thinking and optimism may provide benefits such as

  • Increased life span
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower levels of distress
  • Greater resistance to the common cold
  • Better psychological and physical well-being
  • Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

With all these potential benefits, wouldn’t it be worth the effort to move toward a more positive mindset?

As we talked about in Are We Sabotaging Our Wellness Efforts, in order to do that, we might have to get rid of some ANTs – Automatic Negative Thoughts. This term was coined by Dr. Daniel Amen, founder of the Amen Clinic and author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. These ANTs are the thoughts that pop up and make their way into our brains (and into our bodies via chemical changes) before we even realize we’re having them. As we’ve discussed before, our automatic thoughts can’t always be trusted. They don’t always tell the truth.

An important disclaimer here though: I am NOT talking about just ignoring any negative thoughts or feelings we may have. It’s important to recognize and process thoughts or feelings that are causing concern.

Especially during this time when we’re seeing such scary reports everywhere we look, it can be easy to allow our thoughts to lead us down a path of anxiety or fear, but if we examine them rather than giving them free reign, we may be able to prevent some of the stress associated with them.

We can ask ourselves a few questions:

  • Is this thought based on fact or fear?
  • Could this thought be reframed? If so, how can I frame it in a more positive light?
  • Is there anything I can do to impact whatever situation I’m concerned about?

I’m going to be honest with you – right now, I’m having those occasional moments of anxiety about what’s going on. When that happens, I take those thoughts captive and examine them. I’ve also found a couple of other strategies that help me deal with the fear around this situation:

  • Limit the amount of time spent watching the news updates on Covid 19. I’ve started limiting myself to an update in the morning and one in the evening.
  • Refrain from scrolling through the endless social media posts, etc. about this. For me, following the CDC guidance to keep my family safe is enough. I don’t need to hear what everyone else has to say about it. That just stresses me out.
  • Look for the ‘good news’ stories that are being reported. I told my husband this morning that we’re seeing the worst and the best of humanity because of this. At the beginning of this, we saw the worst of humanity as people have been hoarding supplies to the point those who desperately need them can’t get them. Now though, we’re seeing the best of humanity as people actively look for ways they can help. As Mister Rogers’ mother told him about scary situations, “Look for the helpers.”
  • Stay busy. This can give us something to concentrate on other than the scary things going on around us.
  • Exercise. Even if we can’t do purposeful exercise, moving around can help us feel better.

Finding constructive ways to deal with those times fear and anxiety try to take over can put us in a position to better examine our thoughts and ensure they’re serving us well.

Our thoughts have the power to impact our overall wellness either positively or negatively. Since they have so much power over our health, it’s vital that we learn to use them to our advantage.

Have you ever found yourself sliding into thoughts or behaviors that negatively impact your wellness? How did you deal with it? Please share!

Blessings,

~Terri

Sources:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-the-face-adversity/201207/thoughts-neurotransmitters-body-mind-connection

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950

Change Your Brain Change Your Life, Daniel G. Amen, M.D., 1998, Penguin Random House, New York

Switch On Your Brain, Dr. Caroline Leaf, 2013, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI

25 comments

    1. Oh Tim, I know what you mean…. It IS difficult, especially for us introverts who spend so much time ‘in our heads’. I’m slowly learning to get out of there and do what I have to do to keep from ruminating on things…. Hopefully your writing will help distract you (and give me another great book to read when you’re done). Blessings to you!

  1. My husband tends to be glued to the news, so I have tell him to turn it off. I’ve taken to watching more ‘mindless’ TV, and am setting goals for myself each day to take advantage of this time. Negative thoughts will always be part of who I am, and I like your challenge to reframe them. I trust it keeps me growing.

    1. We were kind of in the same boat at first, but I quickly realized for my sanity I really needed to limit my time watching the news. Now we stay current, but limit it. I’ve found reframing really helpful. Stay safe sweet friend. Hugs!

  2. Very timely and great reminders. I’ve read this one twice. Realizing that I am allowing negative thoughts to impact me is the first step to start evaluating and deciding if my assessment is accurate. Great post.

  3. Such an important post. I’ve found this has been getting to me a lot, has been for a few weeks and all the more so now since lockdown. I think the mental health impact of this will be felt worldwide. Limiting exposure to news and increasing exposure to good news and distractions is definitely a good idea.
    How’re you doing, Terri? Thinking of you ♥ xx

    1. Thank you Caz. I agree with you, that the mental health impact of this will be felt for quite a while to come. That makes it even more important for us to guard our mental health now. Thinking of you and sending love and hugs your way sweet friend.

  4. Terri, I am so grateful for you! Your presence here is such a calming one. In this time of darkness, you are a ray of hope and light. Thank you for being who you are and for writing what you do! Your writing style is beautiful and I enjoyed reading every single word.

    It’s absolutely true what you say about our thoughts. We really do become what we behold first in our minds. I just saw an inspirational message from Steven Furtick on Twitter this morning saying, “Don’t look at the wind!” The more we expose ourselves to what creates anxiety and stress, we are giving our enemy free reign to take over and run amok in our lives. It’s something he loves to do! Then we feel the effects in every other area.

    I adore your idea of the quarters in the jar every time you have a negative thought. What a beautiful way to celebrate Lent! If there’s anything we could give up that would make a lasting impact, it would certainly be our stinking thinking! It’s amazing, isn’t it, how many negative ways we think about ourselves (and the situations around us) without even being fully aware of it! So much of what we feel in our bodies are direct results of what we have been thinking on auto-pilot.

    Well done, Terri. Well done. You’ve created another masterpiece here that will surely help all who read be more mindful. ❤

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words Holly! You make such a great point about not opening ourselves up to things that cause anxiety and stress. Limiting the news coverage we watch and meditating on Scripture helps me combat that. I thought the ‘quarters’ idea was a good one, but now I’m broke ha ha! I’ve used up my roll of quarters, so I’m going to have to figure out something to put in the jar in place of the quarters and pay my ‘ransom’ with paper money. Praying you and your family are staying safe and well. Sending hugs your way!

  5. Great tips Terri, I’m trying hard not to tap on latest news on my iPad as you just get transfixed with it all. I’ve just got to get myself into a different routine then I will be in more control. I like routine and it’s all gone to pot at the moment.

    1. Thanks so much Bar. It IS hard not to tap on that latest update, isn’t it? I just had to make a concerted effort to stop letting it suck me in. I hope you’re able to get back into your routine soon sweet friend. Sending hugs your way!

  6. Great post Terri, this time can be very positive & be seen as a ‘time out’ to reset busyness in our lives rather then a time of anxiety.
    It’s always a choice how we use our thoughts, I’m glad you emphasized this… 😀
    Bless you,
    Jennifer

    1. Thank you so much Jennifer! I really like what you said about using this time as a “time out to reset busyness in our lives.” It really does give us a chance to slow down and count our blessings. I hope you’re keeping well sweet friend. Blessings to you!

  7. i truly loved this Terri. I can’t agree more with your post. Our mind is more powerful than we give it credit for and the effect is has not only on our feelings but our well being is overwhelming. That’s why I try to see the positive side in everything that happens in my life whether it be good or bad. It’s so easy to accept the negative aspects of things but hard to grasp the positive side.

    1. Thank you so much Mark! I am more and more amazed every day by the power of our minds. As you said, it’s important to find the positive in our circumstances, even if it’s just to learn what NOT to do next time…. I hope you’re keeping well, dear friend. Blessings to you!

  8. Every time I have negative thoughts, I try to distract myself or try to create a happy feeling. For example, when I hear a song that reminds me of something sad, I will switch the radio station or will skip that song and play a happy song. Or I look back at worse situations I was in and remind myself that I made it though that time and that what I am facing now is nothing compared to what I have faced and experienced in the past. Negativity does not help. So I am always trying to see the positive in negative. For instance, I have a lasting back injury since I was 12. I am now 30 and I get back pain all the time, but I can cope with it. It would be worse losing a lib for example, at least for me.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing Anna! It’s so important for us to learn to deal with our thoughts since they impact our wellness so much. I’m glad you’ve found things that work for you. Blessings to you!

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