Whenever I’m having a particularly stressful day, I’m reminded of an inspirational story that was making the rounds on social media a couple of years back.
You know the one; about a psychology professor with a glass full of water?
Even if you haven’t heard it, I’m sure you’ve guessed the punch line by now. It’s all about how we handle stress, and what we need to focus on to calm our restless minds.
I’m sharing a short video of the story for you visual learners (just down there - click play to watch it) but here’s the gist of it in a couple of lines.
A psychology professor picked up a glass of water and proceeded to ask the students how heavy they think it is. Answers varied, of course, but nobody made any wild predictions - after all, it’s a glass of water, right?
The professor said: “It doesn’t matter how heavy the glass is. What matters is how long we’re holding it in our hands. A couple of minutes, and it won’t really affect us. An hour still, and we might feel a slight strain in our arm. However, hold that light, inconsequential glass of water for an entire day, and you will feel as if your whole arm is paralyzed.”
Stress and nervousness have that same paralyzing effect on all of us. Only, it’s not our arm that starts feeling numb - it’s our whole being. Worrying about the things that are happening but that are out of our control (or about the things that might happen but we just don’t know yet) is how you buy a one-way ticket to a miserable life.
And, that’s not the direction either of us wants to be heading in, right?
That’s why I want to share a couple of coping mechanisms that have helped me deal with my stress.
Whenever I feel those mental jitters coming on, my first instinct is to reach for my Calming Blanket. But, I don’t always have that option. I’d look rather silly walking into business meetings (these really get my mind racing) wrapped in a weighted blanket designed to reduce stress and restlessness and to ease a nervous mind.
Luckily, after years of research on this and similar topics, I’ve picked up a couple of self-soothing techniques that work like a charm and calm me down, even if I need to stay on the move.
They are all quick and easy to try but might be a bit difficult to master (because they require a bit of brain re-training to actually catch on) - try one of them next time you’re feeling stressed and see if it helps!
Analyze Your Thoughts - Discard The Negative Ones
Whenever you feel nervousness coming on, stop what you’re doing (just for a moment) and analyze how your thought process is working. Identify the troublesome thought and ask yourself:
“Is this thought really helpful?’
We all think a lot of stuff but we rarely put a positive spin on things in our mind. A thought can actually be true but not helpful - some people do get bad news at a doctors office. However, will thinking about all the ways that the news can be bad change anything? Not really.
When you find a thought like that lurking in your brain, dismiss it. This will be a conscious effort at first but it will become easier with time. After all, most people walk out of the doctor’s office with good news, statistically-speaking. Focus your mind on that, and you will find the stress slowly growing smaller.
Label Your Thoughts - Focus On Your Mental Process
This might sound silly but thinking about how you’re thinking actually removes you a bit further away from what you’re thinking about. This is a mind-twister, I know. Look at it like this - when you’re in the doctor’s office and you start to worry, identify and label that as Worrying. Think about why your brain is immediately jumping to the conclusion that something will go wrong. What are the mental steps behind that process? Or, if you’re out and you’re thinking about how everyone is judging your looks (clothes, hairstyle, that cool piercing you just had done), label that as Judging.
Analyzing your thoughts this way can be tedious but it helps you discover how your mind works. A mind under stress is a curious beast and to tame it, you need to understand it. Also, labeling things puts a bit of distance between you and the actual worrying/judging though. As you get better with this exercise, you’ll start to wonder - is worrying/judging/criticizing really the best way to expand my brain power and spend my day? You’ll start learning that there are other emotions and labels that are much more comfortable - you just need to train your brain to think of them first!
Practice Cognitive Distancing & Defusion
Cognitive distancing and cognitive defusion are to two cognition methods used by some psychologists to help people to calm their stressed mind. While different, the two methods are similar enough to attempt in conjunction once you feel the nervousness bubbling up.
Cognitive distancing involves thinking about your thoughts as mere guesses, and not absolute truths. For example, the panic that you’re feeling in the doctor’s waiting room is due to environment and expectations - bad news concerning your health is mostly delivered there - or it has been previously. But, your brain fails to note that good news is delivered there just as much, if not more. If you’re using cognitive distancing to reduce stress, ask yourself: “How likely is it that the news will be bad?”.
Not very likely, really. For example, a particular test administered to diagnose colon disease (FIT) comes back positive just 3% of the time. 97% of people who are tested go home with good news. That’s the objective truth. This can be applied to numerous different scenarios and situations because the possibilities for a positive resolution often outweigh the possibilities for a negative one - you just have to actively remind yourself of that.
Cognitive defusion is a concept that tells us that our thoughts are not us - they are just data that’s dependent on the experiences we have accumulated throughout our lifetimes, as well as through our genetics. Some of those thoughts may very well be automatic, linked to hypervigilance and hypersensitivity that kept our ancestors alive back in the day. If they are simply data, then thoughts don’t need to be accepted as fact all the time. So why do we still do it? Shed the preconception that what you’re thinking is the absolute truth and you’ll notice the effect it has on calming your mind.
Start Moving - Activity Can Help Calm Your Mind
Overthinking an issue often leaves me paralyzed - the more I think about something, the less likely I am to act in a manner that will resolve it. That’s why, when I feel this particular state coming on, I like to get a move on. To break the cycle, I go for a walk, a run, or do some exercises (you know, the ones that I should be doing regularly anyway). It doesn’t matter what you do, really; the important thing is that you do something.
Five minutes of aerobic exercise can have a de-stressing effect on the mind, and triggers endorphin production in the brain. Additionally, it forces you to think about other things (or rather, about something in a different way) so when you sit back down, chances are that your perspective and your approach to the problem will be very different. Of all of the tricks in my bag, this is definitely my favourite one when it comes to calming my restless mind.
Find A Reassuring Mantra & Use It Regularly
Mantras are often linked to some sort of spiritual and religious experiences but they definitely don’t have to be about that - not unless you subscribe to it. For me, a mantra is simply a concentration aid that helps me quiet down my mind so I can focus on what I know is important, as opposed to focusing on what my stressed brain is telling me to focus on.
Here’s how my process with a mantra goes:
Go somewhere quiet where you can take two minutes to look inward without being disturbed.
Close your eyes and visualize something you associate with peace - a nature scene, a colour, a specific person; whatever works for you.
Start repeating your mantra while taking deep breaths and engaging in visualization. I use “Be here now” because it helps me to reinforce the idea of dealing with the problems at hand instead of visualizing how they will escalate and cause new problems. However, you can choose whatever you want - “I choose peace”, or “I’m in control of my stress”, or even “I forgive myself”. As I said, whatever works.
- Do this for a couple of minutes (two is fine after you’ve nailed the process) and you will feel yourself getting into a head-space that much calmer and serene. Your stress won’t really melt away but, if you’re lucky, it will diminish to a point where it’s manageable.
Getting into the habit of using a mantra to reinforce a positive mindset is great because it can be done anywhere. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, you can always take two minutes to go somewhere quiet and recenter yourself before getting on with your day.
Calming A Stressed Mind Takes Time - But You Can Get There
You can’t go from being wound up all the time to being the reincarnation of the Buddha. And, you wouldn’t want to - stress has its uses when it’s not so overwhelming that it’s controlling your life.
“Our stress does not come from thinking about the future. It comes from wanting to control it.”
The idea behind these exercises is to de-escalate the situation in your mind so it’s no longer paralyzing. So, instead of holding that glass of water for a full day, you pick it up, look at it for a couple of minutes, and then pour some of the water out because you know it has no business being there. Decluttering your mind from the things that are holding you back - that’s the key!I really hope that some of my techniques for calming a nervous mind are useful to you. If you’d like to also unwind while you’re sleeping, make sure to check out what our customers are saying about the Calming Blanket on our Facebook page. You’re also welcome to ask questions - our support team loves hearing from you and will answer everything promptly!