We have all experienced the 4 a.m. loop of thoughts that refuse to cease. Whether we're tormented by financial anxiety, fears about losing our current partner, or never meeting “the one" in the first place, feeling stress can drive us quite mad.
Yet, if we investigate deeper, we can see that these external things—the relationships, children, our financial state—are not really the cause of our negative emotional states of worry and anxiety.
Instead, our stress is caused by our internal worrying thoughts, which are simply a particular type of thought pattern, nothing more. If we learn simple mindfulness tools to become the master of these worrisome thought patterns, they no longer can run our lives.
Here are four ways to do it:
1. Become the audience.
Instead of being consumed by your thoughts, step back and simply witness them as if you are sitting in the audience of your mind. When a worrisome thought arises, look at it from a detached perspective, without any judgment, and label it: This is a worry thought, I am "just worrying."
By doing this you become present as the witness of your thoughts instead of being completely taken over by them. You now have the power to choose to let it go.
2. Be here now.
Most of our worrisome thoughts occur because we are projecting our mind into the future and imagining something going wrong, which creates the emotion of fear. This fear cannot exist if we anchor ourselves in present moment.
A great way to get back to the present moment is to use the mindfulness tool 5,4,3,2,1. Begin by looking for five things in the room, then touch four objects, smell three things, listen for two sounds, and finally taste one. This practice quiets the mind.
3. Set aside worry time.
Another great way to stop the thoughts of worry that lead to fear and anxiety, is to set your alarm for 9 p.m. at night for “worry time.” All day long, when a worrisome thought pattern begins to loop, simply say to yourself, “I can’t worry about it now, it’s not worry time.” Continue this all day—pushing your thoughts off until the 9 p.m. “worry time alarm” goes off. Then you have 30 minutes of uninterrupted worry time!
Trust me, you won't go more than 30 seconds before you start laughing at the absurdity for sitting down to worry, and you will have saved yourself from a day full of stress!
4. Try hand meditation.
Quite frankly any type of meditation is the best way to become the master of your thoughts, but this particular kind can be done when the worry and anxiety is at its peek.
The practice is to hold one hand in front of you, palm facing towards you. With the index finger of your other hand, trace up the outside length of your thumb while you breath in, pausing at the top of your thumb and then trace it down the other side while you breath out. That’s one breath. Trace up the side of the next finger while you breathe in, pause at the top, and then trace down the other side of that finger while you breathe out. That’s two breaths. Keep going, tracing along each finger as you count each breath. When you get the end of the last finger, come back up that finger and do it in reverse.
So the next time you awake with beating heart, sweaty palms, and obsessive thoughts, turn to these simple tools again and again. Like anything, mindfulness takes practice; you don’t pick up a guitar and become a rock star overnight! With patience and diligence you can actually become the master of your thoughts and settle into a more peaceful and joyful way of living.