The same thoughts keep percolating at the back of your mind, your mind is stuck on a loop, and you can't think straight long enough to make it stop. Music, exercise, cleaning, working—nothing stops the whirl and tumble.
I confronted this situation last week, working on moving. I wasn't moving far—just from one side of a mountain to the other—but the event was tied up in many other significant life changes. I was stressed for a lot of reasons, and this was just the straw that broke the camel's back.
When I'm stressed, my mind tends to get loud—what ifs, catastrophic thinking, pessimism, the whole battery. But after the move, when life was supposed to get back to normal, I still couldn't stop the runaway train.
I was frustrated with myself and with my circumstances, making no progress in any direction, and there, in the mess of it all, I had a moment of stillness. I had a life-changing insight. I realized that awareness is gratitude.
I had been striving so hard to get back my inner peace that I had circumnavigated it entirely. So, I took a moment to acknowledge my gratitude for the inner calm I'd achieved before and knew was waiting for me in gratitude. I started to feel better almost immediately.
Centering myself in gratitude allowed me to make necessary decisions and balance my daily needs with the demands of a new life. It helped me find the perspective to be a source of encouragement to others around me.
When you're stuck in stress mode, here are the clear, simple steps you need to guide yourself back to center:
1. Acknowledge your thoughts and let them go.
It's easy to feel incapable when you're struggling to keep your thoughts in check. But you’re fine—it happens to everyone. And it’s a challenge that reminds us of the importance of inner quiet. Give yourself a break. Sneak in a little self-hug. Cry if you need to cry. Then, accept all of your former thoughts. That's what gives you the power to change them.
2. Express your gratitude.
Once you learn to be grateful for your inner quiet, this practice can have an almost magical effect on you. Speak (in your head or aloud) your gratitude to whatever higher power you believe in. Then, try to experience that gratitude on a physical level—cellularly, molecularly, chemically. Feel silence surround you with a silver cloud of pure potential. At this point, your thoughts become drops on placid water. You'll feel complete calm.
3. Find focus and excitement in creative possibilities.
Just as art and architecture need space to be beautiful, so do your thoughts. When you get bogged down in mind chatter, it deprives you of the mental and emotional energy you need to synthesize all the data from your environmental inputs and create or express insight or beauty. When you are centered and at peace, you make the necessary space for creativity to flourish.
If you’ve had a hard time with Step 2, feel grateful in advance for the insight that will inevitably come in the space of inner calm and for all the beauty you’ve created up to this point. Even that can help you get closer to the feeling of calm.
Once your feelings of gratitude are flourishing, begin again from a place of peace. Start the day over from wherever you are. It makes all the difference.