Shopping lists. Last minute tasks to complete. Another card you forgot to send! Here is how to stop the mind spin, how to stress less and enjoy Christmas. Yes, sometimes sad and bad things do happen at Christmas, but how we think about the situation can add to our stress or diminish it.
The sixth blog of this CHRISTMAS series by Val Mullally
T is for Thought Minding
Don’t you sometimes wish you could let go the Christmas stress and just relax and enjoy?
“But there’s so much to do!”
The thoughts we tell ourselves add to our stress.
We can ease the stress by noticing our thoughts, because negative, self-defeating thoughts erode our sense of well-being.
It’s often not so much the circumstances that stress us – it’s our thoughts about the situation.
“I’ll never get this finished.”
“The meal’s ruined.”
“But aren’t our thoughts our thoughts?” you may be asking.
We often have ANTs – Automatic Negative Thoughts.
ANTs are thoughts that jump into our heads – that we often react to without assessing them. Negative thoughts can make us reactive, which can cause the other person to react. So our thoughts become self-fulfilling. The good news is we can change our thoughts, when we are aware.
How to Let Go Of Thoughts That Stress
Notice what you are actually saying.
Is it 100% true all the time?
Is this thought helpful or is it winding you up?
To let go of unhelpful thoughts, first we need to recognise them.
Can you spot any of these in your own thought patterns?
Mind Reading ANTs*
“She’s deliberately trying to wind me up.”
“He just wants everything his own way.”
We presume we can read the other person’s mind.
We think we know their intentions are “bad” or uncooperative.
Fortune Telling ANTs*
We predict the worst-case scenario outcomes.
“The day will be a disaster.”
Acknowledge that thought is not true. Consciously rephrase the thought to something that builds hope.
“Even if everything doesn’t go smoothly we will still enjoy ourselves.”
“Always” / “Never” Thinking ANTs*
“He’s always late.” “I can never …”
These words add to our stress and disempower us.
Whenever we notice those words and test the truth of our thoughts, it can help us to gain a more realistic and helpful viewpoint.
“Always late?” If the thought is not true 100% of the time, then it’s not true.
What would be more accurate? “He’s often late” or “He’s sometimes late”.
Change your words for something that reduces your stress.
These often sound like ‘I should have … ’ ‘I must…’ ‘I ought to …’
“I must give them a three-course meal.” “I should order that gift online.”
These “guilt” ANTs need careful testing.
“I ought to be kinder to myself” – probably yes.
“I ought to be doing more” – probably no!
“Guilt” ants make us feel stressed.
Test to see if this guilt causes s a vague thought that just unsettles you without creating any helpful outcome, or if it’s nudging you to take helpful constructive action.
Righteous Judgement ANTs1
We pass judgement on ourselves and on others, causing a sense of comparison and stress, often leading to unhappiness.
e.g. “good” / “bad” ; “right” / “wrong”
“She’s behaving badly”, “I’m right.”
Unless you’re talking about a legal or ethical issue, where there is a defintive right or wrong, recognise that the strong line of “right” or “wrong” is generally stressful.
Find words that are more helpful. Perhaps reword your thought as a question. What happens when you view the situation with compassionate curiosity?
I wonder what might be going on for her that she is behaving that way?”
“I wonder what leads him to think that way?”
Inviting our thoughts and feelings into awareness allows us to learn from them rather than be driven by them. Daniel J. Siegel
If your children’s behaviour is challenging, minding your thoughts will help to calm your reactivity, which will impacts theirs. For helpful insights and practical tips on how to respond rather than react to your children’s behaviour, see my book, “BEHAVE – What To Do When Your Child Won’t – the three pointers to mindful discipline”
What is the impact of my thoughts on myself and on others?
When I change my thoughts,
it changes my feelings,
which in turn impacts my body reaction
which in turn affects my behaviour,
Which in turn affects other people’s behaviour.
Our state of mind can turn even neutral comments into fighting words, distorting what we hear to fit what we fear. Daniel J. Siegel
It’s not that we won’t still have difficult situations to face. It’s how we respond to them, rather than negatively react to them, that can lower our stress levels.
Becoming more aware of the thoughts, feelings ands body sensations evoked by events gives us the possibility of freeing ourselves from habitual, automatic ways of reacting, so that we can, mindfully respond in more skilful ways. Mindfulness notes – Oasis Centre, Dublin
M is for Mindfulness in the next blog in this CHRISTMAS series.
So it’s over to you:
What ANTs do you spot in your inner talk?
Try rephrasing any ANT you spot with words that reduce your stress.
Notice the impact this has on your reactivity and on others.
*. These Automatic Negative Thought categories proposed by Henslin, Earl “This Is Your Brain On Joy”, 2008, Thomas Nelson, USA
1. Added category proposed by Val Mullally – Koemba Parenting