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Paradise in Chaos

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Finding Paradise in Chaos

How to Relieve Stress When You Feel Overwhelmed

Introduction

Do you ever feel like you’re just treading water in life?

Do you ever feel so stressed and so rushed off your feet that you never have time to do the things that you want to do?

Does life feel exhausting, repetitive, endless?

This is how a huge number of us feel and it’s ultimately due to the simple fact that we are doing too much and are too disorganized.

Are You Trying To Do Too Much?

Most of us just have too many commitments and try to do too much.

We’re constantly rushing to put out fires and that means that we never get the opportunity to actually stop and appreciate the lives we have.

What’s more, is that we never manage to create the space or the opportunity to change our lifestyles for the better and start living the lives we want.

You spend every day treading water and just trying to survive.

You have too many plates spinning and you don’t get the opportunity to change that.

What’s The Solution?

Simple: you scale back.


When life becomes too busy and when it becomes too unmanageable, you simply declutter, simplify and optimize.

This applies to every aspect of your life.

It means learning to focus your mind and to enjoy a sense of peace and calm rather than constantly worrying.

It means learning to take control of your environment, so that your home becomes a tranquil haven.

It means removing toxic people from your life. Learning to say no. Reducing the ‘communication overhead’.

It means creating space to breathe and to think. And it means boosting your mood and energy levels so that you can make even more use of that opportunity.

Do you ever find yourself stressed, anxious, or just mentally exhausted? Unfortunately, when you’re stressed out and you’re not mentally calm it can even affect your physical health and overall well-being.

When most people are tired, stressed, or have anxiety, they often go to visit their doctor. . .

…of course, this often leads down a path of medication and other treatments that may provide some temporary relief, but don’t actually give you a permanent solution…

Not to mention, some people are looking for a more natural solution…

The Good New Is, You Can Use Natural Ways To Calm Your Mind…

If you’ve followed the fitness and health industries over the past few years, they’re always coming out with something new…

That’s right…

One of the most effective and NATURAL ways to calm is your mind is through meditation.

Meditation doesn’t cost you any money, can be done almost anywhere, and it’s been scientifically proven to have positive effects on both your mind and your body…

Although meditation is a natural solution that everyone should embrace for calming the mind and improving overall well-being in our busy and hectic world…

There Are Some Misconceptions About Meditation…

Many people think that meditation is about “achieving enlightenment” or that it’s used to recreate the effects of hallucinogenic drugs…

…and many think meditation is a practice related to various religions…

Although it can be all of those things, meditation is all about practicing control over your thoughts.

At the core, meditation is an ancient practice used by billions of people around the world that’s used to focus your thoughts and clear your mind…

In our busy world, it’s often hard to control our thoughts…

Reacting to our environments is often the case, and when you’re reacting, you don’t have control… When you discover how to successfully practice the ancient art of meditation, you can take back control in your day-to-day life and calm your mind…

I’ve been using meditation for years to improve my overall calm and general well-being, and I want you to be able to do the same things…

It’s not hard, as long as you learn from someone that knows what they’re doing…

A Very Quick Guide to Meditation

Meditation is something that all of us can benefit from. And in today’s hectic and busy world, there has never been a more important time for us to give it a go. Unfortunately though, a lot of people don’t really understand what meditation is or how to use it. And many people even find themselves with some kind of prejudice against meditation – assuming that it’s only for people who want to ‘achieve enlightenment’ or that it’s a purely spiritual or religious practice.

What is Meditation?

In fact though, meditation doesn’t have to be about either of those things. Instead, meditation is primarily just the practice of focusing your mind and paying attention. Think of it like weight lifting but for your brain.

There are different types of meditation and these have different end goals. However, the main objective in any case involves focusing your thoughts and choosing what you want to focus on and what you’re going to think. Instead of letting your mind run away with you as you worry about things you can’t change or feel generally stressed, meditation teaches you how to focus on the things that make you happy and how to shut out the things that don’t help.

Types of Meditation

Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this is to introduce some meditation techniques.

One is ‘mindfulness’. Here, the objective is not to stop yourself from thinking but rather just to detach yourself from your thoughts and to become almost like a third party observing those thoughts. The expression often used is that you’re going to watch them ‘drift by like clouds’.

The value in this is that you can prevent your thoughts from controlling your emotions. When you’re scared of heights, you can stop worrying about falling and instead just note that you’re having that thought in a detached manner. Mindfulness is also used by psychologists to help people better understand the contents of their own minds.

Another type of meditation is ‘transcendental’. This is the type that most people are most familiar with and that involves trying to ‘shut out’ your outside thoughts. Instead you’re trying to make your mind completely quiet and often this involves a mantra – a phrase that you repeat over and over.

Eventually, you can use this type of meditation to stop all and any stress: just quiet your brain for a moment of peace and relaxation!

How to Declutter Your Surfaces and Declutter Your Brain

In many ways, the state of your home is a reflection of the state of your mind. What’s more is that this correlation can work the other way around too – so that the state of your mind ends up mirroring the state of your home.

How does this work? Well, when we’re very busy and rushed, we often find that we don’t have time to keep our home tidy and in order. As a result, it ends up looking a mess and we struggle to find things in the morning.

On the other hand though, when we’re on top of things we find that we are able to organize our belongings in a logical manner and stay on top of where everything is.

So with that in mind, one of the very best ways to go about improving your calm and focus is to start by getting your home organized. And one of the best ways to do that is to throw out unnecessary clutter.

The Problem With Ornaments

Most of us have several ornaments and other items in our home that we keep because we think they look nice. They adorn our tables and cupboards and other surfaces and for the most part look good.

But the problem is, the more we get, the more claustrophobic we start to feel. Light can’t move as freely around the room and we just end up feeling very busy and very stressed due to the amount of information that’s there to take in.

What’s worse, is that the more we have on our surfaces, the more there is to clean and tidy. This ends up resulting in our surfaces getting more and more untidy.

What to do About It

So what do you do?

The first tip is to go through your things and to just dispose of 60% of anything on a surface. That sounds like an extreme challenge but in doing this you will now be left with a much higher average quality of item remaining. What’s left will be only the things you really love and they’ll now draw more attention to themselves.

Moreover, having fewer items now means that tidying is a matter of just wiping around – there’s nothing to pick up and nothing to attract dust of its own.

Don’t put these things in boxes though. In fact, dispose of boxes under the bed and on wardrobes too. You’d be surprised what a huge difference this makes to you unconsciously!

How to Organize Your Clothes to Reduce Stress and Overwhelm

You might love your clothes and that’s great. But guess what? They’re quite probably causing you a lot of stress as well.

While it’s a great feeling to have lots of things to wear, the downsides are actually quite serious. For starters, you now have a lot more decisions to make when it comes to deciding what you’re going to wear in the morning. We have a limited capacity to make decisions and the more decisions we make, the worse we become at making them.

What’s more is that having lots of clothes means you have lots of washing. And you have wardrobes and drawers that are stuffed with things you don’t have anywhere to keep. Now when you have a new item you need to store, you’ll find yourself just kind of stuffing it into place and this will result in your clothes just piling up.

The solution? Reduce the amount of clothes you keep and organize what remains. You’ll find you end up dressing better, getting ready faster and feeling far less stressed!

How to Get Rid of Your Clothes

So how do you go about getting rid of clothes when you’re not sure that you can part with any of them?

The first step is to tackle your clothes by category. So get all of your ‘bottoms’ out first. This approach lets you see just how many of each type of clothing you have and many of the items you won’t feel much love for any more. Pick them up and honestly decide if they make you really happy and if you can see yourself wearing them more in future. If not? Throw them out!

Now move on to the next category. Oh and don’t show anyone the clothes you’re getting rid of – often they’ll try and talk you out of it!

Organization

Next, make sure that the remaining clothes are well organized. Try the sideways folding technique for your drawers (so you don’t have to dig through clothes to find what you want) and make sure that you have room to hang everything in your wardrobe. You can get a set of hanging shelves for your wardrobe even to store socks and other underwear and this will make them easy to find.

Lastly, ensure that you have plenty of room for clothes you’re going to put for washing. That might mean having an ‘overflow’ basket which can make a big difference to the piles of clothes on your floor!

The Importance of ‘No’

We’re constantly being told to ‘say yes more’ and to embrace every opportunity that life throws at us. In fact, there is even a popular book and a popular film called Yes Man which is all about saying yes to things and living life more fully as a result.

And this is a very nice idea in theory. In practice though? It’s actually commonly counterproductive and can even end up being destructive!

The Problem With Always Saying Yes

In books like Yes Man, the main character finds himself accepting all kinds of exciting opportunities; going on adventures, meeting new people and learning new skills. That would be nice – but in reality it’s often not how these things pan out. Instead, we find ourselves saying yes more often and ultimately that just means that we go to the pub more and we go on every stag party/hen do.

The result? We get very tired, we spend lots of money and we have less time to spend doing the things we love.

The Power of No

This is where saying ‘no’ comes in.

The problem is that saying ‘yes’ to one thing, ultimately is the same as saying ‘no’ to another. Saying ‘yes’ actually limits your options more than saying no!

When you say yes to a night out for instance, you are actually saying no to a night in – and to a different night out. When you say ‘yes’ to helping someone move, you actually say ‘no’ to working out that evening, or spending time on your new side business.

Now, I’m not going to pretend that this is all really easy. The problem is that many of us feel compelled to say yes to people and as though we’re letting our friends down if we say no. This is a point of view that needs to change though.

While there are some situations where saying yes is the kind and helpful thing to do, we are in no way obligated to always say yes. What’s more, is that we shouldn’t find ourselves feeling guilty for saying no.

The secret is simply to make sure that you know what your priorities are and that you have a reason to say no. In other words, don’t say ‘no’ and then just watch TV – say ‘no’ and then use the time the way you want to.

And there’s a balance to be struck here too. The simple solution? Treat your solo activities with the respect they deserve. Book them into your calendar and then treat them like any other indelible appointment!

The Power of Taking a Walk (And How to Fit Them In)

If you’re trying to live a calmer, less cluttered and less stressful lifestyle, then going for walks is a fantastic way to achieve this.

Walking has a vast number of benefits for your body and your mind which we will look at here. What’s more, is that it’s something anyone can do and that anyone can fit into their routine. Read on to find out more.

The Power of Walking

Going for a walk is right away one of the best things you can do for your health. This is a very gentle and low-impact form of exercise that will help you burn calories and keep your heartrate up. If you sit for long periods during the day, then it’s very important to ensure you are occasionally getting some exercise as otherwise you can actually shorten your lifespan!

What’s more though is that walking has a number of powerful benefits for the brain. When you walk, it causes you to activate your brain’s ‘default mode network’. This is the series of brain areas that come to life when you’re not focusing on anything particular. Using the default mode network allows your brain to recover from lots of focus and it helps you to come up with creative ideas. It’s almost meditative!

This is only then heightened when you additionally start taking walks in scenic areas. Studies show that simply being in the presence of greenery is enough to help us lower our heartrates and to instil a sense of calm. What’s more, it also further enhanced creativity.

If your life feels constantly busy, rushed and hectic, then a walk might just be the perfect escape that your body and mind are crying out for.

How to Fit Walks Into Your Routine

So how can you make this work within your current routine?

One option is to go for more walks while doing other things. A particularly good example of this is speaking with a friend. If you have a friend over for tea, why not suggest catching up while going for a walk? Alternatively, if you are on the phone, why not take it with you for an amble?

Another option is to walk places that you might otherwise have driven or gotten the bus. The old tip is to try getting off of your bus one stop earlier and then just walking that last stretch to work/your home.

Top Reasons to Consider Cutting Back on Television

The vast majority of us walk around in a state that can be described as ‘wired but tired’. That is to say that we’re constantly alert, jittery and focused. We’ve spent all day focused on work, on a screen or one some other kind of technology and we find it very hard to switch off.

At the same time though, we’re also burned out from this experience and find it very difficult to switch off and relax. It’s like you’re a zombie being kept alive on pure caffeine and technology – unable to sleep.

But the problem is that we don’t seem to recognize this. Or at least we don’t recognize the nature of the problem or how to fix it. And as such, we end up making matters worse for ourselves.

For example: if you’ve spent all day working at the computer and you can’t switch off as a result, the last thing you want to do is to then come home and watch another screen. That’s right: I’m talking about the TV and it’s time you cut back!

The Problem With TV

The problem with TV is that it causes us to experience a stress response, very similar to the one that we experience when we’re working or doing anything else that requires lots of focus. The reason for this is firstly that watching TV requires a lot of focus and energy. It’s a moving image that tricks your brain into thinking something important is happening. Your brain produces dopamine and norepinephrine as a result and you end up fixed to the screen.

At the same time, the screen itself also increases cortisol. When you watch the TV, the light that gets produced is very similar to the light created by the sun. As such, your brain thinks it’s day and prevents you from feeling sleepy later on.

Worse, the TV prevents you from talking with family, from letting your mind wander or from just kicking back and relaxing. You’re still ‘on’ right up to the moment you go to bed and you’re missing out on everything around you!

The Answer

The solution is to cut back. That doesn’t mean that you have to cut out TV entirely but just learn how to watch it less and how to avoid the kind of ‘mindless’ TV watching that you really don’t need. Watch things because you want to watch them and make it into an event. Don’t watch TV for the sake of watching TV!

Understanding Flow States and the ‘Default Mode Network’

If you’re trying to cut back and simplify your life, then you really need to understand the impact that your activities have on your brain and how this alters the very chemical balance of your grey matter.

Once you recognize this, you can then start to be more aware of what you’re doing to your mind and of how you can make sure you’re getting the rest and recovery that you need.

Focus, Alert and Stress

Whenever you’re working, whenever you’re being productive and even when you’re playing games or watching TV, your brain is in a state of focus and alert. What this means, is that it’s wired and fixed on what’s going on because it thinks it must be important and must require your focus. In these circumstances, our brain acts just as though we’re facing off against a lion or otherwise doing something that is a matter of life and death. Our brain therefore produces cortisol, dopamine, norepinephrine and we become highly focused on whatever is happening right in front of us. This also causes our heartrate to increase and means blood is directed away from the important-yet-less-pressing functions in our body such as our immune system and digestion. In the short term this makes us more focused and productive, in the long run it takes its toll and makes us ill.

Flow

A flow state is what happens when you’re incredibly engaged with something because it’s dangerous or just fascinating. Similar chemicals to the regular ‘stress’ state are produced alongside others like endorphins and anandamide. In this state, we become so focused on what’s happening in front of us that we stop thinking and lose our inner monologue entirely. This results in heightened performance and feelings of exhilaration. In neuroscience the term for this state is ‘temporohypofrontality’.

Default Mode Network

Conversely, the default mode network is what happens when we’re in the opposite state. This is when our brain is allowed to wander and we find ourselves daydreaming or making plans. It often occurs when walking or when engaging in menial tasks like washing up.

The default mode network is just as important as these other states as it lets us recover and helps us to overcome stress. What’s more, it’s associated with heightened creativity.

The point is not that one of these states is ‘better’ than the other. Rather, we need to get all three in equal doses and everything in between to have a happy, calm and relaxed mind.

Why Energy Management is Often More Important Than Time Management

What’s the secret to getting as much done as possible?

For many of us, the answer seems like it should have to do with time management. If only you could squeeze a little more time out of your day, then you could probably find more space in your schedule to do all those other exciting things you want to do.

Right?

The most extreme example of this is something called ‘polyphasic sleeping’. Here, people who want to absolutely optimize the amount they can get done will actually stop sleeping for 8 hours a night. Instead, they aim to sleep for under an hour a time throughout the day. In doing so, they are then able to spend less total time sleeping and get more time to themselves during the evening. The only problem? They’re exhausted.

And this really is the problem with most attempts at time management.

Time is Not the Problem

Ask yourself why you haven’t done all the things you want to do. Why haven’t you set up that side business? Why don’t you keep the house tidier? Why haven’t you gotten into the shape you want to be?

You might assume that the answer is related to time but in fact it’s much more likely that it’s to do with energy.

In fact, if you look back over the last few days, then you’ll probably find that you had no shortage of time available. Perhaps you spent some time watching TV? Maybe you spent some time getting up slowly in the morning? Perhaps you took a while getting started at work.

All of that is time that you could have spent doing the other things that you wanted to do. So what’s the problem? The problem is that you simply lacked the energy to do those things and you lacked the will power. And guess what? Will-power is related directly to energy. The tireder you are, the harder it is to convince yourself to do things you’re not really in the mood for.

And what all this means is that you’re not going to be productive to your fullest until you learn to manage and optimize your energy levels. Energy is finite and you need to think hard about how you’re going to get the most from yourself without burning out.

Perhaps the best place to start is by looking at activities, foods and other things that can help boost your energy levels!

Why It’s Time to Prioritize

If you want to be happier, more successful or more productive, then it’s absolutely essential that you start to prioritize and decide what you really want out of life and what’s worth chasing after.

That is to say, that you can’t have everything. Or as one old proverb puts it: you can’t chase after two rabbits at once.

This is something that many of us refuse to accept though and the result is that we end up burned out, tired and stressed. What’s worse even is that we end up not getting any of the things that we want.

Consider how you reacted the last time that someone told you they were going to start working out and building muscle. Did you feel happy for them? Or perhaps, did your eyes roll? Did you question whether it was likely to happen?

The Problem

This the unfortunate reality for many people – we just can’t commit to something like a workout routine and the result is that we end up failing and not achieving what we want to.

When we set ourselves the goal of getting into shape, this often involves coming up with an intense training regime that’s going to involve going to the gym a good 5 times a week and working out for an hour at a time. This seems reasonable enough right? On top of that, we’re also going to have to drive to the gym, to get showered, to change our clothes and to eat a healthier diet… No biggie.

But allow me to remind you of something: you’re already stressed and you’re already tired. That’s the whole reason that you’re not already in the incredible shape you want to be! You’re too lethargic at the end of a long day to do anything productive and as such you end up just kind of lying there in front of the TV.

So your plan is to go from that, to a situation here you’re now running working out for several hours on top of it all.

Can you see now why this fails?

The Solution

Instead, you need to think about this in a different way. Consider that you’re probably already as packed as you can be with your routine and with your energy levels. You can’t fit anything new in on top of what you’re already doing daily.

So the only solution? Something has to give. You might give up a class or you might say no to some of your invitations to socialize. But something has to give.

Why You Should Start Keeping a Journal

From Richard Franklin to Winston Churchill, many of history’s greatest achievers have kept a journal or diary at some point in their lives.

Now of course, I’m not saying that journaling is what made these great figures what they were. Nor am I saying that journaling alone will be enough to make you ‘great’. But what I am saying is that they can’t all be wrong. And actually, there are a ton of very valuable benefits to journaling that make it worth your consideration. Here are just some of them…

It’s a Record

When you write a journal, it of course means you have a record of everything you’ve done and this in turn is something you can look back over in order to learn important lessons and to put your life in perspective.

It can sometimes be a great feeling looking back and seeing all the exciting things you’ve done. But if that’s not the experience you get from your journal then perhaps it can highlight that something needs to change. Either way, this lets you honestly appraise your life.

And imagine being able to read over this in 20 years – there will be so much detail that you would otherwise have forgotten! This is a way to immortalize yourself and to hold tighter onto those memories.

What’s more, is that it keeps a record for others and means that they can potentially learn from your experiences.

It’s Meditative

A lot of what most of us do on a regular basis will involve using technology, working on things that make us stressed and otherwise being wired and on the go. Writing a journal at the end of the day is an excellent alternative to those activities that is almost meditative in its ability to encourage focus. It’s quiet, it doesn’t involve a glaring screen and it’s a great way to unwind before bed.

It Can be a Powerful Tool

You can also use a journal as a tool. As well as writing about your day, why not also write down what you ate? Or what you dreamed? Or make a note of each day you worked out? You can even just make a note of your mood. This lets you assess your performance in any goal at a glance and also to get some useful contextual data that might help you to find correlations in your routine and the way you feel/act.

Everything You Need to Know About Panic Attacks in Order to Stop Them

It’s one thing trying to improve your ability to control your own stress response so that you can combat anxiety and improve your health. But it’s quite another when you experience serious panic attacks that leave you crippled and that prevent you from engaging in normal activities.

But in fact the tools you will use to achieve both ends are similar. The difference is just that panic attacks might require a more intense and a more focused approach.

And in either case, understanding the biology behind the experience can be a fantastic tool to help you take control more effectively.

Let’s look at what panic attacks are and how you can take them on head-to-head.

The Basics of Panic Attacks

When you experience any kind of stress, it’s because your sympathetic nervous system is releasing specific hormones and neurotransmitters into your system. Specifically, these are:

  • Adrenaline (epinephrine)
  • Noradrenaline (norepinephrine)
  • Cortisol
  • Testosterone
  • Estrogen
  • Dopamine
  • Serotonin

When these occur together, your experience of pain is dulled, you become more attuned to your senses, your thoughts are focused, your strength increases your muscles contract. Your heartrate accelerates significantly and more blood and oxygen are sent to your muscles.

But the thing is that this increases your overall strength your reflexes and your ability to fight or run. This is a useful response in the right context.

The problem is when you misinterpret these signals and cause a panic attack. What happens in this case is that you notice yourself get anxious and you become worried that this is going to cause you embarrassment or make you faint (perhaps because you have previous experience with panic attacks). You begin to hyperventilate and this combined with the elevated heartrate causes chest pain. And some people mistake that chest pain for the signs of a heart attack.

All this makes you more anxious and that in turn means you ramp up the response even more. Your heartrate increases more, you get more anxious and eventually you might even start to get dizzy from all that oxygen.
The Solution

The solution then is to recognize that you’re having a panic attack but not to give it any power over you. And the way you do this is to try and detach yourself from it and essentially continue to go about your normal business. Of course this is easier said than done but as soon as you stop letting it control you and as soon as you aren’t afraid of panic attacks, you’ll find they end a lot more quickly and eventually they can stop happening entirely.

Cognitive behavioural therapy can help with this, as can using the technique known as AWARE which is simply a set of steps to remove yourself from the experience and to avoid being afraid of the stress.
Most people will have a panic attack at some point in their lives but if you can understand what is happening and control your emotions you’ll find it can disappear as quickly as it arrived.

How Anxiolytics Work and Whether You Should Use Them

If you can control stress, calm your mind and avoid anxiety then you’ll find it has huge benefits for both your body and your mind. The stress response actually makes us stronger, faster and even smarter in the short term. But over time, this can place a serious strain on the body that eventually wears you down and leaves you more susceptible to illness and other problems.

This is why people who experience a lot of anxiety might consider the use of anti-anxiety medications called anxiolytics. But what exactly do these do? How are they affecting your mental state? And should you use them? Let’s look at the way they work in more detail.

What is an Anxiolytic?

Anxiolytics are any drugs that reduce the stress response and to do this, they alter the neurotransmitters and hormones that the brain produces in order to encourage more calm and to act even as a mild sedative.

One of the main neurotransmitters that anxiolytics act on is GABA. GABA stands for Gamma Aminobutyric Acid and is a neurotransmitter that suppresses neuronal activity. That is to say that when it is released, it prevents neurons from firing. This in turn causes you to experience few thoughts and ‘slower’ thinking. It lowers the heartrate and it makes you less attuned to your surroundings.

GABA is one of the neurotransmitters that is affected by alcohol in fact and is responsible for some of the symptoms that we associate with being drunk. This is why some people will self-medicate with alcohol for stress or social anxiety.

Alternatively, some anxiolytics work by increasing serotonin. Serotonin is the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter and this is also how anti-depressants work such as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors).

The Problem

To increase GABA, most anxiolytics work by blocking the reuptake of GABA in the brain so that there is more of it free in the brain. When you do this over a long period of time however, it causes changes in the brain and adaptations. Specifically, because there is too much GABA, the brain stops producing as much of it itself and decreases the number of receptors. Now you need to take larger doses of anxiolytics to experience the same heightened levels of GABA and now you will likely feel even more anxious when you’re not using them. This is called ‘tolerance and dependence’ and it can lead to addiction.

What’s more, is that anxiolytics do not address the thinking that leads to the release of those hormones in the first place – it deals with the symptoms rather than dealing with the cause.

And then there are the short term, immediate side effects associated with anxiolytic use such as drowsiness and confusion.

So should you stop using anti-anxiety medication? This is very easy to say but not so easy if you experience frequent and severe bouts of anxiety. You should always listen to your doctor’s advice. But just know that this medication is not a long term solution. Focus on therapy in conjunction with medication in order to address the root cause of the issue more permanently.

How Martial Arts Use Mushin to be At Peace and Unstoppable

If you’re looking to promote a calmer mind and a healthier body, then you could do a lot worse than trying martial arts.

This might sound like a contradiction. After all, martial arts are all about fighting – and that hardly screams ‘calm’.

But that’s only the mainstream perception of martial arts. If you actually look deeper and start to learn more about these disciplines, you learn that martial arts are about discipline, calmness and defence. There is no aggression here.

And mushin is perhaps the ultimate example of this – think of it like fighting in a meditative state!
What is Mushin?

Mushin can be loosely translated as ‘no mind’ and it’s something that you may actually have some familiarity with.

If you’ve ever been playing a sport and you’ve found yourself become completely fixated on that sport, then you might have noticed external distractions and other thoughts simply falling away. All that’s left is you and the game and this results in heightened reflexes, accuracy and performance. You stop thinking and let your body take over from you – and suddenly you become much better at combat.

This is something that scientists have been very interested in recently. In science, this is known as a ‘flow state’ or more accurately ‘temporo-hypofrontality’. In this state, your prefrontal cortex closes down and you’re left simply with your reflexes.

In martial arts, this is the goal during combat and it allows you to think without thinking and to become effective, efficient and harmonious.

Pushing Hands and No Mind

One way this is achieved in martial arts like Aikido, is through the rigorous training of technique. Every time we practice any movement whether it’s a dance, a fighting form, or the movements necessary to play an instrument, this causes neurons to fire in the brain (this is called an ‘action potential’). Each time we repeat the same movement, the same neurons fire. And each time this happens, the strength of that connection strengthens (through a process called myelination) and this makes it easier for those neurons to fire next time.

Ultimately, this results in the connections strengthening to the point where one neuron firing causes an automatic cascade and we can complete complex movements entirely without thought. It’s this rigorous training and practice that eventually allows the mind to step back and the body to act purely on instinct and reflex. And this can feel incredibly enlightening.

This can also be trained through something called ‘pushing hands’. Here, one opponent stands opposite another and pushes them gently. The defender then needs to react to that Kinetic energy by moving their upper body to prevent it from pushing them over and they then return the energy back by pushing their opponent. At no point should it be ‘force against force’ but rather it should be like two willow trees swaying in the wind.

With practice, an Aikidoka can develop this ability to the point where they react entirely without thought and can move out of the way of any attack.

How to Get Started With Meditation

Meditation has a huge number of incredible benefits – it decreases stress, it improves the memory, it aids mental calmness and much more.

And on his podcast, author Tim Ferriss finds that the one thing that most of his high-performing guests have in common is meditation.

The only problem is that meditation is also very difficult to get started with – or at least that’s the perception. Meditation often seems almost ‘mystical’ and can come with religious connotations. It involves a big commitment of time and a lot of discipline. And many people will work hard at it and still not see any results.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re keen to give meditation a go and to see the results for yourself, here are some ways to get started…

The Right Approach

The first tip is simply to approach meditation in the right way and to have the right expectations. If you’re expecting to become enlightened overnight, then you’ll be disappointed. Likewise, you shouldn’t expect that something is going to ‘happen’.

Instead, try to view meditation – to begin with at least – as a tool for helping you relax and just feel a little more at ease. The idea here is to let your thoughts pass by without engaging with them and to thereby get a ‘break’ from stress and anxiety and busy thoughts. Eventually, this can become a very relaxing place to ‘escape’ to whenever you need to take five.

And if you practice it regularly, the benefits will start to come.

With this in mind, try not to be too harsh on yourself. You’re allowed to scratch your face and you’re allowed to occasionally have distracting thoughts – just keep recentering and keep bringing yourself back.

The Right Strategy

To do this then, try just sitting down somewhere quiet and for ten minutes let your mind relax. Don’t engage with thoughts and instead just be aware of your body in space – and of any sounds you might notice in the background. Don’t ‘do’ anything, just ‘be’.

If you find this hard, then you can use something external to focus the mind. That might mean counting your breaths, or it might mean watching a candle flame. Another method is to use ‘worry beads’ which you can roll between a finger and thumb absent mindedly.

Tools

Another great tool to help you get the hang of meditation faster is the Headspace app. This app provides simple meditation sessions that you can digest in small chunks and will talk you through mindfulness. Another option is to use something like Mindwave. Mindwave is an EEG machine that can read your brain waves and thereby assess the level of activity in your mind. This is a very useful tool for gamifying the process of meditation – but it’s not cheap so keep that in mind.

In fact, you can even try using virtual reality in order to combat stress and that would allow you to visit a ‘happy place’ in a much more tangible way!

How to Use ‘Fear Setting’ to Become Fearless

You have far more control over your fear and your stress than you probably realize. A lot of us think that we are at the mercy of our brains and don’t realize that in fact we control the emotional response we want to give.

When you’re stressed, it’s because you’re focusing on all the things that could go wrong. This is essentially you telling your body ‘I need to be stressed’. And when you do that, you trigger a sudden and powerful hormonal response. And if you don’t believe this is how it works then just consider the power of the placebo – this lets us fool ourselves into the most efficient hormonal response simply through belief.

You can do the same thing by removing the stress surrounding something and by telling yourself ‘I don’t need to be stressed’. So how do you do that? One option is by using Tim Ferriss’ ‘Fear Setting’ technique. Read on to find out how that works:

What is Fear Setting?

Fear setting is so named because it is based on goal setting. The idea in goal setting is to write down all your goals and how you’re going to achieve them. By writing them down, you make them concrete and you actually work out how to accomplish them.

Fear setting is similar and as counter-intuitive as it might sound, making your fears concrete can be very useful.

Because very often, we think about something we’re afraid of and we don’t really realize why it scares us. But if you use fear setting you can find the exact cause for the fear or the stress and you can look at it in a more realistic and scientific manner. In fear setting, you do this by writing down a) how likely each eventuality is to actually happen and b) what you would do if it were to happen. In doing that, you can rob it of its power over you.

And once you do this, very often you find that there really is nothing to be afraid of. Without wanting to be a cliché… there really is nothing to fear except fear itself.

How to Remove Your Fear of a New Job

Let’s take starting a new job as an example. This is something you maybe want to do but you might be frozen by fear or by anxiety.

So ask yourself: what are you really afraid of?

Perhaps:

  • Losing your old job and not having any work to come back to
  • Upsetting your partner and being divorced
  • Ending up on the streets with no money and no prospects

But now be honest about how likely these are to happen – most of them are pretty extreme. What’s more is that you can remove the likelihood of each one happening in a number of ways. For example, if you don’t leave your current job until you’ve been accepted somewhere else, then there’s no chance of being jobless. Likewise, if you did lose your job you could always take up unskilled work in the meantime. Or stay with your parents.

As you can see, there’s very little to be afraid of!

How Your Body and Mind Are Intimately Linked Through Your Hormones

In the book Calm Mind, Healthy Body, we discuss in detail the importance of having a calm mind and we look at how controlling and calming your thoughts can ultimately improve your health by removing the stress response.
But did you know that this also works just as potently the other way around? That is to say that your health can also impact on your stress levels? Even your hunger can impact on stress – which in turn impacts on hunger again. It’s a complex interplay and in a moment, we’ll see more about this works and why your lifestyle is a key factor in controlling your stress.

What Happens When You Eat

If you’re stressed right now, then one method you might be able to use to fix that is to eat more. When you eat, your blood sugar spikes. This is then in turn followed by a spike in insulin, which triggers the body to remove the sugar from the blood along with any nutrients.

If you’ve eaten carbs (which provide the fastest sugar spike) then you will also have tryptophan in the blood. Tryptophan is an amino acid that also happens to be a building block of the neurotransmitter ‘serotonin’. Because tryptophan can cross the brain barrier and because it gets left behind by the insulin response, this then leads to a sudden spike in serotonin in the brain and you feel very good.

This is why you feel in a good mood after you’ve eaten!

What’s more, is that serotonin eventually converts into melatonin – the sleep hormone. That’s why everyone always falls asleep after Christmas dinner!

What Happens When You Get Hungry

But let’s say you haven’t eaten for a while. What happens then?

Well, you now have very low levels of tryptophan in your brain and this in turn increases cortisol – there is no way to impact a single neurotransmitter in isolation; levels of one will always impact on levels of the other.

Cortisol then replaces serotonin and this increases the production of ghrelin – the hunger hormone. That’s what makes your stomach start to rumble. It also increases stress and triggers anxious thoughts. This is why we get ‘hangry’ and why you’re ‘not you when you’re hungry’.

Other Things That Impact on Your Mood

There are plenty of other ways we can impact on our levels of neurotransmitters and hormones too though.

For example, when you wake up first thing in the morning you will have been fasting all through the night. At this point your serotonin levels are incredibly low and you have high cortisol making you stressed. At the same time, the light from the sun also increases the release of cortisol which wakes you up (stress hormones are stimulatory whereas relaxation hormones tend to be sedative). Cortisol removes melatonin from the brain and also widens the veins via nitric oxide.

Then there are other things you can do: exercise for instance is well known to increase serotonin and other endorphins and boost the mood. It’s time to stop thinking of your brain as an isolated thing!

The Basics of CBT for Eliminating Stress

Whether you have normal levels of moderate anxiety, or you experience large amounts of stress leading to panic attacks and health problems, CBT is the number one tool for dealing with it. CBT stands for ‘cognitive behavioural therapy’ and is the preferred tool for therapists trying to deal with all manner of different psychological disorders.

This is partly because CBT has a huge amount of evidence supporting its effectiveness. But what also makes CBT so useful is the fact that it is portable and affordable. CBT involves teaching techniques which can be learned even remotely over the internet. This means you can teach yourself the techniques and be incredibly effective at controlling your emotions and your stress responses.

How it Works

The basic idea behind CBT is that we ‘think ourselves’ into our mental states. Associations and conditioning partly affect our emotional response to stimuli but so too does what we think.

For example, when you’re afraid of talking in public, it’s probably because you are thinking of all the things that could go wrong. You maybe think ‘people will laugh at me’, or ‘what if I stutter’ or ‘what if I faint?’. Thinking these things – and visualizing them as we tend to do – can be enough to trigger the release of hormones or other hormones and this then makes us panic and possibly even causes us to make those mistakes!
The trick then is to change those thoughts so that you no longer believe those things will happen. And if you can do that, then you can completely remove the fear and the response.

Cognitive Restructuring

The way you are taught to do this in CBT is through something called ‘cognitive restructuring’. This is a set of tools that you can utilize in order to ‘reprogram’ your thoughts and change your beliefs.

One example of this is something called ‘thought challenging’. Here, you simply challenge the negative thoughts that are causing you to be stressed or afraid by looking at how realistic they are. Would people really laugh at you if you stuttered? In all likelihood no – they would be sympathetic. Are you really likely to faint? Probably not.

Another very useful tool is something called ‘hypothesis testing’. Here you don’t just convince yourself that your fear is unlikely – you actually prove it to yourself to make sure you really believe it.

So how might you do that? One example is that you might put yourself in the situation you are afraid of and see what happens. So in this case, that might mean giving a speech in front of people and then purposefully stuttering to see if people react badly. Just remind yourself: it really doesn’t matter what they think. Now let yourself stand there and try to reduce stress. When you see that there is no negative outcome, you’ll remove the stress entirely.

Finally, CBT also incorporates meditation, exposure therapy and other known techniques to give you a powerful tool set for overcoming stress, phobias and more.

What is Meta Cognition?

Meta cognition simply means thinking about thinking. This simply means being aware of how your thoughts work as well as being aware of what your thoughts are doing at any given time.

This is split into two different ideas: metacognitive knowledge (knowledge of your own thoughts) and metacognitive regulation (control over your own thoughts using various strategies).

In theory, learning to better control your own thoughts can help you to improve your self-knowledge and to tap into the full potential of your brain at any given time. Let’s look at how you can do that.

Some Things You Didn’t Know About Meta Cognition

Firstly, what would be a good place to start with meta cognitive knowledge? A good place to start would be with the biology that underlies the way your brain works. By understanding this, you can know what’s actually going on inside your brain at any given time when you experience certain things or do certain things.

This means learning about the role of neurotransmitters and hormones and how they impact on your emotional state and also your ability to focus, to remember and to relax.

It also means learning about the nature of thought itself. This is a subject people don’t discuss that often but it’s filled with interesting titbits. For example, a sapir-whorf hypothesis states that we think in ‘language’ and that by changing the language we think in, we can actually upgrade our thoughts. For example, if you could think with shorter words you might be able to think faster. Likewise, choosing certain language could potential impact your emotions – so changing your vernacular could be a good strategy.

But then there are others that say language is unimportant. More important is the way we visualize what words mean or even feel what they mean by feeling what it would be like to enact a particular story we’re listening to for example. This is called ‘embodied cognition’ and it’s another very compelling school of thought.

How to Regulate Thought

Once you understand the nature of thought and how thoughts lead to learning, associations and the release of hormones and neurotransmitters, it can be useful to start thinking about the tools you can use to harness that knowledge.

One great example is CBT. This is ‘cognitive behavioural therapy’ which is a set of psychotherapeutic tools that are used to give people more control over their thinking. Self-hypnosis and neurolinguistic programming are similar examples of frameworks and tools for changing your thoughts. Likewise, so are different approaches to psychology such as psychotherapy.

Meditation is likewise the practice of controlling thought and also of being able to distance yourself from your thoughts.

There are various ways you can directly and indirectly impact on your emotions too. One example is ‘priming’ which basically involves watching films, listening to stories or engaging in activities you know will stimulate certain emotions just before you try and use them. Another is to use power poses or facial feedback to try and trick your body into acting the emotion you want to feel.

Why Stress is Really Bad for You

You’ve probably been told before that stress is really bad for you. It’s something that is constantly rammed down our throats and we’re constantly being reminded how stress can cause heart problems, cause weight gain and generally cause all manner of problems.

This is not news then. But what we don’t get told so often is precisely why stress is so bad for us or what it actually does to negatively impact on our health. Read on then and we’ll look at the reasons why stress is actually such a problem and what you can do to prevent it – or at least to limit the negative consequences.

Stress and Your Physiology

The first thing to note is that stress has a profound and direct effect on your physiology. That is to say that it increases your heart rate, it increases muscle tension and it causes your blood to actually thicken. All of this is intended to make us more efficient at combat and better able to run away in order to escape danger. This is all controlled by the body releasing specific hormones – and those include dopamine, adrenaline, cortisol and glutamate among others. These are our ‘stress hormones’ (though some of them are more accurately described as neurotransmitters).

As the heart rate increases and the blood vessels dilate, more blood is sent specifically to the muscles and to the brain with the intention of enhancing focus and physical performance.

This is great news again for fighting and for getting away from danger. But what it also means is that blood is being directed away from your other systems – away from your immune system for example and away from your digestion. When you’re being chased by a lion, or falling off a mountain, those things just don’t really matter quite so much!

The Long Term Problem

The problem then comes when this is allowed to continue over a longer period of time. In the wild, chronic stress didn’t really exist: we wouldn’t have to worry about things like debt or having a mean boss!

And when stress doesn’t go away, that means that your immune system and your digestion never get the attention they need. This is why you can end up getting heartburn or becoming ill when you’re constantly stressed.
Meanwhile, your body is consistently releasing adrenaline and your heartrate is consistently beating hard. Eventually this can become a problem as well as you become more and more likely to suffer a heart attack. And remember, your blood pressure has also gone up – making you significantly more likely to experience very high blood pressure.

Likewise, this prolonged state of arousal can lead to a number of other issues. For instance, the heart working this hard for this long can potentially put a lot of strain on you and maybe even lead to a heart attack. Likewise, the constant secretion of adrenaline can eventually lead to ‘adrenal fatigue’. At this point, the body has exhausted its supply of adrenaline, leaving you exhausted and potentially even depressed.

Conclusion

Why Stress Isn’t Always a Bad Thing – And How to Tap Into a Flow State

Your brain releases a large number of hormones and neurotransmitters in response to your cognition. When you are in danger, this leads to the release of dopamine, adrenaline and serotonin to help make you more alert, stronger and faster.

This is the fight or flight response and it’s you at your most powerful.

The problem is that many of us are stressed a lot of the time now and we don’t know how to turn off that fight or flight response. Thus we try to eliminate stress and think we would be a lot happier if we could.

But the reality is that stress isn’t a ‘bad thing’. Rather, stress is a valuable tool that we should tap into when necessary. The key is not to eliminate stress but rather to control it. In this post, we will look at some ways you can do that.

What is a Flow State?

A great example of stress as a positive thing is the flow state. Flow states are states of heightened concentration, increased focus and lightning reflexes. Often they are engaged when we partake in extreme sports, or when we’re completely focused on our work or a conversation.

But essentially, the neurotransmitters associated with flow states are very similar to those associated with stress. The only real difference is that you are producing more anandamide (the ‘bliss’ hormone) and more serotonin. In other words, the only real difference is that you are enjoying the experience rather than being afraid of it.

So if you can tap into that when you’re next stressed, then in theory you can experience those same heightened reflexes and attention whenever you need them.

The key is simply to try and see the stressful situation not as something scary but rather as an opportunity to learn and to develop yourself further. View it as a challenge and your body will adapt accordingly.

Eustress

Another example of ‘positive stress’ is what’s known as eustress.

Eustress is the type of stress that motivates us to do things when we need to. For example, eustress is the type of stress you experience when you have an exam coming up. This may not feel very nice – but that stress is actually what stops you from spending all day sleeping and motivates you to get up and revise. Studies show that people with no stress response don’t succeed as well in life and end up letting their talents go to waste.
This is something to note next time you need a kick up the rear – just remind yourself why what you’re doing is important and why you need to focus on it. If you can do this, then you can tap into the positive power of stress and stop seeing it as your enemy.

The rest of the time? Just try to distance yourself from that stress response and tell your body ‘thanks but no thanks’. If you remind yourself why you don’t need to be stressed, often this is enough to do it!

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About the Author

Mark Aquino, RN, MHA is registered nurse in CA, USA with experience in mental health. His own past battles with anxiety and depression led him to working in psychiatrist hospital settings in the Los Angeles region to help others get their lives back and thrive. A majority of the patient population that come in are either homeless or struggling financially, but they have potential to succeed even at their worst moments if only they find the right guidance and counsel to shift their mindset. You don’t need to be homeless or a patient to benefit from a change in mindset. There are many people that struggle in silence with the lack of progress to their biggest goals and can stand to profit from a little guidance from someone who has been there, gone through it, and succeeded.

On top of that, Mark also holds a Masters in Health Administration with a focus on business, entrepreneurship, and marketing since 2011. He is married, owns Factal.net, and lives happily with his wife and daughter. He helps people lead more productive and successful lives to be more valuable members of society.

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