How to get out of your head in stressful situations

How to get out of your head in stressful situations

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle is one of those trendy new-age spirituality books that many of you have likely heard of. I’m sure there are plenty of blog posts summarizing it and book reviews either praising or hating it. (Here’s mine.)

So in this post, I’ll skip the full summary and just focus solely on the number one thing I took away from the book: a super simple and practical tool that helps get me out of my head in stressful or anxious situations. To do that, let’s first get into some background for those who haven’t read the book.

You are not your mind

Tolle writes about what he calls “watching the thinker”, which is paying attention to the voice inside your head, but doing so as an impartial witness. Doing this allows you to recognize that you are not that voice, and thus you don’t have to entertain nor agree with everything it says.

So when you listen to a thought, you are aware not only of the thought but also of yourself as the witness of the thought. … You feel a conscious presence — your deeper self — behind or underneath the thought, as it were. The thought then loses its power over you and quickly subsides, because you are no longer energizing the mind through identification with it. This is the beginning of the end of involuntary and compulsive thinking.

When I’m in a stressful situation, whether I’ve just committed a social faux pas, or I’m dwelling on a personal failure, the common theme is that my mind will likely be racing. This very much feels involuntary and difficult to turn off.

So what’s to be done?

The single most vital step on your journey toward enlightenment is this: learn to disidentify from your mind.

This of course is a process that takes practice to master, but I have noticed immediate effects even from the first time I tried to witness my mind as separate from myself. It’s like being afraid of the huge monster until you see that it’s just a tiny bug’s shadow projected onto the wall. After that, you couldn’t convince yourself to be scared even if you tried.

One day you may catch yourself smiling at the voice in your head, as you would smile at the antics of a child. This means you no longer take the content of your mind all that seriously, as your sense of self does not depend on it.

There’s an important implication here that no matter how “enlightened” we become, our mind will always come up with negative, paranoid, or preposterous content. It’s not that this will change, but rather that we will no longer identify with it, no longer assume its validity, and will go as far as to smile at how outlandish it is.

You’re not your emotions either

Mind, in the way I use the word, is not just thought. It includes your emotions as well as all unconscious mental-emotional reactive patterns. Emotion arises at the place where mind and body meet. It is the body’s reaction to your mind — or you might say, a reflection of your mind in the body. For example, an attack thought or a hostile thought will create a build-up of energy in the body that we call anger.

Just as we easily identify with the thoughts our mind has, we also fall into the trap of identifying with how we feel.

I am angry. I am sad. Instead, we can frame it as merely an emotion we feel, not something we are. Feelings come and go.

The question

So, here it is.  With an awareness that you are not your mind, the next time you’re stressed:

Make it a habit to ask yourself: What’s going on inside me at this moment?

Take a moment and just observe. What thoughts are coming up? What emotions am I feeling? Is there any physical response happening?

An important note here is, “don’t analyze, just watch.” Maintain a separateness from your mind as an outside observer. Then “feel the energy of the emotion.” Remember that emotions are the body’s natural reaction to your mind. They are not to be judged, but merely observed. It’s okay they are happening.

This reminds me of a quote that was shared with me the other day:



It’s okay to have a meltdown.  It’s okay that your mind will have negative, self-defeating thoughts. It’s okay that emotions will arise from those thoughts, and that you will feel physical discomfort sometimes.

Let me summarize the process. Focus attention on the feeling inside you. Know that it is [accumulated pain] . Accept that it is there. Don’t think about it — don’t let the feeling turn into thinking. Don’t judge or analyze. Don’t make an identity for yourself out of it. Stay present, and continue to be the observer of what is happening inside you.

To be able to pause for a moment in a stressful situation and take an honest look at what’s really going on inside of your mind is to give yourself a real chance. If you can’t break the identification with yourself and your mind, you have no chance. You will be a slave to whatever irrational thoughts come up. You will reduce yourself to being your emotions.

Using this technique has completely changed my perspective. As someone who tends to over-analyze and worry, being able to step outside of that has been like opening a window in a smoke-filled room. I can breathe. I have hope. Everything will be okay.

Let me know if you try this technique and how it works for you!


5 Self Love Affirmations

I was reading Flamidwyfe’s Blog and was inspired by her post on 5 affirmations.  So, I took to Pinterest and found 5 affirmations I liked best from my “Truth” board, and thought I’d share them.

The things I post on my Truth board are things that I think are very true ways of looking at life – but they are often the things I most easily forget.  The ones below especially inspire me to live my life the way I want to.  Maybe they’ll inspire you, too?

If you make a post of 5 affirmations, let me know!


Last night I posted that I had found a blog post that I really related to.  I didn’t share it at the time because I felt like it would be sharing too much, since it describes with tremendous accuracy how I have been feeling and some possible analysis of it.  But now I feel like, why not share it?

So here it is.

11 life experiences everyone should have

(a.k.a. my life story, haha.  Be prepared to learn a lot about me!)

These are some experiences that I have had that have greatly shaped my life.  I can’t even imagine who I would be had I not had some of these experiences.  They have changed me so much and have molded the way I think and see the world.

This list may be a bit different than the typical “11 life experiences everyone should have” or “11 things to do before you die” type lists, but I have benefited from them, and would suggest that either you try and have them, or just absorb the lessons I have learned from them.

In no particular order:

1. Be a waitress

Or work in the service industry somehow.  When I was a little kid, I remember being impatient with waitresses sometimes (if only in my thoughts).  I had no idea how difficult the job is (and that’s before even factoring in all the rude customers.)  I have since been a waitress in a nice restaurant, a bartender in that same restaurant, and a cashier/server in a coffee house/more casual restaurant.

It is my belief that until one has been a waitress, one does not know, understand, appreciate, nor respect what it means to be a waitress.  You may be different and not need to experience this occupation for yourself, but I know my mentality completely changed once I lived it for myself.  Now when I go out to eat, I’m much more tolerant of delays in bringing food, or of a scatterbrained approach to our table.  I tip generously (because I know how it can make or break your night when you get an awesome table or a mean table.)  But beyond those things, its my change of attitude toward servers, and toward people in the service industry in general.  I have a lot more respect for them, their job, and their place in their life.  I’ve had coworkers who had kids and a mortgage, and weren’t making much more than minimum wage.  Its a tough place to be in.

2.  Get sick from alcohol

This one is two-fold.  Firstly, its just an interesting feeling and an interesting right of passage, in a sense.  But secondly, this experience taught me compassion.  Feeling nauseous, and especially feeling nauseous in public, late at night, when you’re an hour away from home because that’s where the nearest club is… is not the best feeling.  Feeling nauseous at a friend’s sleepover when you’re not in your own bed and aren’t familiar with the house and are trying not to wake anyone… is not the best feeling.  And even feeling nauseous when you’re safe in your dorm room and really didn’t have much to drink at all, yet somehow… is not the best feeling.

There seems to be a lack of respect towards people who do not handle alcohol well.  The concept of being a “light-weight” isn’t usually desirable.  I’ve had female friends look to the floor as they admit it.  What, your body doesn’t respond well to poison?  Imagine that.

The thing is, I have gotten sick when I hadn’t even had much at all.  It wasn’t that I overdid it or couldn’t handle it.  And that’s what made it even more annoying.  I would see these people binge drinking and being perfectly fine the next day, and I couldn’t even get tipsy before feeling ill.  And I have a few friends who have had similar experiences.  As for me now, I’ve stopped drinking certain things, or combining them with certain foods, etc., and I am fine.  But I am definitely compassionate when I hear friends share their stories.  …Or when someone succumbs to peer pressure on her 21st and just does too many shots.  Oh, to be young again.

3. Break up

This is something that everyone will go through, most likely.  But until its happened to you (and you didn’t have the confidence of, “whatever, we’ll be back together in a week anyway” to get you through it), you won’t understand how painful it can be.  Its not so much a pain, really, but more of a… discomfort.  Like, a really, really uncomfortable discomfort.  The kind that changing your position or doing something else wont take away.  The kind you just have to ride out and hope it will change eventually.

I had had break ups before, but wasn’t really phased by them.  My friends would tell me of their heartache and I would advise them very matter-of-factly – in a loving way, sure, but not a very patient or compassionate way.  I now understand that logic can’t shake you.  And you probably don’t want to be shaken, because you just can’t handle anymore hard-hitting truths right now.  You don’t want to feel better.  You just need to sort of wallow in your sadness and maybe be in denial for awhile.  And the next time a friend goes through a break up, I’ll know that.

4. Go to college

I am so, so grateful I went to college.  (I am almost as grateful that I didn’t graduate from college.)

There are so many ways to get one’s college fix: start freshman year in the dorms, live at home,  take a gap year, go to community college, take classes online, jump straight into a career and start college when you’re 40…

The road I took was to go straight to college at 18, and live in the dorms.  And for me, that was perfect.  I’m not even talking about the classes, because that’s not really what college is about.  I’m talking about the scariness of moving out from your parents’ house; moving into a hallway full of girls and its like a pajama party all semester; walking to meals together and commenting on the food quality; meeting new friends and seeing how people so different from you (you mean not everyone is the same?) could end up at the same place at the same time.

Had I taken a gap year or anything else, I wouldn’t have been a freshman with all the other freshmen.  And that would not be the same.  (And I know, because two years later as a junior I had transferred to a new school and was in the dorms with freshmen, and not only did I not fit in but I didn’t care to try, as they were, of course, only 18-year-olds.)  Yes, it is my opinion that freshman year as an 18 year old in the dorms is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Even coming second semester is too late.  The newness and bonding has already been experienced by everyone else.

There are tons and tons and tons of life experiences, and I don’t hope to make you sad upon reading this if you missed the freshman dorm experience.  But for me anyway, that was a one time thing.  But luckily, there are many more opportunities to meet and bond with people, and experience something totally new and different, all together.  Hopefully I’ll have some more as well.

5. Make a big move

When I was 19, I moved from Iowa to Los Angeles.  One of my best friends from high school (back in my place of origin, northern California) had just gotten into UCLA, and on a whim, suggested I move out there with her to be roommates.  Also on a whim, I agreed.  It was scary (although not nearly as scary as it could have been, since I wouldn’t be living alone, and since my parents were paying my share of the rent) but boy was it thrilling!  And it showed me that I could do it.  Now the idea of moving across country (or maybe even to a different country) sounds like something I could do, maybe even by myself.  It taught me that I can navigate a strange new city, coordinate bus route schedules, do my own grocery shopping and cooking, pay bills on time, and keep an apartment [relatively] clean.  So many firsts for me!  Oh, and I got my first credit card, then, too.  Again, my parents were paying for things, but I’m still impressed that I was able to pay the bills on time and do all those things myself, even if it wasn’t with my money.  I learned a lot of responsibility that year, and gained a ton of independence.  Most importantly, it was a tremendous deposit into my personal bank account, as it taught me just how much I can do for myself when I’m the only one there to do it.  And the fact that I had a roommate and my parents’ money made it feel like a safe amount of adventure.  So now, a few years later, I think I could do it on my own, living on my own, financially independent.  Confidence, that’s what it gave me.  Confidence.

6. Deal with a culture shock

Travel.  Immerse yourself in the study of a new religion.  Make friends outside your social circle.  There are so many ways, big or small, to achieve this sense of total chaos and absurdity.

For me, it happened when at age 16, my parents and I moved from California to a small town in Iowa where everyone practices a specific type of meditation.  My parents had meditated since before I was born, so it wasn’t completely foreign to me.  But I had no idea how much of a lifestyle was built around this practice, and how fully it was lived by the residents in this small town.

When we arrived, I was about to be a junior in high school.  Previously I went to a public school, played tennis, was bad at math – pretty typical.  In our new home, there was the public high school, or the private high school which was specifically for meditator kids, complete with school uniforms and weird classes about the ancient Indian philosophy behind the teachings, including meditation.  It was my choice, but I chose to go all out with this new, crazy Midwestern move we did, and go to the “different” school.

From reciting memorized qualities of nature, to reading the Bhagavad-Gita in its original Sanskrit, my classmates the first day literally freaked me out.  Oh yeah, I’m remembering now the school-wide (K-12th grade) assembly we had, where everyone sang a kindergarten-esque song about the nature of the ancient texts, complete with hand motions.  (Am I freaking you out, yet?)

While I felt completely out of place, I was astonished (and still am, thinking back) at how quickly I picked up all the little phrases to memorize (many in Sanskrit as well), and I learned to read Sanskrit in only a few months.  (We didn’t speak it or understand what we were reading, we just learned the characters and their sounds, and were able to read through the texts in a sort of chanting way, for its soothing affects.  Although we did take a few semesters of a Sanskrit grammar class where we learned basic words and sentence structure, etc.)

Anyway, over the next three years, I became very interested in this ancient Indian philosophy and even opted to attend the local college, which was in association with the meditation movement and my high school.  Since then, my interests have drifted, but so much of who I am is because of moving here and going to those schools and learning this whole new set of teachings, laws of nature, and way of life.  I learned about yoga and organic food.  My paradigms were shattered and my values changed.  My world view and judgements of others changed (in some ways for the better, and in some ways for the worst.)  And even now that I am very different than I was back in my first few years here, when I was immersed in it at school, the person I am now couldn’t be here without those years.  I met my friends because of it.  I met my boyfriend because of it.  Everything I do now, and the way I think, is affected by who I was in California, plus who I became while out here, plus who I have become since drifting from the meditating-me.

I literally can not even imagine who I would be today had I stayed in California and finished high school there.  I probably would have gone to some college out there to study music.  I probably wouldn’t have lasted long.  Beyond that, no idea.  Completely different values.  Way more shallow.  Naive.  I can’t even imagine.

7. Read Secrets of the Millionaire Mind

I honestly believe that everyone should read this book.  Yes, you.

This book is geared toward people who want to become millionaires (which surprisingly isn’t everybody), but I learned so much about myself from reading this book, and I would love it if everyone had that opportunity.  There are exercises at the end of some chapters, where you answer a few questions and figure out your “money blueprint”.  Basically, its how you think of money and therefore how you earn/spend money, and therefore what’s holding you back from being a millionaire.  And, it helps you figure out why you have those thoughts on money in the first place, and how to change them if you so choose.  And that is what I think is so incredibly valuable about this book.  I have friends who have different spending habits from me, and I always think about how different their money blueprint must be from mine, because their behaviors are just so different.  You’d think that money is easy – you earn it, you save some, you spend some.  But there are so many subtle variations, and often we end up spending it unnecessarily, due to some quirk in our money blueprint that’s messing us up.  Fascinating.  Do check it out.

8. Learn how you learn

There are different learning styles.  Some people learn/remember best by reading, while others have better luck when someone tells it to them.  Others still have success from hands-on projects.  Some like to work in groups, others alone.

There are two things I have learned about myself: I do not remember things (or even pick them up in the first place) when they are read to me.  If I read something aloud, I have no idea what I just read.  If you read me a story, I’ll get distracted and make you back up a few times.  Knowing this about myself, and accepting it, has made things easier.  I know what works for me and therefore I set myself up to succeed.

The second thing I learned about myself is that I learn best when given the whole thing, starting from the absolute basics.  If I feel as though I’ve missed a step, the puzzle is incomplete and I can’t move on from there.  I think that’s why I was so bad at math: we moved a few times and I was put into different classes, I signed up for a more advanced class out of pride, and when we moved to Iowa, they had a completely different order to the subjects (geometry, algebra, statistics, etc.) so my California math years were little help once I got here.  There were so many holes in the picture, I might as well have not learned anything.  My training as a bartender was similarly sporadic, and I was basically set up to fail.

If I don’t have the whole picture, I have absolutely no confidence.  I can not get by on guessing.  Unless I know all of it, I might as well know none of it.  But, the good thing is, that now I know these things about myself.  So when I undertake a new project, I know what I need to do to learn it successfully.  Knowing this, and accepting myself in that way, will continue to help me for the rest of my life.

9. Realize that you’ve been scarred, and accept it

“I think everyone has scars.”

My friend’s realization last night hit home for me, too.  I’m not alone in this.  Everyone has insecurities and has been shaped positively or negatively by their childhood.  Its the sort of thing I know (like, logically, in my head, I know this), but find it hard to believe.  That confident guy?  He has insecurities?  He was teased as a child?  No way.

My friend went on to tell us about a guy she knew in high school.  He was very outgoing and friendly – everyone liked him.  Then she overheard that he was actually really insecure, and afraid of what everyone was thinking about him.  He said he was outgoing out of insecurity.  Not out of confidence.  Totally counter-intuitive.  While shyness is my defense mechanism, I guess being outgoing was his.  Makes me wish I could trade.

But it also makes me see that despite what we may assume, or how we may judge a person, we all have scars.  We all have insecurities.  She fears judgement just like you fear judgement.  Reminds me of this saying here, which is something I try and keep in mind since seeing it.

The aftereffect of this is that once we realize we’ve been scarred, maybe we can figure out the cause, and then we can accept it.  And I do wish you good luck in that.  Know that I’m right there with you, trying to overcome.

10. Feel really good about yourself

This is a great feeling!  However rarely or often it may happen for you, cherish it!  Knowing and remembering this feeling may just be what gets you through the other times.

11. Meet a really kind, genuine person

These people stand out.  They’re just so nice.  They give without expecting anything in return.  They have nice things to say.  They smile.  They make you feel like you matter.  They radiate love at all times.

When I meet this type of person, it sort of wakes me up.  It inspires me to be like them.  It makes me feel loved and sort of feel like I’m doing okay in the world.  Like things aren’t so bad.  Like if only I could become so loving, that maybe my life would be so much better.  And maybe I could make other peoples’ lives so much better.  Interactions with these people truly are a gift.

I hope you enjoyed my list!  If you write a post like this, please do link to it in the comments so I can read yours!

Joyce Meyer – Leaving the City of Guilt, Part I

This video was immediately appealing to me because I often find myself feeling guilty, which is often accompanied by depression.  Its not that I’ve done anything particularly horrible –  I just feel really, really badly whenever I do something even remotely horrible.  And I don’t let myself forget it.  It keeps coming back.  This is due in large part to the fact that I don’t control my thoughts (something that I’ve been researching more lately and trying to work on, as I think it is one of the biggest benefits I can give myself right now.)

I don’t know much about Christianity and have never been a religious person, but there is something undeniably appealing to me about Christians and their faith.  In the last 6 months or so I have been researching Christianity and reading blogs and articles by Christians, especially women.  I like what I read but there is so much more to learn.  I’m currently reading the Bible (do you know how big that thing is?!) and I’m following Joyce Meyer on twitter which is how I found this video today.

For me, my guilt isn’t so much because I feel I’ve disappointed God; its more that I’ve disappointed myself.  Or my parents.  (Which feeling is worse?  I couldn’t tell you.)  But I still found tremendous benefit in this video with respect to guilt, and also just to learning more about God and the Bible.

“God is not the least bit surprised by you or your behavior…  He knew everything about you when he invited you to come into a relationship with Him.”  This thought is comforting because having a relationship with God seems like a big deal and like something that should be earned or deserved.  And if we aren’t perfect (but who is?) then we can feel like we’re a disappointment to Him or not worthy of a connection.  I’m not sure if that’s how I feel or not, quite honestly, but it’s nice to know that He already knows everything about me, because in that is a sense of acceptance.  Because He knows me, and yet still chose to form a relationship with me, He must accept who I am and what I’ve done and where I’ve come from.

Joyce points out that if we keep the burden of guilt, we have no energy to learn and grow and serve God.  Now, even for those who aren’t religious, this can apply.  We have no energy to grow and learn, and do what we should be doing (whether its serving God or serving yourself or serving others).  The feeling of guilt holds us back from living our lives and accomplishing goals and experiencing joy.

Joyce goes on to share a humorous story about going on a “guilt trip”, which is a pretty universal experience.  The author went on this trip knowing it wouldn’t do any good.  How many of us actually think feeling guilt will do some good in our lives?  Yet does that stop us from doing it?

“Jesus has done everything for us that he’s gunna do – he’s waiting for us to believe it.”  This line really spoke to me because it made me realize that I’m waiting on something more to happen before I cement my feelings on Christianity.  What am I waiting for?  Jesus has already done all that he’s going to do.  And yes, there is much more of the Bible that I can read, and I can continue to form opinions as I do so.  But this line really calls people to action, which I love.  There comes a time – and the time is now – to make the decision to change your life.  The Bible is right there. If you want to go with it and change your life in that way because it will bring you positivity, then what are you waiting for?  If you want to go in a different direction, then what are you waiting for?  The point is, pick something and take action.  Stop wasting your time feeling guilty or doing whatever else it is that’s holding you back from being awesome.  Fear?  Fear of failure or rejection?  If its depression, that can be hard to kick.  But fear can be just as hard to kick.

“Guilt enters as a thought, creates a feeling, and we live by that feeling… If you’re smart you’ll say, ‘I don’t care how I feel, this is what I know’.”  That right there is the key, I think.  Right now I am letting myself be controlled by my feelings.  I need to change what I know so that I can have something better to stick with instead of getting stuck in a bad mood when negative thoughts come up.  And that is why I need to finish reading the Bible.  Hopefully it will have some answers for me :).

I also liked the point about asking and receiving forgiveness.  It’s easy to ask for it, but the real strength in that kind of prayer comes from trusting God enough to actually receive His forgiveness.  Because in that, you are completely letting go.

Note: This video was part 1 of a 4 part series.  Look forward to her other videos on fear, insecurity, and worry – which I plan to watch and write about soon.

Now, here’s some non-Christian-related words that I feel convey the same message to stop holding yourself back with guilt:

Believe in yourself.

Ready.  Fire.  Aim.

Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right.

The only thing that makes it a part of your life is that you keep thinking about it.

*A few of those came from the pins I have collected on pinterest – feel free to check them out and many, many more that relate to this very subject.  And please share in the comments some of your most inspiring!