“I’ll never get well- Things will just get worse – The pain will never end – Why me?”– and on it goes. Anyone with chronic painful physical or emotional symptoms recognizes these thought loops playing in their mind day after day.
It’s important to understand the relationship between our thoughts and our experiences of physical/emotional pain.
Persistent thoughts of gloom and doom are capable of contributing to, and sometimes actually creating, physical and emotional discomfort!
Neuroscientists tell us the average person has about 50-70,000 thoughts per day most of which are negative and redundant. They are generated by our responses to the normal circumstances and stresses of daily life.
Thoughts are simply physical patterns of electricity created by our brain cells. They occur naturally in each of us and are often produced in the primitive part of the brain, or reptilian brain.
Our culture emphasizes the role of logical thinking when we are dealing with daily stressors. This practice often backfires due to our brain’s negativity bias.
Our brains evolved to keep us safe. The brain’s chief job is to keep us alive, so it tends to operate in a survival mode. It is constantly scanning the environment for “threats” that produce thoughts about imaginary dangers.
The brain will focus on the negative interpretation of our experiences, and we unwittingly believe and attach to the stream of negative thoughts coursing through our heads.
These fear-based thoughts trigger the stress response causing our muscles to tense as our heart rate and blood pressure increase flooding our bodies with stress hormones.
This fight or flight response keeps the body’s self-repair system from doing its job often resulting in symptoms like IBS, GERD, back, foot and joint pain, frequent colds, headaches, anxiety, etc.
It is well documented that chronic stress is slowly but surely interfering with our body’s natural healing mechanisms – and our stress responses are directly connected to our brain’s activity.
Yet we each have the power to tame our brains.
The first step is recognizing that our fear-based thoughts are rarely true.
The latest neuroscience reveals that the brain is a powerful and adaptable organ. It is constantly learning and creating new neural pathways through neuroplasticity – “the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life.” Therefore, it is actually possible to consciously rewire our brains.
Here are two simple tools to start taming your brain:
Observe your painful, self-sabotaging or worst- case scenario thoughts with curiosity and without judgment:
Event: He forgot our anniversary. Thought: “He doesn’t care about me.” Imagine these words floating above your head, and repeat this to yourself three times: “I notice I’m having the thought: He doesn’t care about me.” (adapted from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). This practice creates separation from the power of the thought and facilitates re-wiring.
Ask yourself this question: “He doesn’t care about me.” Is it true? Think of at least 3 statements that are as true or truer than the painful thought: “He put air in my tires last night.” “He turned on my favorite music.” “He gave me a back rub.” (adapted from Martha Beck and Byron Katie)
We can count on the fact that our brains will be creating gloom and doom scenarios since that’s what our brains do! BUT, as we notice and question our thoughts and stories, we begin to rewire our brains reducing our stress responses and allowing our bodies to heal and flourish!
And remember – YOU hold the key!