Reduce Worry by Flexing Your Mental Muscle
Worrying……we all do it. Some more than others, but for the most part we all are part of the worrisome spectrum. We worry about a past events, circumstances and/or situations and we worry about what’s inevitably to take place next (the unknown). Worrying is a part of life and I don’t think it is something that will ever fully go away. However, I truly believe that we can work towards creating a healthy relationship with worry and maybe even reduce the amount of time and energy spent worrying.
Have you heard of the Lizard Brain? According to the Global Body Image Movement, “The Lizard Brain is a tiny part of your brain called the Amygdala whose entire job involves making stuff up to keep us small and hidden. The Lizard Brain can get nasty, mean and negative; causing our worries to escalate. The Lizard Brain is responsible for inventing horrible thoughts and worry to stop us from playing big in the world. The Lizard Brain thinks it could be dangerous if we worried less because not worrying is the exact opposite of staying small and hidden. Some common Lizard Brain worries are that we’re not smart enough, we’re not thin enough, were not good looking enough, were not popular enough were not qualified enough, we’re not wealthy enough etc.”
So, how can we build up our mental muscle and reduce worry?
The first thing that I suggest involves the practice of Mindfulness. Mindfulness in a nutshell means, “paying attention in a particular way on purpose, in the present moment as non-judgmentally as possible.” Just being aware that you are worried in any given moment without liking, disliking, understanding or judging is one step forward in the right direction in reducing worry. To be able to pause and take a moment to identify what your Lizard Brain is telling you the most, will help build your mental muscle. We become more aware of triggers and we can develop ways to respond when worrying takes place. Maybe paying attention to our breathing, bodily sensation, or even a simple exercise like squeezing fists. Anything that will draw you back to the present moment when the mind wonders.
Once you identify the most popular worry and instead of letting it repeat over and over in your head, try placing a few words in front of it. For example, sometimes I worry that others won’t like me just the way I am. So, by adding a few words to my worry I would rephrase it to, “My mind is having the thought that others won’t like me just the way I am.” This helps to disconnect from worry so that we are no longer fused with it.
The last thing I would suggest is to constantly remind yourself that you are not your Lizard Brain. Your worries don’t define who you are and what you have to offer the world. Once you get better at practicing Mindfulness you can even create a Mantra for when you notice negative worries taken place. It could be along the lines of “I am not my Lizard Brain, I am not my Lizard Brain, I am not my Lizard Brain.” Practice patience, acceptance, friendliness to the self and loving kindness. As stated in the Article entitled “Friendliness to the Self,” Josho Pat Phelan states that “loving-kindness or friendliness is practiced by cultivating the warmth and open-heartedness that is evoked by such phrases as, “May I be happy and joyous. May I be free from suffering, free from worry and anxiety. May I be healthy and enjoy a sense of well-being. May I dwell in peace.” The practice is to radiate friendliness to ourselves, to pervade ourselves with loving-kindness. This is done so that we will have first-hand experience of lovingkindness and then be able to take ourselves as an example when we extend loving-kindness to others.”
As Tara Brach also states, “the boundary to what we can accept is the boundary to our freedom.” Worrying can take place every minute of the day but don’t lose hope. Take small baby steps one moment at a time. As I previously stated we may not be able to ever get rid of worry but we can do the best that we can to try and quiet our minds and redirect our thoughts. Make peace with your Lizard Brain, befriend it. Accept that it is there and that it’s not who you truly are. There is no perfecting only process.