November 3, 2020

Finding Peace During Difficult Times

When it comes right down to it, peace is a state mind. Most of us don’t consciously think about how to create a peaceful state of mind during our fast-paced, busy lives. And these days, it’s easier to go into a state of overwhelm than peace. The good news is, there are ways to shift this.

What causes us to be in a non-peaceful state of mind? There are two primary culprits:
1. Habitual ways of thinking
2. The questions we ask ourselves

Habitual ways of thinking that lead to a not-peaceful state of mind might sound like this:
I can’t handle this stress.
No matter how hard I work, I never reach my goals.
I don’t have time to relax.

The kinds of questions that create a not-peaceful state of mind sound like:
Why is this happening to me?
Whose fault is it?
Why doesn’t anything ever go as planned?

These thoughts and questions happen silently in our own heads and we have long since decided that they are “true” and legitimate.

How do we shift from overwhelm to peace?

The short answer is: Make the unconscious conscious.

Did you know that our conscious mind directs our unconscious mind? The unconscious mind has a tendency towards homeostasis (for example, it keeps us breathing automatically so we don’t have to think about it every second). The unconscious mind also helps us to create shortcuts for decision-making. Those shortcuts are useful in many instances but often those shortcuts are no longer serving us. This is why it’s so important to occasionally retrain our brains. Checking our assumptions and automatic thoughts is the first step.

One of the biggest mistakes our brains make is believing that emotions are permanent. In other words, if it happened before, it will happen again. And that belief is strengthened if a particular kind of event happens more than once. With the pandemic, natural disasters, and so much change happening so quickly, our brains can start to believe that overwhelm and stress are permanent states of being.

The only way to make the unconscious conscious is to observe our silent thoughts and questions. You can’t stop them from coming, but you can stop them from continuing. This involves choosing to listen to your thoughts and actively saying “no” to non-productive or stress producing thoughts.
Here are some simple steps you can take to retrain your brain and experience a peaceful state of being every day:

1. Give your unconscious mind new direction every day (Time required: 5 seconds):

Because the unconscious mind has a tendency towards homeostasis, whenever you tell your unconscious mind that nothing ever goes your way, your unconscious mind says “Ok! I will help you to keep things just as they are!”

One powerful way to change that is to change the command. Instead of saying (in your head or out loud), “I’m so overwhelmed” and leaving it at that, catch yourself in overwhelm and, instead, say (in your head or out loud), “I am at peace.” At the same time you say those words, conjure up an image of a place where you felt peaceful.

2. Take 3 deep breaths (Time required: 10 seconds):

Yes, intentionally breathe deeply! Better yet, do it with the intention of inhaling peace and exhaling stress and overwhelm. A great time to do this is when your phone rings. Don’t pick up until the fourth ring. On rings 1, 2, and 3, take a deep breath in and exhale completely.
If you are doing a lot of virtual calls these days, before you click join, take 10 seconds for your three deep breaths. You will find yourself more focused and ready for your call.

3. Get reacquainted with your “funny bone” (Time required: 10 seconds – 60 minutes depending on dose of laughter needed):

When was the last time you laughed out loud? For many, it seems there is not a lot to laugh about these days. Yet, we all know how healing laughter can be. It helps us release emotions that have built up and also produces dopamine. Dopamine gives us a sense of well-being, reduces pain and relieves stress.

There are many ways to engage your funny bone. Some people simply recall a memory of when something really funny happened. Other people keep a book of silly jokes next to their desk. If you are someone who enjoys videos, find some videos of babies laughing out loud or something else that tickles your funny bone. A favorite sitcom or comedy movie can also do the trick. (Read more about bringing laughter into the workplace.)

All of these methods will help to retrain your brain to be more at peace (and perhaps you find laughter as well!).

Gail Finger has 25 years of expertise in interpersonal dynamics and the psychology of change. She has a proven track record helping leaders get results through influencing, building positive workplace relationships, and engaging employees.