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Stressed? Anxious? Five Minutes to Feel Better

Can you give me five minutes? If you can, it'll help reduce your levels of stress and anxiety.

If you're not feeling exhausted, stressed, anxious or otherwise weighed down, then (a) congrats and (b) aren't you the lucky one?

For the rest of us, this has been quite the year. And with JobKeeper ending, it's got even tougher for a lot of people. Already many, many businesses have been destroyed and will never return, and others have taken huge hits from which it will take years to recover, if they ever do.

Children have had their education disrupted, and the strain of lockdown and online schooling has been enormous for parents. Many workers, particularly those directly involved the response to COVID, have been working to the point of exhaustion, and having to put up with stupid comments from people too stupid to know how stupid they are. (I'm serious - here's a five minute video on the Dunning-Kruger effect.)

You already know all this. And I wish I had a magic wand to wave to help your particular situation. But I don't. What I do have is a mind-bending idea that I'm going to smuggle into this blog in about 20 sentences from now. Hang onto your hat, it's a doozy. You'll know when you've got there, because there'll be a big bang as the idea lands in your noggin.

In the meantime, I promised you that there one thing you can do that can make a significant difference. It'll take all of five minutes - three if you don't have five - and you can do it anywhere. Here's me, delivering on that promise.

Firstly, take a breather. Take five minutes to be all by yourself, even if it means barricading yourself in the loo. (Admittedly this is probably not the place you'd choose to 'just breathe,' but if that's your only option, take it.)

Put your phone on airplane mode. Put your head on airplane mode. Right now, right here, in this very moment, what's happening for you? Just for a little moment, everything that's in your past and in your future is not here with you, right? It just isn't. All you can experience in the world is in this moment, these couple of seconds. And even if your attention is drawn away by memories of the past or thoughts of the future, even those thoughts are coming to you now, you are experiencing them now, in this moment.

Take some good, bi9, deep breaths. Notice what muscles are involved in that breathing.

And now, observe your thoughts - don't accept them, don't reject them, don't try and chase them away, just... observe them. Consider where 'you' are, this inner you, watching yourself have thoughts. Are you above? Outside? Behind your eyes? Wherever you are, just observe your thoughts. And as you do so, remind yourself this: they are thoughts. They are not reality.

BANG! Thoughts are not reality! These may be the four most powerful words you can hear right now. If any of the thoughts that are living in your head rent free right now begin with 'What if...' then you need to hold to this radical, life-changing thought. Thoughts... are not... reality.

(That's my big idea. That bang was it landing in your head. If it's not a new idea and it doesn't go bang, you haven't really understood it. It is seriously just about the most important thing you'll discover this week, and maybe this year, though we're only in March, so who knows?)

What's so wrong with 'What if...' thoughts? By themselves, nothing at all. They are valuable, and they are helpful. 'What if I step into this road without looking right now?' is a fine thought and everyone should have it at the right time. 'What if I stepped into a road without looking and got hit by a car?' though, isn't so helpful. Even less helpful is 'What if I stepped into a road without looking, got hit by a car, was seriously injured, couldn't work, my partner got sick of me and left?' If that's the kind of thing that's keeping you awake at night, it's not helping. It's a good thought, put in the wrong way at the wrong time.

I'm reminded of a quotation by that extraordinary philosopher, Winnie The Pooh:

“'Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh,' said Piglet, 'when we were underneath it?'

‘Supposing it didn’t,' said Pooh after careful thought.

Piglet was comforted by this.”

What ifs aren't the only thoughts that breed anxiety and stress. We all have ideas about the world that may or may not be true, and many of them are really, really bad for our state of mind. It's hard, though, to question your own firm beliefs, because they don't even feel like beliefs, so much as eternal truths. It's much easier to see other people's firm beliefs for the daft nonsense that they are. So have a think about some beliefs that people have, that they firmly cling to, and that you know are rubbish. (Don't let's get caught up in how you 'know' they are nonsense - let's just assume you're right.)

Here's some deliberately silly examples. Some people honestly believe, for example, that there is a child trafficking ring being run out of a pizza restaurant in Washington. Others believe that shape-shifting lizards are taking human forms in a plot to rule America and the world. Yet others believe that the world is flat and/or that the moon landing was a hoax. Moses, apparently, supposes his toeses to be roses. I'm sure you can think of other beliefs that some people have, that you have no trouble dismissing as silly.

See? It's easy to accept that some beliefs aren't true and are just plain daft. And if you can do that with a belief that someone sincerely and passionately holds - if you can accept that Moses supposes erroneously - can you do it with your own beliefs?

And in any case, what's important is not, in fact, whether a thought is true or not. Would it make any practical difference to your daily life if the world really were flat, and the moon landing a hoax? Whether that thought is true or not doesn't really matter. What does very much matter, though, is whether your thoughts are useful, whether they are serving you. There is, frankly, no way on earth, flat or otherwise, that a 'What if...' catastrophizing thought about the sky falling on your head is useful.

I'll leave you with this: the first way to begin to get rid of thoughts that aren't serving you well, is to recognise that they are just thoughts. They're real, alright - but they're not reality.

That's the five minutes you gave me. I hope it's helped. If you can give me an hour, we can go a lot further and do much more about that stress and anxiety. Book a session here.

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