Three ways to increase self-awareness to reduce stress

Young woman looks at the mirror and sees her happy reflection. Self-acceptance and confidence concept.

Pull yourself together is seldom said to anyone who can – Mignon McLaughlin

 

‘Pull yourself together Sarah’ was on repeat in my mind back in 2001 – like a broken record with a scratchy sound, causing me to feel the pain even deeper every time I repeated it. 

As I attempted to navigate one of the most difficult times in my life, ‘pull yourself together’ was as helpful as a chocolate teapot. Those of you who have found yourself in the depths of despair within your own mind, will know that this statement rarely helps anyone. 

You see when we are caught up in the chaos of our minds with racing thoughts on continuous repeat, it can feel almost impossible to gain any control and clarity in your thinking.

We do the best we can until we know better and then we can do better’ – Maya Angelou

 

Nowadays I repeat inspiring quotes to myself instead of letting unhelpful mantras take over.

This one is a favourite as it is a great reminder to pause and take a moment to reflect. We are continuously growing, changing and evolving and we are all doing the very best that we can. 

Awareness is the greatest agent for change – Echart Tolle

 

How we interpret and experience events in our life on the inside, impacts how we think, feel and respond in the present moment.

You see we are all as different on the inside as we look on the outside. We have shared experiences as human beings such as grief, relationship difficulties, disappointments, parenting issues, redundancy, financial struggles and much more – yet how we process these events on the inside and how we react to them is different for us all. 

Understanding ‘how’ you do ‘you’ from the inside out, gives you more choice in your thinking, feeling and behavioural responses. Without this awareness the automatic patterns and programmes that have been created from years of conditioning can keep you stuck in the same repetitive cycles of thinking, feeling and doing.

If you have always done what you have always done, then you will always get what you have always got right?  Self awareness is a key ingredient in looking after your mental health and wellbeing.

Here are three ways that you can begin to increase your self awareness for better mental health and wellbeing  and subsequently can help you reduce your stress levels.

The mind and body connection 

It is common for us to get stuck in our ‘heads’. We often get lost in the process of overthinking, worrying, catastrophizing about the future, or ruminating over the past wishing things hadn’t happened or regretting things we have done. The national Science Foundation states that we have around 50,000 thoughts a day most of which are not brought into conscious awareness. 

These thoughts can be detrimental to our health and wellbeing without us even realising. 20% of information from the brain is sent down to the body influencing feelings, mood and motivation. 80% of information is sent from the body up to the head, so your feelings and emotions are influencing your thoughts. Your mind and body are in constant communication with each other without us even realising. 

How often do you pause and ‘check in’ with yourself throughout the day to NOTICE  what is happening in your mind and body system? Are you aware of the tension in your body? Do you catch your thoughts before they spiral out of control? Do you sense the physical sensations in your body that are being influenced by your thoughts? 

I have a saying ‘check yourself before you wreck yourself’.  This involves taking three deep breaths, observing my thoughts without judgment and then placing my hand on my heart and continuing with kindness towards myself.  This enables me to come back to the present moment and reality check my thoughts as well as harnessing the power of my nervous system to bring me back to being centred and balanced. 

Awareness of your thoughts is key to being able to ‘check in’ and notice how your physical body is feeling and responding to these thoughts. Your mind and body are always giving you signals to let you know what you need in order to live a peaceful and healthy life. Your job is to PAIN – ‘pay attention inside now’ and to check yourself before you wreck yourself. 

Balancing the nervous system

We have all experienced feeling off centre, right? We’ve all felt those times when your fight, flight or freeze response is activated and it takes a while to re centre yourself. 

As your mind and body are in constant communication, it makes sense that your nervous system can become dysregulated if your thoughts are causing you distress. 

The good news is that balancing your nervous system is a powerful way of calming the chaos of your mind. The mind and body are in a flow of communication so a change in one will generate a change in the other. 

To begin balancing your nervous system start with taking slow deep equal breaths in and out from your diaphragm. Aiming to breathe for 4-6 seconds with each breath for 3 minutes. Feel your belly inflate as you inhale and deflate as you exhale.

Notice how your mind and body feel before and after this practice. 

What you focus on expands. 

Have you ever noticed that if you wake up in the morning and tell yourself you are gong to have a bad day, then this is what you get? 

Or if there is someone that you don’t particularly like you notice all the things that irritate you and ignore the good things?

Or maybe you have decided that you are not good at something so you reinforce this belief by noticing all the times that you get it wrong, rather than the times when you got it right. 

If you want to feel happier and live life with more joy then focus on the things that bring you more joy. If you want to feel calmer then focus on what makes you feel calm. Keep it successfully simple and you will be pleasantly surprised at how much better you feel. A simple moment of gratitude, noticing the feel of the warm sun on your skin, taking a moment to appreciate nature or slowing down to feel your feet connecting with the ground. 

The most important thing when taking care of your mental health and wellbeing is to be kind and compassionate towards yourself. Like I said at the beginning, ‘pull yourself together’ rarely helped anyone to actually feel any better. You deserve to acknowledge and honor all of your emotions and experiences and know that ‘ we are all doing the very best that we can’. 

Sarah FletcherAbout the author

I’m Sarah Fletcher an NLP and multiple brain coach and trainer. I help people to optimise their potential with the neuroscience of the heart, head and gut brains. I am passionate about empowering people to discover for themselves that heartled compassionate living not only transforms and enhances their own life, it collectively enhances the lives of others. 

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