We can't detox our mind if we ignore our body. We must start learning how our physical bodies affect how we think and feel.
Trap #2: You ignore how your body can impact your brain
Your brain is your body.
Yes, it's responsible for processing the most profound of emotions, thoughts, and memories — the inexplicable and even spiritual things that make us uniquely human. And yet it is ultimately a purely physical object, a collection of cells with lots of fat and water thrown in. In this sense, it's no different than our ear, our nose, or our pancreas.
We can't detox our mind if we ignore our body. Don't worry, I'm not going to recommend an açaí berry cleanse. But we must start learning how our physical bodies affect how we think and feel.
The good news is this: our bodies are pretty good teachers, and they tell us a lot about what's going on with us if we're willing to listen. When we pay attention to our physical selves, we often see surprisingly clear signals about what we're experiencing in our lives: our physical reaction to our thoughts, and in turn our thoughts' effect on our physical feelings.
In fact, often our toxic thoughts come not on their own, but because we are negatively interpreting physical sensations. Two people on a roller coaster may have the exact same physiological reaction: heart racing, butterflies in the stomach, and shortness of breath — but for one person it causes a panic attack and for the other it is purely a thrill, all because of the different thoughts they use to interpret that sensation. And this can become a cyclical trap: for the panicking person, their mental worries make their bodily sensations worse. For a true mental detox, we have to get our minds and bodies working toward our well-being, together.
Now, I promised no juice cleanses. But it is still quite important to look at how your overall health habits, and treatment of your physical self, affect your mind. Sleep patterns, diet, caffeine, medication, hormonal shifts, alcohol, nicotine, daylight, and exercise commonly cause changes in our moods and thought patterns. What might you notice in yourself? And are you ready to acknowledge it and take action about it yet?
When you notice yourself feeling mentally at your worst today or tomorrow, try to identify the parts of your body where you feel that stress the most. Is your neck tight? Is there emptiness or heat in your chest? Are your fists clenched? Do you feel like you can't breathe? Is your stomach flip-flopping?
Now address those body parts specifically in your breathing and mindfulness exercises, trying to target those individual parts of the body for relaxation (rolling your neck, unclenching your jaw, slowing your breath, or tensing and then relaxing individual muscles.)
Make a big-picture inventory of bodily habits that negatively affect your mood and thoughts, like getting too little sleep, being hungover, not exercising, not getting enough daylight, relying too much on caffeine, or not eating a varied diet. What are you willing to change in your habits? We'll work on this throughout the course.
Up next: Breaking down the myth of willpower.
In the meantime, if you have questions or news about your progress in this challenge, I host a live weekly anonymous chat online on Tuesdays at 1 PM EST here. Feel free to drop in! You can also find me on Facebook. —Dr. Andrea Bonior
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