September 7, 2011

Simplifying Your Thoughts: Simple Living Means Fighting Against Stress and the Thoughts that Cause It

Tonight, there's the big Republican debate between the presidential candidates and tomorrow, President Obama is going to address the nation on the unemployment crisis - and media rumors are that this will include spending more money.  Lots more money.

Next week, we honor the 10 year anniversary of 9-11.  Last week, we had hurricanes on the East Coast and earthquakes on the West Coast, and even as I type this, hundreds of thousands of areas of beautiful, piney hillsides near Bastrop, Texas (not that far from me, as the crow flies) are burning in an uncontrolled fire.  Was it caused by the drought? By arson?  What about all the wildlife and the homes and the families?

The Scream - Edvard Munch

It's all cause for stress.  

Stress, big stress.  And that's before you take it down a notch and start wondering about your own circumstances.  Finances, health, relationships, savings, investments, rising prices, what the future might hold.

There is a lot to think about, and lots of people are swirling those thoughts around in their minds without realizing that you have the power to decide what you will think about -- and that you need to do this.

It's accepted by most everyone these days that stress will make you sick.  Keep it up, and it can kill you.  (For details, check out lots about acute stress and chronic stress at WebMD.)

And what is stress?  It's your body reacting to what you are thinking.

Simplifying your life involves more than being frugal with your purchases or going green with your environment or becoming vegetarian in your diet ... simple living means having peace and joy and strength in your attitude.

How do you do that?  You become proactive about what you are thinking about and you stop letting your mind run willy-nilly over whatever scary things it wants to ponder.  Yes, you can do this and it doesn't mean that you become brainwashed or live a zombie's existence.

Simple Living Between Your Ears:  How to Fight Stress With Simplicity

I don't do this as well as I'd like, but I'm much better at it than I was long ago.  Here are some of the things that have worked for me:

1.  I stop myself every so often, and pay attention to the thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head.  Am I worrying about something?  Am I angry about something?  Am I afraid?  Then, I take hold of those thoughts and resolve them.

2.  I speak out loud to myself if this is needed.  For example, I forgot to mail in my car registration and here it was, September, and I've suddenly got an expired tag on my windshield.  My thoughts just baked themselves into a big pie of pressure, and once I realized that I was fretting about this in my head, it all stopped when I said to myself, "I will not get a ticket on the way to getting my car sticker, and if I do, then I'll just pay it.  This isn't worth getting upset over, I'll just deal with it - whatever happens." 

3.  I don't watch TV news, I read my news online.  Maybe it's still inflated and spun, but it's less stressful for me than all those talking heads who seem to vie for who can be more thrilling, for lack of a better word, as they ramble on about the latest horrific event.

4.  I pray and I read my Bible, renewing my mind with scripture.  There's a reason why so many have read this book for so long, there is true comfort and strength in its pages.  I think even non-believers can find good counsel in words like these:  "[a]nd now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." (Phil 4:8 NLT).

5.  I read about stress and thoughts to learn more about how thoughts do impact my physical health.  There's lots on this:  medical research (see this UCLA study); books on brain function and stress (see Who Switched off My Brain by Dr. Carolyn Leaf); and books on how diet and exercise are powerful tools against stress, promoting clear thinking and proper hormone balance (see the Hormone Diet by Natasha Turner ND).

One of the great things about living simply is knowing that you can control your lifestyle - even if there are others that don't understand why you are choosing that different drummer.  A big part of that change is internal, becoming a person of independent thought.

Some Days Will Eat You, Some Days You'll Eat the Bear.  

As Jane Armatrading once sang (listen here), some days the bear will eat you, some days you'll eat the bear.  We're all a work in process.

Hang in there, fight that stress, and if you need to see it on the screen, remember this:

Everything is going to be alright.  

(image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

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