How I Won The Battle Of The Zombie And Lizard Brain
I’m going to begin with a little Sleep 101.
While we sleep, our brain is at work recharging and sorting through the day’s memories, either discarding or filing them away. You know those mornings when you wake up before the alarm clock, feeling refreshed and clear headed? That’s when your brain has done its job. It hasn’t, when we wake up feeling groggy and vague. Because we haven’t had enough sleep.
As has been the case in this household for the past few sleepless nights while our distressed four-year-old Olive recovers from having her tonsils removed.
Our latest selfie.
Escalating the fright factor are those pesky negative thoughts swirling around the mind because it’s too foggy to sensibly deal with them. Enter our prehistoric friend, the Lizard Brain.
“I’m never going to succeed”, “I’m hopeless at this”, “What if I stuff up in the workshop” and the kicker “I’m a crap mum”.
All these thoughts and others plagued my mind as I tried to juggle an ambitious To Do list while nursing our daughter. I had, in the haze, reverted back to my bad habit of having a long, daunting task list that was overwhelming and sending me hurtling towards paralysis.
I knew I had to take control and pulled out some trusty techniques from various gurus to get me back on track. I’m sharing them knowing they may also help you.
Presence – We generally experience emotions and feelings before our thoughts reach the rational part of the brain. Add the fact neuroscientists say our brain wanders 47 per cent of the time so little wonder our mind gets noisy. Our minds tend to be focused on the future (where we can get anxious on what hasn’t happened or may not happen) or the past (what’s happened or what we should have done better etc), than on the present moment. By focusing on the present moment, it blocks out other thoughts. Try sitting outside and focus on the warmth of the sun on your skin, listen to the birds or other outside noises and observe what’s going on around you. The moment your mind wanders, bring it back to the present moment. During the last few sleepless nights, I focused on how the sheets and breeze felt on my skin and listened to the crickets, Willie Wagtails and the thumping of resident possums (yes, better than listening to the inner critic). Or I tuned into a meditation (bless Chel Hamilton, Hay House, and Headspace).
Note to parents: I successfully used a similar technique to calm Ollie, getting her to focus on happy thoughts (rather than the ‘present’ moment) to help distract from her sore throat.
Breathing – Our brain requires at least 20 per cent of our body’s oxygen supply to fully function, including keeping us calm and focused. Try taking a slow deep breath, then exhale until you feel as if you’ve pushed it down through your body and emptied your lungs. You’ll immediately feel a calming sensation. Focusing on your breathing also distracts you from other thoughts.
Smiling – Did you know our brain responds to the nerves and muscles in our face when we smile, triggering a happier emotional state? Psychologist and emotional intelligence expert Dr Travis Bradberry also advises feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are released. Experiment by smiling, and focus on the effect it has within your body.
Exercise – In addition to the health benefits, exercise recharges our mind that promotes among many things a happier state and rational thinking.
The 5 Second Rule – A simple and effective technique that propels your mind and body to take action within five seconds. It can be used to change habits, thoughts and help overcome negative emotions. I use it to do tasks I put off and to launch my butt out of bed to exercise. Best left to Mel Robbins to explain here and here. Her book, The 5 Second Rule, is a page-turner. 5-4-3-2-1 Go!
Gratitude – Think of and record your top three to five moments each day as well as the not so good things that happened. Reflect on and appreciate the lessons of these moments. I also use the thought-provoking cards from the Top Five Movement. Science shows gratitude activates the release of dopamine in the brain, making us feel good.
Reset – Easy to do but often ignored. Simply forcing yourself to take a few moments away from what you’re doing rests your mind. The angst of leaving a project that has a pressing deadline will be replaced with a fresh perspective and improved productivity. Trust me, it works.
Self-Awareness – A key component of emotional intelligence. By working on how you react to certain circumstances, events or people helps you to better manage your behaviour. Like many, sleep deprivation for me triggers irritability and impatience. Knowing this, I’m more conscious of my behaviour and managing it to avoid upsetting my already emotional and unwell youngster. For more on emotional intelligence, follow Dr Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, and invest in their book Emotional Intelligence 2.0. A must-read for everyone.
Remember Your Vision – I reminded myself of my Vision and my Why in what I do. That is to help people become confident within, and about themselves, and fulfil their potential. Tasks that support that goal are back in a Priorities Towards My Vision list and the rest are separate for when I eventually get around to them.
Phew, feeling much more relieved and in control now.
Now time to reset over a cuppa. Care to join me?