Much talk, investment and effort is devoted to nourishing our bodies with healthy food, enough sleep and the benefits of movement and exercise, but for many of us pausing to consider what we feed our minds (and the impact it might be having on us) isn’t given nearly as much focus. Given the significant effect it can have on our ability to both feel good and function well, it really might be something worth giving some headspace to!
This is particularly relevant right here, right now as I sit in Christchurch in the aftermath of the recent terrorist attack.
When you switch on the TV or turn to your devices, are you feeding your mind bad news, drama, negativity, the opinions of others regardless of whether they are true or not, fake news and things that make you afraid and anxious or are you feeding yourself “soul food.” This could be healthy, positive messages, support for yourself and other people, inspiration, things you can learn from, interesting ideas, things to be grateful for and the good things that people are doing.
Everything you process through your senses is being taken in and stored by the unconscious part of your mind, even though you might not be aware of it.
It’s also useful to consider whether your choices about what you’re focusing on giving you a boost or holding you back?
It’s so easy to immerse ourselves in the drama and negativity surrounding us on a constant basis. Turn on the news and the predominant focus both nationally and internationally tends to be on all the ways we’re going to hell in a handbasket. Login to social media and it doesn’t take long before you’re looking at something, grim, depressing, unsettling or downright extreme. And once we’re looking at it, it’s too late to unsee it or unthink it. It’s already had its effect on our body and mind, and sometimes this lingers – even if we don’t consciously think it does.
Here are some of the things we can do to make what we consume healthy for our mind:
“JOMO” The joy of missing out
Most Sundays and at other times of the week (most nights after dinner) I consciously make a choice not to log-on to social media or check my emails. I know that if I’m thinking about what I need to do tomorrow or worrying about the state of the world, I’m going to have trouble getting to sleep and I’ll also feel unrelaxed – the exact opposite of how I want to feel in my downtime. I might even start feeling anxious. No-one is necessarily going to fill up my newsfeed with uplifting images of cute babies and kittens and all the cool stuff happening out there in the world, so I have to be the guardian of what I’m consuming and sometimes that means limiting my exposure.
Turn the sound or alerts off your phone, put it face down away from you or even more radically, JUST. SWITCH. OFF. How hard can it be?
I’m really careful about helping my teenagers manage their own media consumption. They get really annoyed with us not allowing them to have their phones in their bedrooms overnight and having to be off the phone by a certain time each night. Trouble is that I have read so much about the impact too much (social) media can have and this is supported by the evidence put together by the experts in the field. Social media activates the pleasure centres in the brain, making it as addictive as cocaine…. and therefore hard to switch off. But it’s just not healthy to consume too much, and can be incredibly unhealthy in terms of making a dent in our wellbeing.
Regularly and consciously clearing your mind by doing things like yoga, walking and other activities to help you lose yourself in the moment/get into flow can be a bit like hitting the “re-set” button for our mind. Calming us down, getting the negative gunk out of there and replacing it with more positive thoughts.
What about the impact of people?
You might be aware of the people in your world who drag you down and mess with your positive outlook. If you’re not, start tuning into how you feel when you’re around the various people you interact with regularly. How do you feel before you’re with them? How do you feel afterwards? It’s fair to say that not all of the relationships we have are positive, nurturing or even uplifting.
Here’s what I suggest about that.
Sometimes we might need to honestly assess some of our relationships. If you feel that someone continually brings you down, criticises or belittles you, crosses your boundaries, betrays your trust or otherwise compromises you in ways that make you feel afraid, ashamed or rejected, it’s OK to address the issue with them or minimise the time you spend with them and the impact they have on you.
In extreme cases it might even be time to let a relationship go, particularly if the pain it causes is significant. Life is short and we want to enjoy it much as we can (don’t we?)
If it’s a family member, then maybe think of ways to reduce the impact you allow this person to have on you. It’s important to gain awareness that you’re the one in charge of your feelings. No-one can “make you” feel anything without you allowing it to happen. I reiterate: You are the guardian of your mind.
- How can you reduce the time spent with this person? Do you actually need to spend as much time with them? What’s the reason you need to and is this reason valid?
- How can you minimise the negative impact this person has on you when you’re together or interacting? What actions can you take (given that you can’t change their behaviour)?
- How can you metaphorically “smile and wave” when you’re in the presence of this person? Depending on the type and severity of the difference/conflict, is it appropriate to “agree to disagree” or let it go for your own peace of mind? Or,
- Is it important communicate your needs/boundary/opinion to the person? If so, how can you do this assertively (not aggressively)?
Have a “mindfood” stocktake
You can do this by asking yourself the following questions:
- Are your choices about what you’re reading, watching and interacting with helping you feel happy and positive or anxious, fearful and sad?
- Are the people you’re spending time with supporting and uplifting you? Do they support and uplift others?
- Do you read? If so, what kinds of things do you read? How often?
- What do you watch, how does it make you feel?
If there’s some mind pollution getting in, how can you reduce that?
If you start believing that your mind is a temple, you might start treating it better.