The following is an excerpt from my book, Worry No More! 4 Steps to Stop Worrying and Start Living
Step Two: Move to a Different State
The first step to stop worrying is about leaving one theater and going to a different theater to watch a happier movie, a movie that portrays the results you actually want in your life. It is about making a dramatic mental shift from negative thinking to positive thinking. The metaphor of changing theaters to watch a movie you like rather than sitting through a movie that upsets you is, of course, just a metaphor for how you can control your thoughts, just like you control your body.
Step Two is also about making a change, but, this time, it is not metaphorical. This step is about making a real, physical change. It is about moving to a different state.
Relax. I am not saying you need to pack up all of your belongings, leave your family and friends, and find a new place to live hundreds of miles away. That might actually help some people stop worrying, but that is not what I am suggesting here.
The word “state” that I am referring to means “the condition of a person or thing; a particular condition of mind or feeling.” What I am talking about is changing your state of being, both mentally and physically.
One of the amazing things doctors and scientists have discovered and proven beyond any doubt is the connection between mind and body. What happens in the mind has a direct impact on what happens in the body. Equally true, what the body does has a direct impact on the mind.
You can easily test this in most public areas. Simply go to a shopping mall, park, or mass transportation station and watch people as they pass by you. It does not take any special training in the analysis of body language to quickly discern which people are happy and which people are sad or angry. It is obvious by the way they move their bodies, their posture, and their facial expressions. By observing a person’s physical state, you can guess with a high level of accuracy what that person’s mental state is.
Unless you are practiced in the art of concealing your emotions, and intentionally do so, it is very difficult to get your body to hide what you are feeling. If you are happy and excited about something, everyone around you can tell simply by looking at you. The same is true if you are angry, sad, or worried. I cannot count how many times in my life someone, often one of my kids, has asked me “what’s wrong?” within minutes of being in my presence. Needless to say, I am not a very good poker player!
Now here is the very interesting part that not many people know. While it is true that your emotions have a direct connection to and control over your body, it is also true that your body has a direct connection to and control over your mind. Your mental state controls your physical state, but you can change your mental state by intentionally changing your physical state.
When you are sad, angry, stressed, or worried, you can move to a different mental state by changing your physical state. That, my friend, is what this chapter is all about! What follows are several practical examples of how to use or change your physical state to move you to a different, less worrisome, mental state.
Your First Exercise: Stand Up, Stretch, Yawn
I love the fact that video call technology allows me to work with people all over the world. Talking on the phone is good, but being on a video call with someone is great! At the time I am writing this, I do not have any clients in my home town. All of my current clients are scattered across the globe and we have our meetings over the internet using video technology.
The beauty of this technology is that it makes it very hard for people to hide from me what they are really feeling. I can hear their words and watch their faces and, pretty quickly, pick up on what they are feeling at the time.
One of the first things I observe is your posture. Do you have your head down with your chin tucked in toward your chest? Are your shoulders rounded downward and curved inward, again, toward your chest? What about your hands? Are they up where I can see them or down in your lap, or clenched into fists with your arms crossed in front of you? By observing this physical state, I know your mental state. You are upset and/or worried about something.
Worry, stress, anger, and other negative emotions cause the body to contract. It is almost like you want to curl up in a ball when you feel negative emotions. Your hands clench, your head tucks down, your facial muscles tighten, your shoulders arch inward toward your chest, and your breathing becomes shallow. Someone might say you look “all bunched up!” You do not do it consciously. It is just the way our bodies are designed.
If this is what I observe within the first few minutes of our call, I will do something very similar to what I did with the man and the woman in the previous chapter. I am going to redirect you. I am going to help you move to another state!
Stand up straight. Tilt your head back and look up at the ceiling or sky. Hold it there for a few seconds and look from right to left a few times like you are searching for something overhead. Lift your shoulders and pull them back, sticking your chest out. Hold them there and take a few slow breaths, forcing the air deep down toward your belly and exhaling from your belly. Do this three or four times. Next, open your hands and wiggle your fingers. Stretch your arms out wide while still wiggling your fingers. With your arms still outstretched, rotate your arms a few times in little circles. Look upward again with your arms still out. Now open your mouth as wide as you can, faking a really big yawn without covering your mouth with your hands like your mother taught you.
Now, how do you feel? You should feel more relaxed and a bit more energetic because of the new blood flow. More importantly, you should be feeling less stressed, angry, or worried! Your emotions may not have completely changed, but I have never done this simple exercise and not felt at least some relief from my anxiety.
While I make no specific claims and have not conducted any of my own scientific research into this, many other people have. I am just here to share with you things that have worked for me and for many of my clients.
What happened in this first “state change” is that you consciously engaged in “expansive” body movements. These movements opened up the space around and within you. You expanded the space you were occupying and allowed blood to flow freely through your body. Basically, you engaged in exactly the type of body movements you would have unconsciously made had you been happy!
Even though you were not happy when you started the exercise, your negative mental state shifted toward the positive simply because your body was doing what it would have done in a positive mental state. You see, you can change your mental state, by changing your physical state.
With this simple exercise out of the way and a different energy flowing through you, we would then proceed with our coaching call and you will feel more open to sharing with me what is going on in your life, and you will now be able to do so more objectively.
I want to point out how important your physical posture is to your mood and internal energy so you will be aware of it in all of your social situations, not just as a remedy for worry. You may, unintentionally, put yourself into a mood that you do not want to be in!
I was having coffee with a friend, not long ago, in a coffee shop. Most of the regular tables were taken, so we sat on the two sofas in a corner that had a low coffee table in front of them. We set our coffee cups on the table and began chatting. We were very happy to see each other and wanted to get caught up on what we had been doing since we last saw each other. Because of the noise and the location of our coffee cups, we were both hunched forward on the sofas, leaning in toward each other so we could hear better and drink our coffee. I noticed, after about 15 minutes, that our conversation was taking on a negative energy that was unlike the two of us, and certainly not the energy we started with. It occurred to me how we were sitting. I had finished my coffee, so I set the cup on the table and sat all the way back into the sofa, stretching an arm out across the back of it to expand my chest and lift my shoulders. I immediately felt better. I motioned for her to sit back in her sofa, too, and she did. Within a minute or two, without changing anything other than the way we were seated, our conversation became more animated and centered back on the fun things in our lives!
So, if you are out with friends, at work, in a meeting, or just at home alone, be aware of your physical posture. A closed, slumped, contracted body posture will naturally produce negative energy and feelings, whereas, an open, expansive posture will produce positive energy and feelings.
Hold a Pencil in Between Your Teeth
Yes, parents have, for generations, told children not to chew on their pencils. “You’ll get lead poisoning!” mom would say. “They stopped making pencils out of lead many years ago, mom!” I’d say. “Don’t be sassy! And get that pencil out of your mouth!” “Yes, ma’am.”
That, of course, is a purely fictional, hypothetical conversation. I never would have spoken to my mother like that…
Did you know that simply holding a pencil between your teeth can make you happier? It can! In fact, this is been scientifically proven and is often documented in psychology and physiology textbooks and magazines as an example of how physiology can impact mood.
Try it. Take a pencil or pen, or similarly shaped object, and hold it gently between your teeth. Do not bite down on it or wrap your lips all the way around it. Hold it like this for 3 to 5 minutes and you will find your mood has changed. You should be happier.
The act of gently holding the pencil between your teeth activates the same muscle movements required for a natural smile. When you are very happy, your cheek muscles pull the corners of your mouth back and up, and your teeth part slightly.
As with the previous exercise, you can influence your mood by forcing your body to do what it would naturally do if you were relaxed and happy. You do not need a pencil, of course. You could accomplish the same thing by faking a smile, but that requires much more conscious effort. Without any mental effort to maintain the smile, you can easily put a pencil in between your teeth and just hold it there while you work, cook, wash dishes, or any other task. I often hold a pencil in my mouth as I drive on the way to a meeting, as extra insurance that I will be in a happy, relaxed mental state when I arrive.
For more information on this, simply do an internet search for “hold a pencil between your teeth.”
Snap a Rubber Band on Your Wrist
My friend, J.B. Glossinger, founder of MorningCoach.com, often talks about wearing rubber bands on his wrist. When he finds himself worrying or complaining, he pulls the rubber band and releases it so it snaps hard on his wrist, causing instant pain. The sudden shock of pain brings your conscious mind to the present source of the pain, literally snapping you back into reality, out of the dream-world you were stuck in while worrying about the future.
This is much like a slap on the face we used to see in older movies and television shows. If a character was hysterical to the point rational talk was no longer effective, another character would slap the person in the face. The hysterical person would stop and look as if he or she had been awoken from a bad dream, often saying “thank you” for being slapped.
Try it. It is a milder form of “shock” therapy!
Drink More Water
One very important thing I have learned about myself and about my boys, is the need to drink more water.
What I learned, almost by accident, was that I usually felt in a better mood after drinking a glass of water. I work from home and will often be at my computer or on the phone most of the day. I often get so wrapped up in what I am doing that I forget to eat lunch. By mid-afternoon, about the time my boys get home from school, I was often tired and cranky. I thought it was from working all day and not eating. Not eating may have had something to do with it, but it turned out to be more about not drinking!
I discovered that if I drank water while I was working, I was not nearly as tired and irritable by mid-afternoon, even if I skipped lunch. I also noticed that my boys were often moody immediately after coming home from school, but that quickly faded after drinking a glass of water.
Again, research has found that even mild dehydration causes fatigue and mood swings. We think less clearly when we are tired and moody. When we are worried about something is exactly the time we need all of our physical and mental resources, so staying hydrated is very important to helping you deal with stress and worry.
While there is some disagreement from researchers as to how much water a person should drink every day, all of them agree that the average person does not drink enough. I encourage you to keep a bottle of water with you and drink from it often! You will be amazed at how this one physical act, drinking more water, can dramatically change your emotional state.
I have met and interviewed, for my “Life Is A Marathon” show, a man named Bill Cortright. Bill is a fascinating man who has an amazing story of transforming his own health and is the author of The New Stress Response Diet & Lifestyle Program. The book is packed with amazing information and solid advice about how to manage stress through diet and exercise. He, too, talks about the importance of hydration as a tool for managing stress. I highly recommend his book!
“Fear loves isolation and darkness.
Fear hates light and community!
Tell someone your fears, shine a public light on it and it will flee!”
Bruce Van Horn
That quote is from a blog post I wrote several years ago and it is one of my most popular posts on Twitter! It seems to strike a chord of truth in many people.
When left alone with my worrisome thoughts, they seem to thrive and grow to the point where they are in control of me, instead of me being in control of them. Every time I get worried about something, there is a small voice that comes from the source of worry. The voice says “Don’t tell anyone about this. We can handle it on our own. Besides, nobody understands you the way I do.” Have you ever heard that voice? I think you have!
I have learned to not listen to that voice. In fact, I have learned to do exactly the opposite of what that voice tells me to do. It is not the voice of truth. It is the voice of fear. Fear and truth cannot coexist.
If you are worried about something, tell somebody about it. First, though, give it a specific name! When you clearly identify what you are worried about, name it, and say it out loud, you will be amazed at how much power it loses over you. Next, seek out a good friend who will listen to you, comfort you, and love you enough to give you solid, truthful advice. You do not want to start a pity party with someone who is only going to fuel your anxiety. The simple act of talking to another human about your fears immediately robs it of power over you. Monsters look very large and scary in the dark, but, when you turn on the light, you realize it is just a teddy bear near the closet door. Talking about your worries and fears is like turning on the lights in your bedroom. It forces you to see the issue objectively enough to describe it to the other person. Often, just telling someone solves the problem and there is no longer any stress about it. Other times, another person can help shed a new light, a different perspective on the problem. It may not go away, but you may discover another way of handling it.
“It’s not the load that breaks you.
It’s the way you carry it.”
The best way to carry a heavy load is to get other people to help you!
Move Your Body!
WARNING: Exercise has been known to cause health and happiness!
Seriously, exercise is an extremely powerful antidepressant. I often tell people that exercise, particularly running, saved my life! In my mid-40s, I was out of shape, overweight, and significantly depressed. I struggled to find anything to be happy about and seriously thought everyone would be better off without me.
I came to a place in my life where I had to make a decision. I either needed to make some serious changes, or I needed to just end it. I chose to try the changes! The first change I tried was to get in better shape so I could play with my young boys, then 8 and 2, without becoming out of breath after 10 minutes. I joined a gym and set a goal of trying to jog one mile on the treadmill without walking. It took me almost a month to do it, but I did it! Reaching that goal gave me the shot of motivation and hope I desperately needed and my life started to change from that point forward.
I am not a doctor and I recommend you talk with yours before starting any new exercise program, but many studies in medical schools around the world have shown that exercise can improve your mood and help ease mild to moderate forms of depression. Exercise produces endorphins, which are often called the body’s natural morphine. It can produce natural feelings of euphoria, or happiness! Endorphins help us feel less pain and better tolerate stress! If it were not for my high level of endorphins going into 2014, arguably the most stressful year of my life, I am not sure how I could have handled it all!
I am not saying that you have to become a marathon runner or even join a gym, but I am telling you that what has helped millions of other people will probably help you, too!
Just move your body! If all you can do is move from one room to another, do it. Simply changing locations, from one side of the couch to the other, can be enough of a physical state change to alter your mental state. If you are sitting on the bed waiting for the phone to ring, or if you are sitting inside your house worrying about something, get out of your house, get out of bed. Go for a simple walk, if you can.
The simple act of getting outside, breathing fresh air and feeling the sunshine on your skin has amazing effects on your mood. Prison guards know that one of the cruelest things they can do to prisoners is lock them up in solitary confinement in a windowless room and allowing no interaction with other people. Yet, we place ourselves in solitary confinement far too frequently. We usually do this because we listen to the voice of fear, as I mentioned above, that tells us we are safer in our cell. Set yourself free! Get out of your self-imposed prison cell and out into nature.
In May, 2014, I was recovering from cancer surgery and was in no condition to start running again, but I knew that I needed to get out of bed, out of my house, and start moving my body to protect my mental health. As soon as I could physically do it, I got out of my house and I would go for a short walk. At first, I had to use a walker. Do you know how embarrassing that was for this 51 year old man, who is known throughout his neighborhood as a strong, healthy marathon runner? Well, I did not let a little embarrassment stop me. I got out as often as I could and went as far as I could. Eventually, I did not need the walker anymore and I was able to walk a little farther each week. My body was getting stronger. Most importantly, I was intentionally moving my body because I knew how important it was to my mental health.
Observe the World Around You
As I have just stated, I very much believe in the therapeutic benefits of exercise, especially walking and running. I do some of my best thinking and problem solving while out for a walk or run. However, one of the things I like to do most while I am walking is to not think at all. I love what I call “observation walks!”
I go for a walk and I intentionally do not think about the future or the past. I go out to still my mind and simply observe whatever I encounter along the way. This is what I do: While walking, I move slowly and relax my mind. I notice cracks on the sidewalk or a blade of grass sticking up through a crack in the street. I notice the grass itself. I notice the trees. I notice the sound that a bird is making somewhere and I look to the trees to find that bird.
I am out of my house. I am moving my body, but I am trying to notice, in the moment, the simple details of what is around me. I am noticing the ground, the plants, and the animals. I am noticing the color of the sky and the clouds, the quality of the air and the breeze that is blowing and touching on my skin. I notice the smells that are coming in through my nose. And that is all I do. I do not think about anything. I simply observe and feel gratitude for being able see, feel, smell, and hear the world around me. If I find myself thinking about anything other than these things, I simply focus my attention back on my surroundings.
If I can only get out for a five-minute walk, it was five minutes I was not worried about something. I was just living in the moment, controlling my physical and mental state. Every time I do this, I come home feeling more relaxed and grounded than when I left. I always feel better and perceive that my problems, in this particular moment, are not as significant as I thought they were. This is one of my favorite state-change exercises!
So Get Moving!
The most important part of moving to a different state is actually doing the work! Thinking about doing it and deciding to do it does not get it done. Only the doing will work.
There are countless more examples of how physical state changes can reduce stress and worry in your life, but my goal with this chapter, and the book as a whole, is to share with you a few practical ideas that you can take and integrate into your life right away. The faster you can get moving, get busy taking the actions that can ease your pain, the better off you will be. You probably know of things that have worked for you in the past. Do them!
Having been a chronic worrier, I am fully aware of the powerful force that does not want you to do any of these things I have described. That force does not want you to take action to eliminate or reduce your worry because that force wants you to be worried. That force is worry. It is the voice I talked about, the voice that loves darkness and isolation. That voice will be very insistent that you do not need to try any of these remedies because they will take away its power over you. Be very aware of the voice and know that, at first, it will get louder as you take these steps. But I want you to know that you are stronger than this voice! You have a power inside you that is immeasurably more powerful than the power worry has over your life. The power within you is truth! The power is love! Listen to the voice of truth and tap into the amazing power of love within you and you will conquer fear, doubt, and worry.