How Repetitive Thoughts Create Added Stress

I really liked this CNN interview between Christiane Amanpour and comedian Ruby Wax on mindfulness. Ruby describes the escalating problems we face in our society with our hyper-connected and “on-display” world.

Ruby talks specifically about “the mind-made suffering” we create for ourselves when our minds are constantly being bombarded by messages. Often the messages are negative and raise our fear levels. And when our fear levels are high, we lose a sense of control — we feel helpless. We’re reminded what we don’t have, what we need to be happy, and what others are doing. It’s a really unpleasant way to live, and it’s becoming clear in our world that we need to develop skills to counteract this influence.

I know from experience what Ruby’s talking about. I feel like I’ve absorbed a lot of values from my environment that I don’t want (the important fame, prestige, and wealth are) and I find mindfulness helps me take back a little control.

Mindfulness helps us take back control by separating thoughts, by creating space between them. That way we don’t confuse our habits of thinking with who we are. In fear, we may repeat thoughts to ourselves like “I am a victim” or “I am shy.” We may indeed have moments where we felt victimized or felt shy, and we can be justified by having negative thoughts and feelings about these experiences. But with “mind-made” suffering the mind gets caught up in a vicious cycle of repeating the negative thoughts — adding suffering on top of suffering. This suffering is no longer coming from the negative experience but from the mind itself. How our minds’ interpret an experience is what adds suffering.

So mindfulness can help reduce stress by placing little gaps between thoughts. The more we do it, the more we recognize we are not our thoughts. We are the awareness that observes the thoughts. It feels so nice to have more control over how long thoughts get to visit my mind. It just takes practice!

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Art James Heller is a positive psychology life coach and career coach. He meets with local clients in Hillsboro, OR and clients from around the world by phone and video. If you’d like to learn more please explore the site, or get in touch to sign up for a free consultation.

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