The Power of our Thoughts

We so often take our thoughts as the truth, as most of us have never been taught anything otherwise. Our personalities and minds develop as we grow up. We are continuously living through different experiences, relationships and life events, which shape our thoughts and beliefs of ourselves and the world around us.

We have between 50-70,000 thoughts per day. 83% of these are negative and 90% the same as yesterday.

Our thoughts, emotions and perceptions all influence what’s happening in our brain. Therefore it’s really important to understand the relationship with our thoughts as they can have a huge impact on our mental health.

Thoughts don’t just affect our mental health either. They directly effect neurotransmitters in the brain such as dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin, which all have an effect on the body too. A set of negative thoughts and consequential negative emotions can become trapped in our bodies and cause physical ill health.

The more you reinforce and repeat the same thought, feeling or experience, the stronger those neural connections become in the brain. For example, the more we worry = the better we become at worrying! However, the same can be said for positive thoughts and emotions too; for example, the more we practice gratitude = the better we get at being grateful.   

But here’s the key thing, we often make up ‘a lot of shit’ when it comes to our thoughts! Rarely based on facts, our thoughts are often made up of assumptions, predictions, and narratives created in our own minds, which can hugely differ, depending on what kind of mood we are in and the state of our mental and physical health.

BUT our thoughts are NOT us.

They are merely mental events that come and go. They might seem real. They might at times feel overwhelming or even scary. They might feel believable. But they do not define who we are. Once we realise this, everything can change. We start to learn to create space between our thoughts and ourselves and we can understand the workings of our own mind and our mental health far better. We can stop and notice when our minds might be taking us off in unhelpful directions and do something about it. We can learn to understand ourselves better. We can transform from who we believe we are, to who we would like to be.  

Mindfulness is what you might describe as a tool or technique to help you create this space.  

This is because mindfulness helps us to get better at noticing our thoughts; at seeing them for what thy are. They come and go, like passing clouds. But what we often habitually do, is get lost or stranded on a particular thread of thought and it’s this that can then lead us down the spiral of anxiety, stress or possibly even depression. By becoming more aware of the thoughts that go through our minds, we can pick up on any unhelpful thinking patterns, such as self-criticism or catastrophising and learn to let go. Also, once we have stopped and noticed these thoughts and then used the breath as a vehicle to re-focus our awareness, we are more likely and better able to act consciously rather than reactively.

It isn’t always easy to do this though. The practice of mindfulness might be simple in its nature but it’s far from easy. Whilst I practice mindfulness every day (or there about!) and have done for several years now, by no means have I got this fully mastered yet. A huge part of mine and Lucy’s motivation behind Minds First is to create a platform where we can share our own experiences of mental health struggles openly and honestly, in hope that it might help or inspire others.

I don’t ever want to pretend I’ve got it all sorted. Let’s face it I don’t think anyone does. Life is one on-going journey and we are forever learning and growing. There is no end point. No final ‘perfect’ destination. And that includes the management of our mental health and emotional wellbeing too. 

I am hugely passionate about mindfulness and I truly believe in the wonderful and life changing effects it can have on people’s lives. I have experienced these benefits myself. However, that’s not to say that I’ve been fully ‘cured’ of mental health difficulties and that at times I don’t or won’t still struggle with my mental health. But for me, mindfulness helps to manage my mental health far better than anything else I’ve ever tried.

I also know that the longer you meditate (in terms of how many months/years you’ve been practicing for), the greater the effects on the brain. The stronger the neural pathways created. In mindfulness studies, MRI scans have shown the effects that continued meditation practice can have on different areas of the brain, including the amygdala (the stress response/emotional part of the brain).

So whilst I have definitely already experienced many of the benefits mindfulness offers, I believe each year of practice, I will continue to strengthen and change different parts of my own brain; helping to reduce my likelihood of experiencing future episodes of depression and anxiety even more.

Therefore, even if you feel like you currently have a difficult relationship with your thoughts and notice that you perhaps often fall into unhelpful thinking patterns. Perhaps you are naturally an anxious person, struggle with anger or depression; this doesn’t mean you can’t change. Neuroplasticity refers to the brains ability to change and meditation has the ability to influence this. This for me is one of the most inspiring aspects of mindfulness.

Unfortunately we might have been told unhelpful things in the past, which might affect our hopes and beliefs that things can be different; that things can change. For example, a doctor once told me that because I’ve had more than 3 episodes of depression in my lifetime, ‘there’s a high chance I’ll probably continue to experience theses episodes for the rest of my life’. When you think about that for a moment, what effect do you think that could have on a persons thoughts? Whilst I appreciate they perhaps have to state statistics etc. I personally find it an unhelpful thing to tell someone. Almost like planting a seed, as a thought in someones mind, which might well strengthen the neural pathway associated with helplessness or disempowerment. As opposed to igniting hope. Something that our minds and body’s thrive off.

Thanks to my mindfulness training, I have learnt about the importance of trust and following your gut feeling. Something often ignored in the western world. To not always jump to believing voices of authority, with absolute certainty, such as a doctor. Instead, to listen to that feeling deep within your heart; the feeling or concept that’s known in spirituality, as your true consciousness. It’s this gut feeling that I am following with the on-going exploration of my own mental health and my beliefs for the future.

Just to be clear though, I’m not suggesting people don’t take their doctors advice. I am just saying from my own experience it can be helpful to do some investigating and research of your own too and to always listen to your gut feeling.

After all, no one knows your own body or mind as well as you do!

We are all unique and there are still many ‘unknowns’ when it comes to understanding mental health and gaps in research. So listen to your gut feeling if you have one. Maybe it’s your deepest consciousness speaking to you. Far greater than thoughts, words, statistics, or the noise of others and everyday life. Something we might only feel if we allow ourselves to sit still and quietly for long enough.

For me personally, this relates to my strong gut feeling that medication is not the answer or certainly not the only answer when it comes to managing my mental health. I have always had a burning desire to research and explore other options; more holistic, alternative and long lasting approaches. However, unfortunately a lot of our mental healthcare system is based on a medical model and focuses on medication. But please know that whilst this may be helpful for some people, there are a HUGE variety of other treatments and life style options available. The power of our own mind (our thoughts!) and mindfulness being one of those things 🙂

So remember….

It’s always worth getting to know your relationship with your thoughts.

It’s probably the most important relationship you’ll ever have.

Don’t be afraid to trust and follow your gut feeling.

Remember that change is always possible.