In the last couple of decades, a person’s everyday life has become increasingly hectic. Responsibilities start to pile up, and societal requirements become more complex. It can be harder and harder to stay calm and logical through all this pressure.
Especially since the beginning of the pandemic, peoples’ lives have flipped upside-down. It’s almost impossible not to get overwhelmed. Anxiety and stress levels have gone through the roof, and the isolation doesn’t help. But even before the pandemic, anxiety levels were higher than ever. In these difficult times, everyone needs to calm down and maintain a healthy mind. Thankfully, this psychologist from UCLA has created a four-step method to calm your mind.
What Agitates The Mind?
The main factor that leads to the brain getting agitated is stress. It makes people afraid. It makes them overthink and throws all the calm they feel out the window.
Stress is caused by several things, from external to internal factors. It affects everyone, no matter how their life looks. While some people are more predisposed to becoming stressed than others, stress is still a difficult thing to deal with.
The situations that lead to stress are called stressors. Stressors don’t inherently have to be negative. Of course, some stressors affect everyone and are also inherently harmful, like an exhausting workplace environment. But positive events, such as getting married, can also make someone feel anxious and overwhelmed.
One of the things that influence how stressed you get is perception. Some situations will not affect certain people but will stress the daylights out of someone else. For example, some people love being the center of attention. But for others, there is nothing as frightening as being noticed or having all eyes on them.
How Stressors Disrupt A Calm Mindset
Stressors can be external, induced by things around you, or internal, caused by your thoughts, feelings, and fears. The most common external stressors are life changes, work, relationship issues, and financial problems. When it comes to internal stressors, those are usually pessimism, rigid thinking, lack of self-compassion, and perfectionism.
But these are just a few examples. In reality, there are millions of stressors. Almost anything in life can stress certain people out. Some degree of stress will always be a part of life. As long as humans have emotions, they will feel pressured by different events. And one could argue that some degree of stress can even be good if used properly. In some cases, it can keep you on your toes, making you more motivated and sharper.
Unfortunately, this thought process is short-sighted. It doesn’t account for the long-term harms that come from feeling pressured. Being too stressed for your good is a thing. Dealing with a lot of stress stimulates the amygdala, triggering the body’s fight-or-flight response. In this situation, the amygdala will send signals to the brain to release stress hormones, like adrenaline. This response is autonomic, meaning you have no control over when it happens.
The Stress Response
The only thing you can control is your stress levels to ensure that the amygdala is stimulated less often. But when you start feeling stressed, there’s nothing you can do to stop the fight-or-flight response. When someone experiences stress, especially if it’s chronic, they will be impacted by the harmful effects of the stress response.
The physical symptoms of stress are aches, tachycardia, exhaustion, headaches, and high blood pressure. If you experience these symptoms often, you risk developing cardiovascular diseases, obesity, menstrual problems, and gastrointestinal issues, naming a few. There are also many emotional symptoms, like agitation, feeling like you’ve lost control, having difficulty relaxing, and low self-esteem. Long-term, you can start experiencing anxiety, depressive episodes, panic attacks, and overall sadness.
Besides stress, other factors like burnout and grief can agitate your mind. An agitated mind can also signify a medical condition, like hormonal imbalance, dependency, neurological disorders, anxiety, and more. But stress is the most common cause of the agitation. And even when it’s not the cause, it certainly doesn’t help. In fact, it can make an agitated mind even more nervous.
You can try many methods to lower your stress levels. From monitoring your environment and eliminating stressors to going to therapy, loads of things can help. But this UCLA psychologist has created a four-step method that you can practice whenever you feel overwhelmed. If you follow these steps, you will learn to calm your mind.
The SIFT Method To Calm Your Mind
Dr. Dan Siegel is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine. He is the founder and co-director of the Mindfulness Awareness Center at UCLA. Throughout his career, he has written several books, most of them discussing the topic of mindfulness. In one of his bestsellers, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, he details a new calming method, SIFTing.
In general terms, SIFTing is used to calm the mind, slow it down, and connect with your emotions. It intends to help you be mindful and let go of all the built-up pressure. It allows you to fully understand what you are feeling and the root cause of your stress.
A calm mind allows you to stay logical and focused. You don’t just react anymore, but you can take a step back and respond with reason. When you don’t have to deal with pressure, you become more attentive. Instead of being self-absorbed, you can take the time and notice everything that’s going on. You will start to see how other people are feeling, thus allowing you to be more compassionate. You will also learn to communicate more effectively. A calm state of mind also means you can manage your energy in better ways.
The Four Steps Of The SIFT Method Can Calm Your Stress
These are just some of the few reasons why you need to calm your mind when tackling stress. But why is the mindfulness method created by Dr. Siegel one of the best brain exercises to help you be calm?
The first step is to become aware of the sensations and feelings coursing through your body. Physical sensations are just signals from your body towards your brain. They can be positive, like certain gut feelings, or negative, like pain or a clenched jaw. These signals are just a way through which your brain tells you what it likes and what it doesn’t.
Sensations are just the effect of an external stressor. By focusing on them, you can start to understand the stressors. For example, if speaking in public makes you tremble, chances are this activity is an external stressor. Plus, when you start focusing on sensations, you have an anchor point that can help you start calming down.
The second step is correlating stressful thoughts with images. Often, negative thoughts show up as a picture in the human brain. Or, the brain can at least associate them with something visual. They can be images from past events or just symbols of your fears. Someone afraid of getting embarrassed might associate an embarrassing thought with something awkward that happened to them in the past.
These images have a significant influence on how you feel. When you are aware of the images, you can correlate them with your thoughts. Thus, you can regain control over what you think. Those images won’t always accurately describe your thoughts, so you can even change them if needed.
The third step is to notice what feelings are associated with those sensations and images. These feelings tell you a lot about how you interpret certain situations. When you acknowledge those feelings, you are a step closer to keeping them under control.
Feelings are subjective, so don’t try to suppress them. Most people will try to set up rigid frameworks that tell them how they should feel. But that’s not healthy. There is no right or wrong when it comes to feelings. The only thing you should be concerned about is whether those feelings affect you or not.
Allow yourself to feel a full range of emotions instead of bottling them up. The most important thing you can do is acknowledge and label them. By giving them a name, you can better understand what’s going on in your mind.
The fourth and last step is identifying your thoughts. Stress and agitation often stem from irrational and untrue beliefs. When you observe your thoughts, you can understand what your brain tells you. Is it clinging on to a lie? Or is there a valid reason as to why it’s feeling overwhelmed?
The secret to a healthy and calm mind is understanding the narrative you are nurturing. Instead of letting that narrative take control of you, you need to be proactive and take control of it first. When you analyze your thoughts, you will find flaws in your cognitive process. This way, your brain starts to understand that all the reasons why they are stressed are illogical.
Final Thoughts On The SIFT Method And How It Helps Calm The Mind
Stress is probably one of the most damaging emotions the mind can experience. If left unchecked, it can lead to horrible long-term harm. It damages both your mental and physical health. And in an environment such as the present society, you need to be prepared to face stressors. Most methods that can tackle stress are complicated and time-consuming.
For example, therapy is expansive and is just not available to everyone. But mindfulness brain exercises are easy and can help you calm down quickly. The SIFT method hasn’t gained its deserved popularity yet, so, chances are, you didn’t know about it before. But it is an excellent mindfulness method that you can use anytime and anywhere to calm your mind.
It is an easy four-step method that helps you have a healthy brain. It was created by Dr. Dan Siegel from UCLA. As a specialist in psychiatry, he explains that this method helps you stay focused when you feel overwhelmed and allows you to deal with stress rationally. All you need to do is be aware of sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts. This process only takes a few minutes, and, at the end of it, you will be left with a clear and calm mind.
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