Stress management: Controlling internal voices

Hawk flying against blue sky
Photo by Nigam Machchhar from Pexels

A hawk flew over the apartment complex last week, and everything went silent. Not a peep from trees that moments before had been alive with the sounds of birds. Usually, birds are swooping back and forth across the parking lot, picking up bugs and seeds to take to their nests, singing and scolding each other, defining their territory, or hopping around in the sun.

Nothing moved.

After awhile, the hawk moved away, and the chirping and chattering started up again.

Birds don’t only talk to each other or respond to danger; they talk to themselves. When my budgies are falling asleep, they make quiet, soothing noises to themselves. (It sounds like someone letting the air out of a balloon.)

What do you say when you talk to yourself? Not out loud, but silently. What tone does your internal voice take on? 

Awareness is the first step

Many people aren’t aware that they’re “saying” anything to themselves. Others say that if they talked to others the way they talk to themselves, nobody would want to be around them!

Stress management depends on the thoughts running through your mind, whether you’re aware of them or not. We might not be aware of them because they’re hardwired from repetition and move too fast for us to notice.

Try this experiment: Remember a time when you were worried about something. Maybe you were nervous about showing up at a party where you didn’t know anyone. Maybe you were waiting for one of your teenagers to come home after curfew. Maybe you were preparing an important presentation for the first time.

What was going through your mind?

Where did you feel it in your body?

Wouldn’t it be nice if that worried or critical inner voice could be quieted, like those twittering birds in the presence of a hawk?

Appropriate tension can keep us sharp, but studies show that too much stress can affect our muscles, heart health, breathing, posture, sleep, hormones, memory, defense against illness, digestion, appetite, and many other areas. Stress management can improve our energy, health, mood, and resilience.

Neurons in our brain love to save energy, so worry can become automated; kind of like putting a phone number on speed-dial. Neuroplasticity–the ability of the brain to change–means we can program new thought pathways for new responses.

Change it up to eliminate worry

Next time you find yourself worrying, try this: Notice the messages that are looping through your mind (“What if I’m late?” “What if they laugh?” “What if I can’t/ don’t ______?”) and the internal tone of “voice.” Next, re-run those exact ame worry words in a different voice–one that makes you laugh. Mickey Mouse, for example, or Kermit the Frog. Maybe Betty White or Melissa McCarthy. Maybe the voice of a politician that you can’t stand, the kind that makes you hit the OFF button on your TV as soon as you hear it.

Personally, when I replay that nagging voice telling me, “You’re never going to figure out how to get across town without GPS!” using the voice of Winnie the Pooh or Marvin the Martian, it’s a lot harder to take that thought seriously.

There are thousands of stress management techniques. This one aims to quiet or silence those ANTS (Automatic Negative ThoughtS). Make it a game to switch up the voices you use so you can laugh or ignore them!

If you have questions about this technique, feel free to schedule a free strategy session, and I’ll be happy to help you.

Weight loss misdirection and marketing

Milk Duds box advertises 30% less fat
Is 30% less fat in candy good news for weight loss?

I get really irritated by those sneaky, lying weight-loss liars.

I was at a church function recently where the icebreaker included naming your favorite movie (on this particular day mine was Groundhog Day) and reaching into a little tub full of movie candy and pulling out a box for your prize.

I pulled out this box of Milk Duds.

I didn’t look at it very closely until a few days later, and I noticed this surprising marketing angle: “30% less fat!”

Which begs the question, “30% less fat than what, exactly?”

 (This is a good question to ask any time “more” or “less” opinions come into play: Compared to what? For example, “You should be more successful.” Compared to what? “You shouldn’t talk so much.” Compared to what?)

When you look closer, it says it’s 30% less fat than other candy bars.

On our weight loss journeys, many of us have been taught to watch out for fat, because fat contains more calories than carbs or protein. Maybe Milk Duds have less fat than a Hershey bar–because chocolate has more fat than caramel, or taffy, or whatever the heck is inside a Milk Dud. That doesn’t mean they have fewer calories than a chocolate bar, less sugar than a chocolate bar, or are healthier than a chocolate bar.

That’s the first level of misdirection, but there’s more

Fat still doesn’t have anything to do with the sneaky, lying weight-loss liars. No, that would have to do with servings.

One serving of Milk Duds is 10 pieces, or 130 calories. Now, who counts out ten pieces and stops there? There are 4.5 servings in the box. That means this box of Milk Duds has 585 calories–more than a Big Mac!

Now, if I’m going to eat something, I want it to be something that makes me feel satisfied when I’m done. A Big Mac has a much better chance of making me feel satisfied than does a box of Milk Duds. And I don’t like Big Macs, so no thank you.

I’m not a dietician or nutritionist–I’m a hypnotist, which means I pay attention to language and suggestion, and “30% less fat” makes Milk Duds sound like a healthy option. What it actually means, though, is “Look over here at the amount of fat! Don’t flip the box over and look at the back, because then you would learn that just one box a week would make you 8 pounds heavier over the course of a year.”

I have friends who are marketers, and they have products to sell. There is nothing deceptive about saying, “130 calories per serving.” But we live in a busy world, and while we may have the habit of asking, “How many calories?” once we have that answer, a lot of us stop reading. “Oh, 130 calories? That’s not much.”

Focus on what benefits you

It’s just as easy to build a habit of taking one more step and getting one more piece of information (“How many servings per box?”) that could help us make a new decision. 

Little things can make a big difference. If you’d like to jump on a free strategy call together, we can brainstorm ideas about how to set up the mental automation to make healthy habits simple.

Mother’s Day: Changing painful to peaceful

Smiling toddler hugging a woman
Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

Every Mother’s Day, I marvel at the social-media photos of happy mothers and daughters. All those smiling faces. I wonder at the wistful memories from daughters who loved their moms, who miss their moms, whose moms were their friends.

I am not that daughter, and she was not that mom.

This post is for all those other adult children, who, like me, have never sent an unconflicted Mother’s Day card, or have dreaded the annual phone call to a woman who perfected criticism, ridicule, and shame. I’m writing this in the hope that it gives you one less day of grief.

This is for all those adult children who need to hear this: You do not need to have a good mom to have a good life.

You do not need to have a good mom to have a good life.

If someone enjoys tearing you down in order to feel good themselves, it has everything to do with them. It has nothing to do with you.

If someone did not have the skill or desire to become a better person, that does not have to be your burden. Let it be theirs.

You have so much to offer! If someone isn’t interested in knowing or appreciating you, you can find peace in the space between you.

They are not your tribe. Go find your tribe. Spend time with them. Learn from them. Give to them. Love them. 

You do not need to have a good mom to have a good life.

For those adult children who find this day troubling, here’s how I started to celebrate Mother’s Day, instead of wasting energy on could-have-beens. I started doing this privately years ago, but now I feel comfortable sharing.

A reason to celebrate Mother’s Day

This Mother’s Day, I celebrate the people who made my childhood amazing. My elementary school principal. The teachers (I remember their names) who taught me, corrected me, and encouraged me to strive for the highest standards possible while reminding me that failure isn’t final; it’s a part of growth. It’s nothing to hide or be ashamed of, because if you hide it, you can’t fix it.

This Mother’s Day, I celebrate my high-school friends’ mothers (I remember their names), who treated me with respect–sometimes amused, sometimes serious–like a young and inexperienced person who was simply in training to be a good adult person.

This Mother’s Day, I celebrate my female friends who have great relationships with their adult children (I remember their names); whose adult kids love them, look forward to seeing them, plan vacations together, and call them because they care about their lives. They were able to be the mom their kids needed.

This Mother’s Day, I celebrate the woman who gave birth to me. I do not know her name, but I’m grateful to her for bringing me into this beautiful world and for giving me this precious life (which has not always felt so beautiful or precious… it’s a process). I’ve been blessed with wonderful friends and mentors and random miracles. I’ve had a life of adventure and fascination. I’ve loved and learned and discovered and created. I’ve been sad and afraid, fallen and failed, but I’ve also been grateful and happy and successful. She started my life, and none of it would have been possible without her.

This Mother’s Day, I celebrate the women who are being great moms now to young children, especially (I remember their names), as well as those great moms whose names I will never know. My friend John Hertz says, “It’s better to promote the good than rail against the ill.” We create the world we want by studying what works and making more of that visible and possible. I’m grateful for those who are doing that work now.

This Mother’s Day, I celebrate those who display the qualities we honor in mothers, whatever their role, age, or gender (I remember their names). The friends, aunts and uncles, managers, CEOs, cashiers, customer service reps, health-care workers, car sales reps, computer techs, writers, architects, that guy in the back of the elevator… Sometimes, we just need a mom, just for a moment, and if you step up to the plate, you rock. I celebrate the opportunities I’ve been given to extend that “mom moment” to someone who needed it.

Decide to make today the best it can be

To those who don’t enjoy Mother’s Day as much as the smiling, happy people on social media seem to, I invite you to reclaim your joy today, in your own way, for your own best possible life. You are worth it. 

This is my way. Maybe it will work for you.

You don’t need to have a good mom to have a good life.

Separate from those who diminish you.

Find your tribe.

Celebrate.

If you want more techniques for releasing unproductive patterns in relationships, schedule a free strategy session.