How To Control Your Life

Part 26

“I should have been asleep hours ago - I’m going to be fit for nothing in the morning”

“I’ve got to get that done tomorrow but I just don’t think I’m up to it”

“I’m not feeling too good. My heart’s beating too fast - am I having a heart attack?”

“How the hell am I going to afford to get that sorted out?”

“Am I going to get found out?”

“What was that noise?”

Worry. Anxiety. Replay. Hamster-on-wheel, rat-in-cage, round and round. Your body is tense, your blood is pounding, and you are alone with all the horror of your worst thoughts.

If you want to control your life, almost the last thing you need to do is worry. If you worry, you undermine yourself. You make yourself too tired to cope. You teach yourself to panic rather than analyse the situation. You weary your very soul. You make yourself fat.

(People who don’t get their full quota of decent sleep are fatter than those who do.)

You have worries, some of them are probably serious worries. Some of them are probably very private worries, worries you would hate anyone else to know about. You carry them with you all through the day, and at night you give them hours of attention. You nurture them; you indulge them and give them free reign. Hell, you give your worries more time, attention and nurture than you do some of your nearest.

Why don’t you just stop?

If you stop worrying you will find you have some huge benefits:

♦ You’ll sleep better
♦ You’ll have loads more energy
♦ You’ll be calmer, more serene
♦ You’ll be fitter and slimmer
♦ You’ll be able to cope better with every aspect of your life
♦ You’ll enjoy life more

The things you worry about may be huge, they may be relatively small; they maybe real, or imaginary. Whatever they are, you know that you can’t possibly do anything about them by worrying. So why worry?

We worry because it feels, if we’re worrying and concentrating on the things causing us anxiety, that we’re not completely helpless, we’re doing something about them. Obviously we’re not; less obviously (certainly when we’re in the middle of this process) we’re making things worse.

If you worry into the small hours about something, when you get up the next day and have to take some action about the source of your anxiety, you’re not starting from a good place. Your mind is fuddled, your reactions are slowed, you’re tense. You’re not capable of reviewing the situation sensibly because you’ve approached it from a million different ways, all night long, and you’ve always come back to the same conclusion: there’s no answer.

Actually there are lots of answers.

Your brain is vast and has all sorts of powers that we don’t yet understand or comprehend. The part you actually control - after a fashion at least - is just a small part of that powerhouse. You know that your brain can do things ‘on its own’, realise things which you haven’t consciously realised. In dreamtime your brain does all sorts of processing - without you doing anything. So why not let it do its work? If you try to do the work with your conscious brain that should be happening subliminally (Latin: sub = under, limen = threshold) it’s like trying to control a full-spate river by blowing at it, or a moonshot with an app on your smartphone.

You know that you sometimes wake up, refreshed and bushy-tailed from an excellent night’s sleep, and you’ve got the answer to something. You just know what to do about a particular situation. You just tackle something without more ado or hesitation. You’ve had that happen to you, haven’t you (however seldom)? That was your brain doing its work - while you were sleeping. The conscious part of you was doing its bit by deciding to go to bed and then sleeping. Excellent teamwork, desired result.

If, on the other hand, you’d spent the night trying to work out the solution with that conscious part of your brain (the frantic blowing or that little app), what would have happened? You’d have worn yourself out, depleted your ability to function during the day in the short-term, undermined your health in the long-term, and failed to achieve anything. You would probably even have made your life situation worse by becoming irritated with people, irritating them in turn, and turning your luck sour (being clumsy, being late, forgetting things…).

So the overarching solution is to let your subconscious brain do the work of finding answers to your life’s problems. How?

You have to provide your brain with everything it needs.

If you had a brilliant friend who offered to come round and help you with something very important, what would you do? You’d provide them with everything they wanted and needed, wouldn’t you? You’d make them welcome, and comfortable. You wouldn’t ignore them, show them into a cluttered, cold and slightly damp room and leave them to it. You wouldn’t, if they said “Any chance of a coffee?” say “No, hard luck - can’t be bothered to put the kettle on today” or, if they were still working on your problem after four hours, not offer them something to eat, would you?

So that’s how you need to treat your brain - the best friend you’re ever going to have. Your brain needs good food, a decent drink, fresh air and exercise (internal and external), light, and proper relaxation.

♦ Good Food
A complete human friend would want their version of good food (so you wouldn’t offer your vegetarian friend a York ham sandwich, however artisan), not necessarily yours, and your brain is the same. Fresh vegetables and fruit, unsullied by agrochemicals, refined sugar and processing of any kind other than simply preparing it for eating (or juicing) is what your brain wants most; pulses/legumes next, and then the jury’s out on how much of and what about the rest - but anything that needs you to study the label or take a short degree course in Food Technology is probably A Bad Idea.

♦ Decent Drink
While your complete human friend’s eyes might light up at the offer of a Grande Vanilla Latte with Caramel Drizzle, a Red Bull or a large whisky, there is only one drink as far as your brain is concerned: water. Fresh as possible, cool but not icy, as clean of contaminants (agrochemicals, pesticides, plasticisers, Bisphenol A, hormones…) as possible. Plenty of water, drunk gently over the day.

♦ Fresh Air
There’s no fresh air in an office, a factory, a building site or a vehicle. The brain needs air that’s really fresh, and that air needs to be processed through the lungs. Learn to breathe and make sure you breathe in fresh air at key points during the day (for example: first thing when you wake up, at the sleepy point of the afternoon, whenever you’re feeling ‘stale’ or brain-fogged).

♦ Exercise (external)
The complete human friend who comes round to help you out probably won’t thank you for suggesting a quick break for a go on your rowing machine, but your brain friend is different. Exercise does an awful lot for your brain, some of which we know about (increased oxygen, endorphin generation, reduction of insulin resistance, etc.), some we don’t; what we do know is that exercise increases and improves the brain’s functioning. Reasonable, relatively gentle and sustained - but not excessively sustained - exercise wins out over all the rest.

♦ Exercise (internal)
If your complete human friend had been slaving away for hours at your computer sorting out your problem, you probably wouldn’t (I hope…) offer they take a break and play a computer game for a bit. If you were sensible, and considerate, you would suggest they do something completely different. ‘Different’ is the key. “Come and stretch your legs” isn’t, precisely, an option for your brain but doing a paper-based crossword or playing a game of (physical) chess is - and your brain will thrive on the change and the difference. Having an interesting and friendly chat/talk/interaction with another mind is an option for both a human friend and your brain.

♦ Light
Your complete human friend only needs enough light to see to complete the task in hand; your brain is different. To your brain, light is food. Full spectrum light sends signals to the brain, stimulates it, prompts it to send signals in turn to other parts of your body (‘be fertile’, ‘eat fat’, ‘dull hearing’, ‘sleep’…) and generally provides information about the outside world to your friend without eyes. If you can’t get outside into (good) natural light, a full spectrum light bulb will do the trick. Just 15–20 minutes a day, while you’re doing something else, is what your brain needs to function full throttle.

♦ Relaxation (Proper)
Relaxation, for both types of friend, is about brainwaves. Alpha waves (8–12 Hertz) span the range between conscious and subconscious, and too little time spent where alpha waves are dominant in the brain means anxiety, serious stress and insomnia - and can even lead to obsessive-compulsive disorders. Meditation, and practices such as yoga are the ultimate and sustained way of generating alpha waves in the brain but, for those who want a faster, easier way, there are meditation machines (also known as ‘mind machines’, or even ‘psychowalkmans’).

That’s it, that’s your part. Provide all this for your brain and it will do the rest.

You can do all this, that’s the joy of it, the relief. It’s almost mechanical, it’s by the book. You don’t have to take courses, walk over hot coals, suspend disbelief or trust in supernatural beings. Just schedule hearty daily doses of good food, water, fresh air, exercise and relaxation. You don’t have to take it on trust, just try it for a couple of months and see.

Or you can live with the hamster.

Twitter: @MaryonJeane

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