“You can find peace amidst the storms that threaten you.” ~Joseph B. Wirthlin
Does your mind ever feel like a tornado of whirling thoughts?
And when that happens, do you wish for inner peace?
Well, not too long ago, after I quit my corporate job, I was stuck in that exact position. I realized that the degrees I earned and the jobs I chose made me miserable.
My inner chatter became unbearable, and my self-sabotaging, pestering thoughts sparked anxiety attacks, jitters, and nightmares. That forced me to go into therapy.
But even after a year of professional help, I felt so much despair that I thought I wouldn’t be able to survive it. My whole life lost meaning.
I was clinically depressed and needed chemicals to cut through the fog. I couldn’t even enjoy the activities I once loved.
The chemicals gave me jitters, so I tried deep breathing techniques, guided meditation, positive affirmations, and vision boards. Eventually, I found what worked for me.
The more I practiced what worked, the more comfortable I became with all my worries. No, my problems did not disappear, but I gained inner resolve and tenacity to become comfortable with the discomfort.
I’m proud of the efforts I made to ease my acute emotional distress. While no easy shortcuts or magic potions exist, I found fantastic fixes and mental techniques along the way. They helped me deal with my sadness, regret, anger, and any horrible memory that bubbled up.
To maintain my state of mind, I continue to practice the tactics and also stay open to any new ones.
Of course, nobody can embody an enduring state of peace for 24/7, 365 days a year. But these days, the tactics I continue to practice allow me to choose peace whenever distress bubbles back to the surface.
If you’re in the midst of an emotional tornado, the suggestions and fixes below should help you on your journey to peace.
1. Accept that you’re both ordinary and unique.
You’re an ordinary person walking a unique path. Accepting this can make you feel less alone, be more competitive in a non-destructive way, and eliminate self-pitying thoughts.
Accept that you’re an ordinary person with only twenty-four hours a day who has to somehow find meaning in the mundaneness of life. Accepting that you’re common will make you feel less alone.
But also accept that nobody is walking your unique path. You wake up every morning with you, your traits, circumstances, choices, and history. Accepting that you’re unique will make you want to achieve, be creative, and develop in a healthy way. You will aim to learn and grow rather than act from a place of fear, envy, or a pressing need to outperform.
If you accept that you’re both ordinary and unique, you’ll stop comparing yourself to somebody else’s highlight reel, you’ll aim to become the best version of your ordinary-unique self, and you’ll thereby move through life peacefully.
2. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
When you feel anxious, your thoughts jump around like frantic grasshoppers, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t stop overthinking.
This is an uncomfortable feeling, but if you practice getting comfortable with this feeling, it won’t consume your cognitive space. If you push it away, your discomfort will only continue to grow, as will the anxiety.
Practice by surrendering to that uncomfortable feeling and feeling it through every inch of yourself.
If you feel tears come, don’t fight them. Your tears release stress hormones such as cortisol, so cry if you must.
Avoid getting overwhelmed by placing one hand on your chest and the other on your belly and feeling yourself breathe. Sit up and feel your feet on the ground as you inhale through your nose. Hold for five seconds and exhale through your mouth.
You’re now fully integrated with that uncomfortable feeling instead of panicking about how to make it go away.
Repeat the deep breathing exercise as often as you can. Don’t be fooled by how simple and boring it sounds; this is an extremely powerful calming technique.
3. Practice staying in the now.
Most emotional distress stems from reliving your past or panicking about the future. It’s either regret or fear. That’s why if you practice staying in the now, you will learn to let go of the past and future, and just bring your awareness to the peaceful present.
Even if you can do it just for one moment, you will experience one peaceful moment. If you practice bringing your awareness to the present moment, you will realize you have control over your peace. You will recognize the calming effect it has on your state of being, even in the midst of chaos and crisis, and even if it is for a few seconds.
You might practice staying in the now in the following ways:
Sit outside, and pick a leaf on a tree. Try keeping your focus on that leaf for a full five minutes. When your attention wanders, gently bring it back to the leaf.
Pick an object (let’s say your coffee mug), and wonder. Where was it made? Who made it? Was it handmade? Try and figure out the history of that coffee mug (even if you have to make it up).
Look up at the night sky, and visualize your worries whooshing past you to sit inside a star. Now watch them burn up inside each giant ball of dust and gas. With all your worries gone, bring your awareness back to the present moment — you looking up at the night sky.
4. Get to know yourself.
To achieve inner peace, you must get to know yourself on a deep level. Getting to know yourself will help you make choices more aligned with who you are and want to be.
One way to get to know yourself is through journaling.
Just fifteen minutes per day of journaling will help you get to know yourself by recording your thoughts, beliefs, and inner conflicts. Better yet, you don’t have to worry about what you’ll write.
When you write, just keep going with the flow of your tangent thoughts, private thoughts, and inappropriate thoughts unfit for public viewing. Nobody will see these words but you! The point of journaling is to just get stuff out — the story you keep telling yourself, a careworn complaint, a horrible memory.
When I first started journaling, I wrote everything that popped into my mind. I found myself saying things I didn’t really mean about people who hardly knew me, about wanting to engage in activities I never really thought I would want to engage in, and kept going without judging myself. I was also able to release much of the anger, pain, guilt, shame and embarrassment I stored and in doing so, I freed myself.
One thing to remember is that writing about it doesn’t make it any more real than it is inside your head. The idea is to clear your mind and become aware of your thoughts you’re thinking and the emotional clutter. Remember to relax, be free, loosen up, feel the raw emotion, release it constructively, and do it daily.
The best part about journaling is that you don’t have to win anybody’s approval or permission to feel the way you do.
5. Stop seeking approval.
If you want to adopt a peaceful mindset, don’t try to make others like you or approve of you. Take actions to meet the ideals you set for yourself, and to meet your goals, but let go of your need to be liked.
If you live to impress others—to win their love, support, approval—you’ll go down a road filled with anxiety and emotional pain.
A need for approval triggers self-defeating thoughts of self-doubt and self-blame. Hello, emotional distress.
I struggled to let go of my need for approval, but when I eventually did, I felt a big wave of peace wash over me. I was able to say goodbye to many disempowering thoughts.
You Can Give Yourself the Gift of Peace
There is, of course, no antidote to take it all away, forever.
I still struggle with my anxiety sometimes, but because I used these techniques and visualizations, when my mind is a tornado, it’s much easier to quell it now. As the famous adage goes, “Practice makes perfect,” so I continue to do just that.
Your issues might (and probably will) still come back at times, even after months of journaling, looking at leaves, and breathing techniques. You’ll still experience moments of distress from time to time, even if it’s the minor mundane kind at the grocery store when you’re contemplating on whether to buy tomatoes or not.
However, by practicing these techniques, you’ll build an arsenal of coping tools to find your peace. Your peace itself will be indestructible. No emotional tornado will ever destroy it.
Your peace will be tornado-proof.