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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Train Your Mind to Tame Your Stress

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 6th 2009

oak treeOur brains have something like 100 billion neurons in them each sending and receiving information at all moments in time. That means as you are reading this blog your brain is probably in the process of firing off trillions and trillions of connections. On the one hand, it's an awe inspiring thing to reflect on and on the other hand, it's not hard to see how our minds can be so quickly triggered into a state of stress. Here' s how it might happen:

One minute you're sitting with a coworker eating a sandwich for lunch while the next minute the mind tastes the mustard and has a memory of a time when you spilled mustard on your shirt during a date.  Your mind begins to get lost in remorse and regret over how that date ended up while doubts and worries about whether you'll ever successfully date again arise. Your shoulder muscles begin to tense as you begin to eat faster and your breathing becomes a bit more rapid. After being halfway through the lunch and having not even tasted your food yet your coworker's voice begins to fade in again as she finishes some idea she was conveying to you and says, "what do you think?"

It's so easy for our minds to drift off and wander to who knows where just on their own. This can happen while at work, in a conversation with a friend, in a movie, wherever. The mind is very busy doing its thing and likes to take us along for the ride at times. This is often called the "wandering mind." The wandering mind is often helpful in creative pursuits and can hit us with a brilliant idea out of nowhere. However, when we're trying to focus or when it comes to the ease of spiraling into a stress reaction, it can be detrimental to our mental health. So it's important to work with the wandering mind so we can become more aware of it. However, this is a slippery slope because we don't want to berate ourselves when the mind wanders or give ourselves a complex, "oh my god, I've become more aware of how often my mind just wanders off, my mind is terrible."

Part of this work with the wandering mind is a non-judgment piece. The mind wandering is not good or bad, it is just a fact of life. So when it does wander, just notice it, and if you can spare the moment, take a snapshot on where it wandered to. This way you'll get a better idea of what is on your mind. If it's a brilliant idea, write it down and then refocus your attention on what you want to be focusing on. If it's rehearsing something in the future or rehashing something from the past, just note that and gently bring it back.

You can practice training the mind in this way while focusing on the breath, tasting food, listening to a friend, noticing sensations of legs while walking, even just feeling the sensation of sunshine on your face.  Intentionally pay attention to these things and when the mind wanders, as it will, just note, "wandering, and then bring the focus back. Try it out, you may just strengthen your mind in the midst or reducing your stress.

As always, please share your thoughts and questions below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

coping skill - savingsakura - Mar 2nd 2010

Is the "wandering mind" a coping mechanism that occurs because we are stressed?  Is it the same as fantasizing?

wandering Mind - - Aug 1st 2009

Good article.

But how can we conrol and make our selves attentive/focused?

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