In this podcast (episode #444) and blog, I talk about something that we all struggle with, especially around the holiday season: how to not let other people’s words and actions negatively impact our mental health! This is part 1 of a 2-part series on managing how other people affect our wellbeing.
Even though it may feel impossible at times, we can control how someone’s words and actions get stored in our brains. This means that we have the power to change how these words and actions affect our health!
How? We can think of our conscious intentions as electromagnetic waves going outward. Of course, we are not the only people creating these “waves”—everyone does this! The challenge comes from navigating the waves of life, including how other people choose to speak and act, while, at the same time, focusing on our own desires, hopes and dreams
As I always say, “it's not just about you; it's about you in the world”. This means that, while you focus on your hopes and dreams and living your life, you also have to navigate the “waves” created by others, kind of like a ship sailing in the ocean—there is a lot you cannot predict. Some of these waves will be small, and some of these waves will be large. Some may even feel like the iceberg that hit the Titanic!
The good news is that you can learn how to navigate these stormy waters and prevent the waves from throwing you off course, i.e. becoming networks in your brain that impact your story (how you think, speak and act, and how you see the world).
This process starts with knowing how thoughts are wired into the brain. As mentioned in my previous podcasts and my book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess, the mind uses the brain to store what it experiences—that is, the events and circumstances of life, including how other people treat us—as thoughts and memories. A thought is a physical thing made of proteins and chemicals that occupies mental real estate in the brain as a tree-like structure on our neurons and as gravitational fields in the mind as well as in the cells in our body. Consequently, a thought is something that can impact both our mental and physical health if we don’t learn how to manage and reconceptualize our thinking.
This “if” is key. We, with our incredible minds, have the power to change the way other people affect us. When we learn to manage our minds and change our perceptions, as I observed in my most recent clinical research study, we can positively change our brain’s response, our physiology, and our cellular health, which plays back into our mind because of the feedback loop between the brain and body.
Our life is the product of our experiences, which become our individual life stories. When we learn how to manage our minds, we learn that, although we can’t always change what happens to us, we can change how it impacts us and plays out in our life. We are the authors of our own stories!
Knowing this, we can start taking action and managing how other people affect us:
1. Taking the time to prepare yourself:
If you know you are going to be around someone who has triggered you in the past, then spend some time preparing yourself mentally beforehand. Think about your trigger points, and plan how you will choose to react. One great way to do this is to come up with some statements you can say to yourself when triggered. You can say something like “when I am in x situation with x people, this is what has happened in the past and this is how they trigger me…but I will no longer wire this reaction into my brain as it will affect my health, so I will prepare myself and, when they trigger me, I will tell myself x and focus on this, not what they say or do.”
Doing this builds a new network into your brain, which reconceptualizes your past memory of that person, not only changing the way the experience affected you, but giving you the mental resilience to handle a similar situation in the past. You essentially give yourself an antidote before you get “bitten” by a potentially-toxic encounter. And, the more you practice using this “antidote”, the more powerful it becomes! This new network in the brain essentially forms a protective shield around your mind.
And, if you don’t know when you are going to encounter someone who triggers you, you can still practice doing this by excusing yourself for a few minutes to prepare yourself mentally. I love using the “bathroom” excuse for this one, and always do some deep breathing as well to calm myself down.
2. Practice visualization:
The new, reconceptualized network mentioned above becomes more powerful when you pair it with some kind of visualization exercise. One exercise I highly recommend when you feel stressed out is to stop and try to visualize yourself wearing a protective shield of armor. See this in your mind’s eye protecting you from the “arrows” the other person is throwing at you. This generates positive energy in the mind and brain, which almost acts like a shield that will help you divorce your own emotions from the situation and give your mind a break from the stress by reminding yourself that you are strong and that you are protected from the negative side-effects of the person’s words and actions. This is a great way to build up your mental resilience!
3. Being kind to yourself while having compassion for others:
When triggered by someone’s words or actions, it is also important to practice being kind to yourself in the moment while remembering to have compassion for the other person. You can say something (out loud or in your head) like “I don’t need to have this in my brain. I don’t deserve to be attacked like this, even if I may have done something wrong or made a mistake. I deserve to be treated fairly and compassionately, just like x person also deserves my compassion. I will not let them treat me badly, but I also will not react and treat them badly.” When you practice saying something like this, you are changing the wiring of your brain and making your mind more resilient over time, so that in the future you are better at controlling how you react to other people.
For more on managing how the words and actions of others affect you, listen to my podcast (episode #444). If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
I am excited to announce that my podcast Cleaning Up The Mental Mess is a finalist in The Signal Listener's Choice Awards! Voting for The Signal Listener’s Choice is open from today, through December 22nd at 11:29 EST! FANS CAN VOTE FOR MY WORK AT: Signal Listener's Choice. All Gold, Silver, and Bronze Signal and Signal Listener’s Choice Winners will be announced on Tuesday, January 10th, 2023.
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BetterHelp. Therapy is a great way to take care of yourself. Indeed, you don’t have to be in a crisis mode to benefit from therapy. Therapy can provide preventative and protective strategies, so that when things do get tough, you will know what to do—it is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. And this month, BetterHelp online therapy wants to remind you that you matter just as much as everyone else does, and therapy is a great way to make sure you show up for yourself! BetterHelp is online therapy that offers video, phone and even live chat sessions with your therapist, so you don’t have to see anyone on camera if you don’t want to. It’s much more affordable than in-person therapy and you can be matched with a therapist in under 48 hours. Visit betterhelp.com/drleaf, and join the over 1,000,000 people who have taken charge of their mental health with the help of an experienced professional. In fact, so many people have been using BetterHELP that they are recruiting additional counselors in all 50 states! I am proud to say that this podcast is sponsored by BetterHelp, and Cleaning Up the Mental Mess listeners get 10% off their first month at betterhelp.com/drleaf.
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2:13 What people say & do can affect your mind, brain and body
2:30 You can learn how to control how the words & actions of others affect you!
4:32 How thoughts are stored in the brain & how they impact our health
7:33 Your conscious intentions as electromagnetic waves
8:00 How other people’s words & actions can affect us
8:30 Tips for managing your triggers around other people
15:42 The power of visualization
16:53 The importance of being kind to yourself & having compassion for others
This podcast and blog are for educational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional.