How To Rewire Your Anxious Brain

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As an anxious person, I don’t do well with lack of control. With seemingly no end to this pandemic and no idea when or if we’ll ever be able to travel again, I’ve had to develop a routine to save my sanity.

I found out about this morning routine from Chautauquan friends back in October, last year, when we travelled with them to Ireland.

“You’ve never heard of Miracle Morning?” Dan asked, incredulous.

Ugh. It’s one of those woo-woo “think yourself happy” mantras, I thought to myself. No thanks.

As a logical person, anything with the words “miracle”, “secret” and “spiritual transformation” makes me want to vomit with the force of a thousand waterfalls.

But because I trust Chautauquans (why else would I have agreed to fly out to England in the dead of winter, just for a reunion a few years back), I decided to at least give it a shot. What have I got to lose? Except maybe an extra hour of sleep.

So, I found out that day that Miracle Morning is a routine developed by Hal Elrod, an ultra-marathon runner and a hall of fame business achiever who cheated death twice by surviving a nearly fatal car accident and cancer.

He developed this system of how to rewire your brain and body for success and it consists of 6 steps:

S.A.V.E.R.S (you can’t afford not to like this acronym) which is stands for:

S = Silence

A = Affirmation

V = Visualization

E = Exercise

R = Reading

S = Scribing

Silence means meditation, Affirmation means repeating a positive mantra in your head, Visualization means picturing your perfect day, Exercise is some light exercise early in the morning to get the blood flowing, Reading means reading non-fiction (usually something related to meditation or self-help) and Scribing means journaling and writing down your thoughts.

You’re supposed to do these 6 steps every morning by getting up one hour earlier than you normally do (obviously much easier for retirees, like us, who normally get up at the crack of noon. Not so easy for parents with young kids who wake up at 6am).

Since our friends were living with us that week and had the Headspace app, we decided to start our mornings with a 10-min guided meditation, the “Silence” part of Miracle Morning. This was my introduction to the whole mindfulness practice.

I can’t say that session changed my life, because it didn’t. One session of anything generally can’t. Just like exercise, you can’t expect to have 6 pack abs or toned arms in only 10 short mins. Unless you have insanely efficient metabolism like Wanderer, who can drink 6 beers every night and never gain a pound. In which case, I hate you and your stupid crazy metabolism.

Anyway, I digress.

Even though it didn’t make my anxiety disappear, that one session opened the door for me to start learning about meditation. I started to realize, sitting silently, clearing your thoughts isn’t woo-woo. In fact, it’s been scientifically proven to improve mental health.

Once we flew back to Canada and got stuck in the same place for four months, that miracle morning routine turned out to be a lifesaver.

As it turns out, when a control freak like me has everything taken out of my hands, a routine is exactly what’s needed to manage my anxiety.

Every morning, I get up and go through these steps:

Silence (10 mins):

Listen to a guided meditation on Insight Timer, a free app with 45,000 meditations. Today, it’s day 7 of the 30 day course “Unlock Your Wise & Mindful Brain” with neuroscientist Dr. Karolien Notebaert. 

If you’re using Insight Timer for the first time, I recommend starting with the “Learn How to Meditate in Seven Days” free course.

Exercise (10 mins):

I follow the Monthly Yoga challenge from Kassandra on Youtube. It’s free to sign-up and I love how she goes through a quick 10 min session a day for 30 days. Plus, it’s a series, so you’ll be motivated to continue coming back to for 30 days.

Reading (10 pages):

I’ve read so many good meditation books as a result of this. Here are my top recommendations (for logical skeptics like me):

 

 

 

 

(Note: the above links are affiliate links and I will get a small commission if you choose to buy these books. If you choose to get them from the library, that’s fine too. I really don’t care where you get them from as long as you read them). 

Optional: Journaling (10 mins):

I write down my unfiltered thoughts into a notebook whenever I get looping thoughts. On the surface, this seems somewhat boring and pointless, but overtime, I’ve found that getting your thoughts down on paper and out of your brain helps you meditate better. 

 

After a month of doing this, I found myself (shockingly!) looking forward to my morning self-healing routine. Not only that, I am a lot calmer and less reactive to stressors (like annoying people or bad traffic).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a zen’d out Buddhist monk yet. There is still the occasional flare up, and anxiety still wakes me up from time to time, but the trick is that I now no longer blame myself for getting anxious. I simply accept and acknowledge it. Instead of ruminating or projecting into the future (or medicating with anti-anxiety pills like I used to), I meditate to stop the looping thoughts and exercise to get out of my head.

And since this has helped me so much, I’ve started a meditation pact with my friends where we text each other a “meditation emoji” daily to show that we meditated, so we can keep each other accountable. We also send each other high fives and words of encouragement whenever any of us meditate and share any insights we have.

And guess what? In my meditation research, I found that a study from UCLA discovered that people who’ve been meditating for an average of 20 years had more grey matter than non-meditators. And since a higher volume grey matter is associate with higher IQ, we are literally getting smarter by the day as we meditate. Cool huh?

What do you think? Have you developed any routines to help you cope during this time of uncertainty? Have you ever tried Miracle Morning?


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26 thoughts on “How To Rewire Your Anxious Brain”

  1. As something adjacent to journaling, that might work for you if regular journaling is hit or miss, perhaps consider gratitude journals.

    I’ve been following Kurzgesagt’s Gratitude Journal after catching a related video now for months. Of course, there’s plenty of free templates that mirror the steps online, too.

    Identifying the elements to be thankful for within life, and within the day, offer up a little bit of peace I seemed to have been missing.

    I like your “multipronged” approach, though.

    Helps find the thing that DOES work for you.

  2. You may want to learn the correct spelling of ‘gray matter’ as a practice point to develop more of gray matter.

  3. I am going to try this!!….thank you!…I am so anxious about my future…I am a 57 year old female and in the restaurant business….things are not looking good for the entire industry, not just people my age…I have been working at a great place for 10 years, was sure I would work there until I retire!….now…who knows??!!…thanks again and everyone be safe!

  4. Great job! I have been struggling with responsibilities for two
    Parents with dementia a job and mb all from home 👧🏻 I will download Insight timer now though- serenity now!! -Seinfeld

  5. I LOVE THIS POST! This is basically what my whole blog is about 🙂 Meditation has absolutely changed my life and I am planning to be a part-time mindfulness teacher in my post-FIRE life. I have been journaling every day for 20+ years and I think these two things (meditation and journaling) have not only helped ease my anxious and neurotic tendencies but have been a huge factor in increasing my happiness level. I have many book recs on this topic! You named a bunch of them, I also liked Search Inside Yourself, Untethered Soul, all books by Pema Chodron, and a long list of others.

  6. The ads embedded in your blog text randomly jigger the text, so the reader is constantly struggling to find their place and start again. Anxiety producing.

  7. These all fall into the category of self-care, and I love self care. It’s super important. I’d add “time in nature” (what the Japanese call “forest bathing”) to the list as well. One clear benefit: “one study found children could maintain healthy vision by spending a minimum of three hours every day in light of 10,000 lux or more, or the amount of light that reaches the eyes while wearing sunglasses on a bright day. ”

    But of at least equal importance to self-care are fostering healthy close relationships. Maslow nailed it in his hierarchy of needs: we cannot truly have esteem until we first have an unquestionable sense of love and belonging.

    I’ve been trying to distill this down to the essence: you need 4am friends in your life. In order to have 4am friends, you need to learn how to be a 4am friend. And one of the best way to do that is to show up consistently for them and never judge them or their actions.
    https://www.bakadesuyo.com/2016/04/happy-healthy-long-life/

    In fact I’m working on an alternative to the Golden Rule, which is judge anything you want in the universe except for people (others and yourself).

  8. i applaud you in your efforts , and its great tools to help

    however after many years and trying many different tools myself with short term help .. only

    i found medication … long term medication ..

    basically our anxious wiring is always there no matter what we try

    so we need regular help . daily

    for over 2 years now i have taken a very low dose daily of Efexor ( also very cheap)

    and wow . every day is easy now no matter what happens to me ..

    its night and day .. if only i had found this before

    its a miracle to me . …

    i also refused to take meds for my condition .. why ? . no idea . .

    i think you will ask yourself the same in the future .

  9. Meditation is amazing. I generally do a session on my own in the morning, and then try to do a Headspace session before bed (when I’m less motivated).

    Re: journaling, everytime I do it it definitely helps me, though I find it tough to do every day. I tend to wait until I reach a critical mass of unresolved thoughts before writing, and then I’m usually good for a few weeks. I definitely second the gratitude journaling approach too, although I think that serves a different need.

    Another thing I’d add to all this is really good phone/social media/notification hygiene. I tend to keep all notifications off, and use social media and news app timers. That way I’ll only see things when I decide I have the time to look for them, and I tend to avoid the endless scroll cause I know that my time is limited.

  10. Love your blog, I am a practicing Ahmadi Muslim and our 5 time prayer routine is exactly that. Meditation, mindfulness exercise which result in your spiritual elevation. Not trying to convert anyone here but this is exactly what has worked for me, and this specific mindfulness exercise routine has been around since 1500 years now.

  11. For the general population, anxiety is resulted for not knowing what to do next.

    For the very small yet highly competitive population, anxiety is the result of not having the proper targets that match with the individuals’ genetic potentials.

  12. Great to hear you’ve started on your mindfulness journey! Lets break the positive feedback loops that cause things like addiction, depression, anxiety and agoraphobia.

    Depression is dwelling on the past and anxiety is fear of the future. Meditation can help set everyone on the right track to conquer both depression and anxiety.

  13. Funny, I never heard of Miracle Morning, but I do all 5 things already! Except the journaling, which I do at night before going to bed. I completely agree with you, for me too those 5 are so helpful. I would add a 6th: try and stick to a healthy diet, specifically, more veggies and fruits and less everything else. For me anyway, whenever I indulge in too much junk food, I can’t sleep as well and my mood gets way darker. YMMV. Glad you found what works for you 😊

  14. I heard about Miracle Morning on the Bigger Pockets podcast a few years ago, and have been using it on and off ever since. I always find that when I am feeling anxious or out of control in my life, it is when I have gotten out of my morning routine. Glad you came across it too. Have you dabbled with the visualization piece at all?

  15. This is great Kristy! Very happy to see that you are starting to displace anxiety pills with more natural methods of calming the mind like meditation. Do you feel your definition “logical person” is gradually expanding to encompass other aspects that seemed illogical to your older self, like meditation, journaling, etc?

  16. I love when two voices that I respect collide. I have been reading your blog for a month now and read Hal Elrod’s Miracle Morning two years ago and both represent very practical life hacks towards peace and fulfillment. We’re all struggling as the virus strips our ability to travel. I have started painting more and dreaming of travel returning. Keep up the good work FireCracker. You might want to tell Wanderer to cut out the 6 beers a night though! Early retirement to early heart failure.

  17. I’ve been so enjoying reading your recent posts in the new area of well being that you seem to touch upon. My family and I have used this Covid time to do some tremendous transformations which include a lot more mindfulness, consciousness and stillness in daily life that brings more radiating peace and joy with suffering (such as anxiety) either gone or significantly diminished. I think the lifestyle changes that Covid forcefully brought upon us helped us to even be able to have the space in mind to comprehend and accept different things. Pre Covid we were so busy and running around constantly, many times for no reason! It seemed as it was necessary but now we can see that it was not at all. What helped us with the transformation the most was reading and listening to talks from Dr. Shefali. She’s most known for helping parents become more conscious and teach to raise kids away from the mainstream parenting style. This helped us tremendously to shift away from being parents engulfed in control, judgement, our own baggage and conditioning, expectations and conditional love of our 2 year old daughter. Even though Shefali focuses on conscious parenting, she has been doing free, what she calls viral wisdom teachings, on you tube or what not. Her teachings are for the whole person and life experiences. And she’s super funny too! She’s from India and received her PhD in the US so her teachings are a unique blend of eastern and western worlds. From Shefali we jumped into teachings of Eckhart Tolle which helped us transform even more. Thank you again for your posts and everything you guys do!

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