As moms who aspire towards mindful healthy living, we work hard to eat healthy food, to exercise, to be responsible consumers. When it comes to detoxifying, we naturally think of cleansing our bodies and doing our utmost to keep a clean and healthy environment.
But if we take a closer look at what holistic really means, we see that holistic detoxification is something that goes deeper than this. A holistic detox is one that must consider mind as well as body.
The importance of a healthy thought life
Researcher Dr. Caroline Leaf is a cognitive neuroscientist with a PhD in Communication Pathology specializing in Neuropsychology. She has been studying the Mind-Brain connection since the early 1980s.
According to Leaf’s research, 75% to 95% of the illnesses that plague us today are a direct result of what she calls “our thought life.” She believes that what we think about affects us physically and emotionally.
The average person has over 30,000 thoughts a day. According to Leaf, through an uncontrolled thought life and related toxic emotions, we create the conditions for illness. Her research shows that fear, for instance, triggers more than 1,400 known physical and chemical responses and activates more than 30 different hormones.
Leaf is not alone. Lissa Rankin is an M.D. who walked away from her practice of mainstream medicine because she was frustrated and angry that traditional medical guidelines were failing to cure her patients. She spent years researching “outlier” case studies and “phenomenon” that had been written off by the conventional medical community.
Her work supports her argument that state of mind, emotion, human circumstance, human interaction and belief not only play a role, but have the ability to effectively turn on or off the body’s innate ability to heal itself. In other words, Rankin believes that our minds can make us sick and they can make us well. Our feelings and beliefs impact our every cell. How we speak to ourselves matters.
The busy and stressed-out mom
This research is particularly important for well-meaning busy moms. A 2013 survey carried out by Today, suggested that moms, on average, consider their stress levels to be 8.5 out of 10. Any mother can attest to the fact that stress is familiar, feeding our anxiety and regrets. Our thoughts are too often fueled by feelings of self-doubt, guilt and frustration – emotions that sit within a well of accumulated exhaustion and sense of overwhelm.
Of the 7000 mothers surveyed by Today, 75% of them said the pressure was self-inflicted, with 72% admitting that they actually feel stressed about feeling stressed.
Let’s take a moment to look at the impact busy-ness has on our emotional and minds’ well-being.
In a famous 1970s study recounted in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi instructed his subjects as follows: from the time you wake up until 9:00 PM, “we would like you to act in a normal way, doing all the things you have to do, but not doing anything that is ‘play’ or ‘non-instrumental.'”
Research subjects could make the beds and wash the dishes, drive carpool, go to work, come home and make dinner, supervise homework and bedtime. They had to skip moments of enjoyment in the day that bring flow or rest.
In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink writes about what happened to these particular research subjects: “The results were almost immediate. Even at the end of the first day, participants ‘noticed an increased sluggishness about their behavior.’ They began complaining of headaches. Most reported difficulty concentrating, with ‘thoughts [that] wander round in circles without getting anywhere.’ Some felt sleepy, while others were too agitated to sleep.”
Similarly, Csikszentmihalyi wrote, “After just two days of deprivation…the general deterioration in mood was so advanced that prolonging the experiment would have been unadvisable.”
Effectively, busy-ness without play and flow induced what appeared to be generalized anxiety disorder.
And so the experiment was stopped.
It seems that without fun and play, the subjects’ “thought lives” spiraled downwards out of control, potentially feeding toxic mind and emotional patterns, potentially creating a condition conducive to illness.
In Christine Carter’s article The Trouble with Motherhood, she observes that when we strip motherhood of play and flow – as we so often do, just to get everything done – our mood deteriorates. Fun, rest, relaxation, flow are squeezed out of our lives in the pursuit of getting to the bottom of our to-do list.
If it does, rest assured that detoxing the mind is possible. And both my professional and personal experience point to ditching overwhelm as being a first critical step in that direction.
Ditching overwhelm is the first step you can take to create space to be present, connect and find joy with those you love.
It does not mean stopping doing.
It does not even mean stopping busy.
What it means is clearing your mind, organizing your precious time consciously and with discernment so that what you do is aligned with your priorities.
So that you can enjoy the busy. So that you can find calm in the chaos.
On Monday, January 11, I will be launching a 7-day complimentary course to help moms in my community do just that.
It is based on tried and tested systems and structures that I use myself and that I use to help my private coaching clients.
So if you are one of those busy moms who looks back on 2015 and recalls a sense of overwhelm, busy-ness, fatigue, then think about committing to an experience and community that will help you clear your mind, create just enough space in your calendar to enjoy being present doing more of what you love with who you love. I’m calling it the CLEAR MIND | PRESENT MAMA Challenge.
You can learn more and sign up here. And yes, it’s free!
Alexandra Hughes is founder of calmjoyfulmom.com, a life coach, and a mindfulness teacher for mothers suffering from anxiety, overwhelm and stress. She lives in Washington D.C. with her three mischievous children and ever-loving husband.