We all have an inner critic, some of us worse than others. The voice that from inside our own mind broods self-destructively and morbidly ruminates over negative perceptions of self. Some link this human tendency to early and unpleasant childhood experiences that sometimes combine with genetic propensity, sometimes not. Whatever the original source, our inner critic is exacerbated by the stressors of daily life and, according to recent research, leads to the loss of romantic relationships. In order to stay connected with others in a healthy way, we need to have a healthy relationship with ourselves! This requires strengthening the “muscle” of the mind: We must practice the kinds of tools that build new neural pathways in the brain that quiet the critic and keep us connecting to others.
The best tools continually supported and reported in the literature are found currently in Harvard Health, the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, the Journal of Biological Psychology, and The New York Times. The tools involve daily practice of sensory (nonverbal) activities because of how well such activities decrease stress, tension and anxiety. Bringing relief to our stress response allows us more presence in the moment where life can be enjoyed.
As simple as they are, here are the most consistently scientifically supported daily activities that hush the inner critic and let us live NOW:
1. Walking outside in nature. Just 15 minutes a day releases essential healing neurochemicals in the brain that produce all the best effects of anti-depressants without the difficult side effects.
2. Having a dog releases healing oxytocin in the brain, and having a cat reduces the need for pain medicine! Animals heal.
3. Engaging in the life-changing skill of sensory awareness can begin with just 10 seconds of noticing our feet planted on solid ground and our breath inhaling through our nose. Repeating this SIMPLE exercise throughout the day increases our capacity for bodily awareness that has been proven to build resilience in the nervous system.
A wise elderly gentleman nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize recently said, “The future is made up of only one substance and that is the present moment. By taking care of the present (through the quieting of self-criticism in the now) you are doing everything you can to assure a good future.”