Jessica was a client of mine who was having panic attacks that terrified her—heart racing, couldn’t catch her breath, feeling lightheaded and tense. On top of that, she couldn’t sleep at night and she felt stressed and exhausted. No matter what she tried, it just seemed like things were getting worse. Why was this happening to her, a faithful Latter-day Saint who was trying the best she could to do what was right?
Then Jessica learned some simple practices and principles that helped calm her worrying brain and activate a restful body state. After one session of learning principles and then practicing for a week, she was sleeping through the night and her panic attacks were gone. Within a few more weeks of practice, she felt a new calm, happiness, and hope in her life. Her anxiety reduced dramatically, and instead of a mind that seemed out of control, she felt more of the Book of Mormon’s promise, “And now, may the peace of God rest upon you, and upon your houses” (Alma 7:27).
You may not be experiencing panic attacks, but most of us have sought relief from worry, stress, and self-doubt. The mind can be an unruly place, even when we know gospel truths. But these natural tendencies do not have to rule the day. We can learn principles and practices that strengthen our minds to find rest in Jesus Christ and His nourishing presence.
The scriptures often call this state “stillness” (see Psalms 46:10, Doctrine and Covenants 123:17). Mental health professionals call it “mindfulness,” where we pay attention to our thoughts and experiences without judgment, acting more like a curious observer. Practicing over time, we become more aware and in tune with ourselves and those around us; our mindset is more open, kind, curious, receptive, and responsive. And in this still, receptive state, we find rest in Jesus Christ.
Here are four principles and practices for reaching mindful rest.
1. Practice the Hot Chocolate Exercise
First, we can practice what I call “hot chocolate breathing,” which initiates a calming response in the body. This breathing is a deep inhale through the nose like you’re smelling a cup of hot chocolate, then a long, slow exhale out of the mouth like you are blowing off the drink because it’s too hot. Just set a timer for two minutes and breathe like this until it rings, or count 12 of these breaths.
Seriously, try it out now.
What do you notice about how you feel after breathing like this for a brief time? Most people report feeling more calm, relaxed, a sense of clarity, focus, or lightness. This exercise is especially effective when you are feeling stressed or anxious, but beneficial effects can be noticed no matter where you start.
You’re giving your body and mind a chance to switch out of its normal mode of “doing” and shifting it more to a state of “being,” like the stillness described in Psalms 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” When our minds are still, we are better able find God, His voice, and His peace. President Russell M. Nelson taught, “In order to hear this still voice, you too must be still! . . . We can use our time to hear the voice of the Lord whispering His guidance, comfort, and peace. Quiet time is sacred time—time that will facilitate personal revelation and instill peace.”
2. Remember to Have Compassion for the Natural Mind
Stillness is not the natural state of our mind. You may have noticed that your mind seems to have a “mind of its own,” often ruminating or fixating on problems from the past, or worrying about the future, and trying to solve, fix, and “figure out” things even when you don’t want it to. This feeds stress and anxiety, and we may beat ourselves up wondering, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I stop these thoughts?”
With a little understanding, we can have compassion on ourselves in these times. Our minds were designed as magnificent problem-solving machines. Anciently, this ensured our survival when our physical life was frequently threatened by wild animals and violent acts of nature, as well as possible lack of food, shelter, or water.
Our minds have a negativity bias where we scan for threats and problems almost constantly, latching on to what needs to be fixed and how to solve those problems. Positive experiences don’t hold much sway on our physical survival, so they don’t stick in our thought stream the way negative thoughts and problems do. It’s as if our mind has a no-stick surface for positive thoughts and experiences, whereas negative ones attach like super glue.
To illustrate this in your own experience, imagine giving a public presentation. Let’s say 10 people came up afterward and offered compliments about what you said, but one person had critical things to say. Over the next half of a day, what percentage of your thoughts would be about the one negative comment versus the 10 positive ones?
Most likely, you would spend time dwelling on that one unpleasant comment. Our mind fastens tightly to the negative—without us even wanting to.
For many of us in modern times, our lives are rarely in danger, but we are walking around with a brain that is still scanning diligently for threats and problems to solve. It’s no wonder we get caught up in worry and stress! This is a natural tendency of the brain to ensure our survival; we don’t have to give ourselves a hard time about it.
No, stillness does not come naturally, but Christ invites us to lay down this burden—the natural mind of the natural man—and find rest in Him. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Stillness and rest in Christ can be cultivated if it is intentionally practiced; our mind does not need to stay a problem-solving machine but can be renewed in a transforming way (see Romans 12:2).
3. Use These Five Small Words
When we can observe our thoughts or watch ourselves thinking, we notice a lot about the habits of the natural mind. King Benjamin asks us to “Watch yourselves, and your thoughts, . . . and continue in the faith.” (Mosiah 4:30)
If we don’t step out of thought enough to watch thinking happen, it is like sitting in a car and believing “I am the car.” Your thoughts, brain, and body are not you; they are the vehicle you have been given to experience mortal life. You can learn to watch yourself think and monitor what is happening in your brain. That way you can stay in touch with your true self, your soul. You are not the car; you are the driver.
Another simple exercise can help us maintain this valuable perspective. Add these five small words to a difficult thought: “I’m having the thought that . . .” Doing so will free yourself from believing the thought unnecessarily and inviting a wiser mindset instead.
Let’s practice with the thought “I’m not enough.” This thought is common for many of us and when it comes into the mind, it seems true—absolutely real. But now let’s add the five words: “I’m having the thought that I’m not enough.” That phrase helps us realize we are not the thought, we don’t have to believe the thought, and the thought doesn’t represent our true selves. Other examples include, “I’m having the thought that there’s something wrong with me,” “I’m having the thought that my family life is failing,” or “I’m having the thought that I’ll never get that promotion.”
With just five words, we distance our identity enough so that we can look at the thought with curiosity and recognize we don’t have to believe it. We have more choice about how we will respond.
4. Turning it Over
We can also let go of troublesome thoughts if we imagine giving them to God. “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:36). This is a deep and tender mental shift, so how you decide to practice it will be personal to you (perhaps in writing, prayer, visualization, or another way that resonates with you). Placing these thoughts at His feet, we look to Christ relying on Him for the grace we lack. We step out to “watch” our unwanted thoughts from a vantage point where we invite the Savior to observe them with us, and “continue in the faith”—faith in Him, seeking His comfort to soothe our understandable weakness (Mosiah 4:30). After all, we are limited human beings with predispositions that often make it natural to obsess, self-criticize, crave, and feel threatened. We bring Him our weakness, and He offers His compassionate grace through the power He gained in a garden and on a cross by bearing our specific frailty. (See Alma 7:12; Ether 12:27).
Together we’ve explored four ways to rest our minds in Christ. These are just a taste of the richness available in mindfully practicing new mental habits, breaking old natural ones, and developing a firm, peaceful mind. Perhaps this is the “firm mind” Jacob describes that can “feast on His love” forever (see Jacob 3:2)—a beautiful, abundant feast where we put down our weary burdens and instead find rest to our souls.
► You may also like: What we may be misunderstanding in the Savior's command to ‘Doubt not, fear not’
Kimberly Beecher is an accomplished mindfulness instructor known for her ability to help transform lives with increased happiness, calm, and self-compassion. She is also an author, speaker, and coach, and her book, The Sacred Door: Resting Your Mind in Christ, was the #1 New Release in its category on Amazon. She can be found accidentally making mushy things in her instant pot, leading meetings with a green smoothie mustache, boating with her family, and squealing about bike rides in the canyon. She adores her husband Mark, their children, and grandchildren. You can find her at kimberlybeecher.com.