Journey To The Center Of Stress
— And Out The Other Side
Have you ever experienced stress so deep that your body felt enflamed? Neck, shoulders, even the tips of your ears burning and rippling with chronic discomfort. I have.
If we stop to think about it, stress often isn’t so much an ‘emotion’ as it is a physical sensation — such as anxiety that sits deep in our gut.
Van der Kolk puts it well:
“What makes life unbearable is not emotions but physical sensations.”
And that’s the first major clue to truly understanding how to rid your system of stress at a very deep level.
That is: managing stress depends largely on managing your physiology.
The result is Emotional Resilience — a state of mind, body and spirit where negative events no longer trigger significant fluctuations in your mood or emotions, allowing your physiology to remain in balance, in tune, and in control.
In fact, positive stress becomes a powerful motivator for success. But ONLY when it is counter-balanced by what I’m about to share with you.
Emotional Resilience: The Holy Grail Of Stress Relief
I was at the peak of my former professional career. Working for a tech company in London UK. ‘Suited and booted’, as they say.
During a 3-person planning session in a quiet little meeting room someone asked a question that was probably innocent enough, but I felt like months of meetings were achieving so little…
I was already at the end of my rope with trying to influence this team in a new direction and I was taking it all very personally. I felt exhausted.
In that moment I reacted emotionally and tried to contain my exasperation by holding my breath.
Have you ever felt so wound up that you held your breath to stop from saying something offensive, aggressive or otherwise inappropriate?
Huddled together in that tiny meeting room I knew that the moment I spoke my exasperation would be obvious.
Due to holding my breath I turned red and finally had to start breathing again — visibly flustered!
Embarrassing… but it led me on a new path to discover a solution to stress by creating emotional resilience at a very deep level of physiology (beyond ‘mind’ and beyond ‘emotion’).
Until that point, feeling stressed was not something I liked to admit.
As a youngster I couldn’t ‘allow’ myself to be stressed… probably because my home-life was stressful ALL the time. I’ll spare you from the details. Suffice it to say I learned to bury the stress as I became a young adult. I stubbornly refused to face stress.
I said things to myself like: “I can get through anything”… “things are bad now, what of it, the future will be better”… and “this is what ‘tough’ feels like, learn it”.
I became a ‘bull’ in my own internal ‘china shop’. On hindsight it actually made me more prone to stress as I ‘avoided difficult situations’ rather than dealing with them, which left me overly sensitive.
I believed that my thoughts can overcome any negative emotions. You know, ’mind over matter’. That emotions were just fleeting moments of weakness. That stress was only in my mind.
Boy oh boy was I so very, very wrong. And it took me years to truly reach the bottom of all this:
“When you have a persistent sense of heartbreak and gutwrench, the physical sensations become intolerable and we will do anything to make those feelings disappear.”
“If these sensations last long enough, your whole brain starts fighting against emotions. And what happens in the long range is that traumatized people who continuously have a state of heartbreak and gut wrenching feelings learn to shut off the sensations in their bodies. And they go through life not feeling their physical presence.”
– Van der Kolk
Thankfully I didn’t fall into the trap of shutting off my sensations completely…
On balance I did learn to ‘manage stress’ quite well. At least most of the time.
My big mistake for many years was to deny the physical and emotional effects of stress, which meant that I was regularly ‘managing’ stress rather than achieving true emotional resilience and the deep state of calm that I longed for.
I was proud of my ‘high stress tolerance’, meaning that I could push on and get things done regardless of stress…
Yet, all that seems so limited now that I understand how stress works inside our body, with the knowledge and experience that negative effects of stress can be dialed down to genuine insignificance.
At 18 I read a therapy book called Focusing. It taught me one principle that fundamentally influenced my development as a coach and counselor in the years ahead.
The idea is that ‘pain is caused by resistance’.
Another way of saying it is “what we resist, persists”.
Perhaps you too resist stress?
- Do you resist taking enough time outs?
- Do you resist seeking help?
- Do you resist admitting to stress?
- Do you resist facing certain uncomfortable truths?
Due to my own internal sensitivity I developed a lot of empathy and compassion for other people, despite being ’brutally honest’ at times, and overly hard on myself.
Gradually over the years through a series of personal experiences and work with clients who seemed to help me just as much as I helped them, I reconnected with my own soft-natured emotional center.
Eventually, I could easily admit when I was stressed. And I could take healthier measures to respond.
But it wasn’t until early 2016 that I found the ‘missing bit’ to building emotional resilience.
Its name is mBraining. A term coined by Grant Soosalu, an Australian Leadership Consultant, Executive Coach, and Training Developer.
mBraining has the power to revolutionize how we approach stress, life balance, and personal development.
If you experience stuck negative energy, persistent negative emotions or want to reach the leading edge of personal transformation for greater success, courage, creativity and passion in life… then ‘mBraining’ really could be the ‘missing bit’ that builds abiding emotional resilience and keeps you in a peak state of productivity and creative flow.
What is mBraining?
Did you know that your body contains three brains, not just the one in your head?
It’s not just your head that has thinking/information processing cells called neurons.
Neurons exist in abundance in both your heart (known as the cardiac brain) and in your gut (known as the enteric brain).
In fact, there are millions of neuron cells around your gut region — equivalent to the size of a cats brain!
If you’ve ever interacted with a cat, you know how incredibly active their brains are…
…constantly assessing the environment for dangers, opportunities for pleasure and affection, maintaining healthy boundaries, satisfying their curiosity, and so forth.
Since the publication of a book called The Second Brain (Gershon, M.D. 1999), neuroscience, psychologists and health practitioners have explored the vital importance of our gut-brain (enteric brain), and then our heart-brain (cardiac brain), on all aspects of health and wellbeing.
Although Darwin discovered it two centuries ago!:
“the heart, guts and brain communicate intimately via a nerve [the pneumogastric or vagus nerve], the critical nerve in the expression and management of emotions” – Charles Darwin
This puts the vagus nerve that connects our head, heart and gut as centrally important to both our physical state and our emotional state.
It made me think “never mind your emotions, fix your physiology”.
The vagus nerve innervates (supplies nerves to) the diaphragm (muscle used for breathing) and much of our viscera (almost all organs).
With this insight you can begin to see why emotional therapy, emotional clearing and stress resilience is difficult or impossible without working directly at the level of the nervous system.
Neuroscience Meets Ancient Wisdom
mBIT (Multi Brain Integration Technique) is a coaching process that works with the three brains found inside our head, heart and gut by aligning their vital functions so that everything flies in formation:
- What your head believes and the ideas it creates.
- What your heart longs for and the compassion and passion it generates.
- What your gut intuition tells you and how you muster the gut-courage to get motivated into taking empowered action.
Grant Soosalu identifies the ‘highest expression’ for each of the three brains as follows:
- Creativity for the head brain
- Compassion for the heart brain
- Courage for the gut brain
He also reveals a direct link with the wisdom of ancient traditions:
“In the 700 year old Soka Gakkai Buddhism teachings there is a mystic truth known as the ‘Buddha state’ or ‘Buddha wisdom’ that acts as a reservoir through which anyone can take control of their lives and fulfill their greatest dreams. According to these ancient spiritual beliefs, this state of wisdom involves a melding of Compassion, Creativity and Courage.”
Or as Chinese medicine puts it:
“The heart is the Emperor, the head is the King, and the gut is the General.”
When conflicted they wear each other out.
mBIT has emerged out of this incredible synthesis of ancient wisdom, historical insight, modern therapy and cutting-edge neuroscience.
The benefits of mBIT include:
- Harnessing your innate intelligences for better life choices, less internal conflict, more emotional resilience and faster personal development.
- Balancing the Autonomic Nervous System to quickly relieve physiological stress and improve immunity, vitality and mood.
Stress Is Not A Dirty Word
Over the years, I came to realize that ‘stress’ is not a weakness.
It’s about being human.
It comes with the territory.
It comes from taking life by the balls and pursuing productivity like a boss.
It comes from the very real interruptions, disruptions and interferences we come across.
It comes from the narrow mindedness of other people.
It comes from being truly open and authentically vulnerable.
And it’s ok.
What matters is how we learn to process stress within our own system. Not by rejecting, denying or resisting it. That only works for so long.
With the neuroscience concept of physiological ‘coherence’, stress has become an indicator of internal conflict between our three intelligences, an enabler for greater self-awareness, a stimulant for mindfulness, a prod for checking in with our multi-brains to re-align the messages in finding creative solutions, motivating courage and passionate action.
How Your Breath Effects Your Nervous System
Given my previous habit of restricting my breath when stressed, it’s ironic that ‘balanced breathing’ is the first basic step of creating autonomic nervous system coherence.
Breathing in stimulates the sympathetic nervous system which drives ‘fight or flight’ energies of drive, action, response, and focus.
When you are stressed, the sympathetic system is working on overdrive, and it can get stuck to the point that you can’t switch off, you can’t unwind, you are easily ‘triggered’ and so on.[/one_half_first]
Breathing out stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which manages the processes of ‘feeding and fornicating’ and ‘rest and repose’; the energies of relaxation, calmness, leisure, etc.
If your parasympathetic system becomes dominant (often due to stressful burnout) you become subdued, lethargic, apathetic and depressed.[/one_half_last]
Seems like a case of ‘damed if you do, dammed if you don’t’. As cliche as it sounds, the goal is ‘balance’.
How To Start Building Deep Emotional Resilience
Negative emotional states occur when either side of your nervous system becomes dominant and stuck.
When the autonomic nervous system is ‘balanced’, science calls it ‘coherence’, as measured by heart rate variability.
That is NOT to say that we should always aim for the same emotional ‘middle ground’. There are times for excitement. And there are times for deep relaxation. The problem occurs when stress pushes our system into extremes.
We need to help our physiology shift gears if it gets stuck in sympathetic or parasympathetic dominance (overly active vs overly passive) or when we are triggered into those states inappropriately due to habit, traumas, or lack of control.
Through balanced breathing (equal time on inhalation with equal time on exhalation) you begin to bring balance into the nervous system and help reduce stuck states of over-excitation and stress (which carries a risk of burn out) and stuck states of depression, apathy and laziness (actual burn-out).
Use the image above to balance your breathing (harder than it looks). Maintain for 5 minutes. Do this every day as part of your vitality rituals and it will significantly contribute to your overall state of wellbeing over the long-run.
From Stress To Your Very Best
ANS coherence through mBraining is an incredible new frontier for science-based stress reduction, emotional resilience, and so much more.
In 2016 I became a certified professional mBIT Coach.
By combining all this into my existing approach to stress counseling and coaching, you can work one-to-one with me via Skype to clear stressful situations in your life, and the negative stuck states of stress that reside deep within your body to:
- Shift your mind-set through cognitive thinking tools
- Cleanse triggers from your physiology
- Build emotional resilience
- Learn and apply instant change techniques for rapid anxiety relief
- Form new daily routines, habits and productive patterns of behavior
- Align the three intelligences of your head, heart, and gut
- Completely resolve niggling issues from the past that are stuck in the back of your mind
- And much, much more
If you’re interested in pursuing this for your own emotional resilience, visit the homepage for details of my approach to coherence coaching.
[thrive_link color=’blue’ link=’http://www.gavrielshaw.com’ target=’_self’ size=’medium’ align=’aligncenter’]Coherence Coaching with Gavriel Shaw[/thrive_link]