A large part of brain health is maintaining the brain in a steady state. This allows us to respond, rather than react, when life triggers us. When we’re on hyperalert and being triggered throughout the day, the nervous system will initiate processes that lead to greater stress hormone production, adrenal fatigue and inflammation. In order to keep this from happening, it is helpful to have a soothing process that you can use when something in life gets under your skin.
To walk through the steps with an example, let’s try this process with something that triggers fear. The first step will be to define the fear. If you notice you are feeling off, it can be this all-consuming feeling but when we define it, that helps to bring it down to something manageable. One example might be feeling uneasy because someone you’re in a relationship with is acting strangely. We’ll manage this by first defining what the fear is and we do this with a specific statement. That statement is: “It’s possible I’m afraid that ___ because_____”.
So, in this example, “it’s possible that I’m afraid my relationship is ending because he isn’t paying attention to me”. Now, why did we start it with ‘it’s possible?”. That was to make it true. The truth is that we often don’t fully know why we’re upset. And this is because so many of our reactions in life are due to what’s happening in our subconscious. So we just acknowledge that this could be much bigger than what we think it is and that’s ok. Our only agenda with this statement is just to define what we’re feeling. By this same token, we don’t want to do more than one statement about the problem. Our goal is to shift out of this state of anxiety. The more thoughts we think about the problem, though they may be justified, the more we are going to build up that problem energetically and stay stuck in anxiety.
The second step is to do a few gratitude statements as closely related to the negative trigger as you can. A good number is 5 but you can certainly do more. So 5 statements regarding this relationship issue might be “I’m grateful that he said he loves me the other day” And before your brain can jump in with any negative thoughts, you go right on to the next one ‘I’m grateful he picked up things from the store”, “I’m grateful he complimented me”, “I’m grateful he loves my pet”, “I’m grateful he wanted to get dinner last week”. Whatever it is, find some gratitude around the situation. This expands your mind into a more honest state. When we are triggered, our brain tends to laser focuses on the negative. By doing the gratitude statements, we’re forcing the brain to also look at the positives in the situation.
Now, the final step is the only one that can truly shift the negative and that’s embracing the emotion of love. In this example, we may still be afraid but we won’t be gripped by the fear because our nervous system is also experiencing the emotion of love. For this step, you probably want to think of someone or something, that brings a smile to your face and warms your heart. Ideally, this would not be the person you are triggered by. A pet works great or even photos of cute animals online, someone who just recently showed you kindness, the plant that just started showing blooms. Whatever you can think of that brings a warm feeling to your heart, focus on that for a moment. Breathe into it and expand that feeling of love. If thoughts of anything else come up, just return to picturing this positive example and breathe into it again.
After practicing this 3 step soothing process a few times, it becomes very quick and can be used many times throughout the day. Try it now and then daily for at least a week. You want this to become habitual so you will have access to this tool as you need it. Of course, more is always better, so be excited if the world gives you lots of opportunities to practice. By responding to negative emotions in this way, you are becoming a person who can handle them without affecting the overall health of your brain.
Dr. Alicia Maher is our Integrative Psychiatrist at the Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine. You can schedule an appointment with her by calling 310-451-8880 or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org