Easy Shifts from Seeing Red and Feeling Blue to Living the Rainbow of Possibility
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“Just calm down!” Do those three little words affect you in the same way as waving a red flag in front of a raging bull? Do you find it is virtually impossible to settle down after you have experienced rising emotions in the heat of the moment? Do you sometimes wake up on the wrong side of the bed and then find yourself in a funk that lasts a week and drags your loved ones down with you?
There is a perfectly good explanation for why women find it so difficult to shift gears and release our negative, harmful and escalating emotions. These perfectly normal and human responses are directly related to our physiology, hormones and emotional management skills. Read on to learn specific easy-to-use techniques to release negative emotions and move forward in a proactive and healthy manner.
Q: Tell me about the concept of Coherence and emotional management.
A: Coherence is the state of optimal synchronization between the heart, brain and nervous system. Coherence is a measurable physiological state that can be felt physically and emotionally. Over time, regular practice to sustain coherence enhances your ability to enter and perform to your peak capability on demand.
Q: If Coherence is a physiological state, what does that look like?
A: “Negative” emotions, such as frustration, cause chaotic heart rhythms – part of a physically harmful chain reaction leading to inhibition of the cortex. If you saw it on a graph, it would look like a jagged mountain range.
Positive emotion, such as appreciation, creates smooth coherent heart rhythms and a beneficial chain reaction resulting in cortical facilitation. A graph would look like an even sine wave, very organized and even above and below the line.
Q: How are the heart and brain involved in all this?
A: The incoherent pattern inhibits cortical function and promotes inefficient thinking, reactive, judgmental responses, while we are “under the influence” we are only able to repeat past behaviors as stored in the Amygdala (our reptile brain). Picture a pathway from the heart to the Amygdala to the Medulla, which regulates our Blood pressure and ANS, so if we are reliving a bad experience, those emotions are sent to the Medulla to tell the body how to respond. In contrast, a coherent pattern facilitates cortical function and motor skills which increases clarity of thought, innovative problem solving, and creativity. So the coherence pathway goes to the Medulla, which regulates our Blood pressure and ANS, then moves to Thalamus which synchronizes cortical activity and finally to the Cortex or the Thinking Brain. You can think of it as the Amygdala lives via hindsight (negative emotion) and the Cortex lends us foresight (positive emotion).
Q: Tell me more about our physiology and emotions.
A: Our ANS regulates our heart rate, blood pressure and overall physical state. When adrenaline is released into our system, we experience a heightened heart rate. It is when we layer emotion onto our physiology and then experience either anger, joy, depression or peace. If we experience a negative emotion, cortisol is released into our system. Cortisol is a hormone and has a half-life of 12 hours in our system, so once we “take our medicine” we feel it for an extended period of time. If we experience a positive emotion, DHEA is released into our system and we experience the DHEA high for approx. 12 hours.
For example, perhaps a spouse says something hurtful. First adrenaline is released, and we feel Anger building up. Then the hormone cortisol follows, placing us firmly in our heightened state of anger and “seeing red.” This is why when someone tells us to “calm down” we become even angrier. It is physiologically impossible to change our ANS at this point. We have to give the hormones a chance to actually leave our bodies. Our only hope is to find a way to “insert” DHEA into our system. DHEA is the anti-aging hormone, which acts as a brake to Cortisol’s gas pedal. It is how we can balance our emotions and stay more balanced.
Q: So how would we respond to the directive “just calm down”?
A: Recognizing that we can’t change our physiology and calm down in the blink of an eye, we need to look for another solution. This solution involves shifting our emotional state to release DHEA into our system. This means shifting from a negative to a positive emotion. So perhaps from anger, we can move to challenge, or opportunity. This has to be a purposeful choice.
Q: It sounds so easy to say, but how do you recommend someone make this shift?
A: So first, we need to find a way to create space in our response. If we can’t find a delay in our emotional response, we will never get off the incoherence rollercoaster and we will be stuck in the red and blue spectrum of emotions. The rainbow of emotions will never be available to us in a proactive way. In the case of “seeing red” we have to know that we are actually experiencing adrenaline and take time to breath. Literally breath. The longer, deeper breaths we take, the better. This might involve a very deep belly breath and a very long exhale. The next step is to actually put our hand on our heart. The heart is the brain to our physiology and by reconnecting with the heart, we reset our system. The final step is to find a moment of gratitude or appreciation. It can be about anything, I keep a picture of my dog on my iPhone to remind me to smile and feel love. But it might be your toddler, your husband, your favorite hideaway, a peak moment or even a sunset at the beach. Anything that will help you shift to a positive emotion.
Try to actually live in that emotion, while breathing and feeling connected to your heart. Try to stay here for a couple of minutes. You should start to feel better. If not, stay here longer.
Q: I usually go for a run or take a yoga class when I am not in a good mood, that seems to help. Can’t I just do that?
A: That is an awesome way to release stress and shift emotions. As a pilates and yoga teacher, I am very much a proponent of physical fitness and health. The problem is carving out the space and time to get a workout in. This technique is a little more available “in the moment” and is a tool that can be used anywhere, anytime.
Q: What benefits can I expect if I were to practice this technique?
A: Regular connection to heart, breath and emotion allows you to experienced heightened mental clarity, increased physical energy, focused concentration, a sense of inner control, enhanced optimism and more creativity.
Create a daily practice that works for you:
• Take deep breaths before responding to stressful news, important emails or phone calls.
• Smile & feel excited before starting a task or beginning a project.
• Appreciate and enjoy the experience of connecting with others.
• Visualize & articulate a successful result.
• Write a gratitude list each day.
• When faced with stress – breath, focus into heart, choose to shift to Positive Emotion.
To learn more, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org