Perpetual Stress: It’s not an illusion
“I’ve gotta slow down!” How many times a day does this thought cross your mind? How quickly do you return to your to-do list of urgent priorities? In Richard O’Connor’s book, Perpetual Stress: The Missing Connection Between Depression, Anxiety and 21st Century Illness, he details the consequences of our pressurized, communication-fueled, overloaded lives. According to O’Connor, the constant onslaught of stressors and overwhelming information coursing through us creates a flood of stress hormones plus physical and neurological changes that are damaging us from the inside out.
Our bodies and minds are not evolved enough to cope with our 21st century stressors. Nor can we stop them from assailing us from all sides. However, we can change how we interact with them. We can move from a state of on-going perpetual stress to a more focused calm. We can learn to Flow. The rewards of this internal renewal plan are nothing short of life-changing. So what works?
“Please Don’t Tell Me to Meditate”
For many busy people meditation has been tried and discarded for a variety of reasons. At the top of this list is usually a story about what happened when they tried to quiet their mind. When one sits quietly, eyes closed without conversation, the mind generally kicks into overdrive. To the novice meditator, this crushing cascade of thought is not the desired nor promised experience of meditation. Too often, this overwhelm of internal chatter quickly translates into: “I can’t stop these thoughts, therefore, meditation isn’t for me. Meditation tried, failed, let’s move on….now back to work.”
Work Lower on Your Brainstem
This “failed-at-meditation-experience” occurred because you were working too high up in your brain. Your neo-cortex, that gray-matter, thinking, problem-solving part of your brain is not the best place to begin meditation. Let’s drop a bit lower, right down on your brainstem, at the base of your skull, for a better chance at success. This is the part of your brain that houses the vast majority of your automatic bodily functions like heart rate, breathing, sleeping, blood pressure, etc.. Learning how to influence these automatic functions in a positive manner greatly reduces perpetual stress.
You can begin to re-regulate your brain and body for the better within 5 breaths.
The breath is where we begin. You are going to be breathing anyway, so let’s get some mileage out of the experience. Once we have you more consciously breathing, we’ll open up your heartbeat awareness because: Breathing awareness + Heart Center sensing leads to Flow.
Calm your Heart, Cultivate Your Flow Training:
The following recording is an 8-minute training on how to move your brain and body from stress-filled pressure to self-soothing Flow. At first, limit your distractions by listening with your eyes closed. Once you can activate your soothing, practice without the recording, with your eyes open. Frequent repetitions in positive, negative and neutral settings (like standing in line) is highly recommended. You can use your new connection with internal calming anytime and anywhere. People around you will have no idea you are focusing yourself into a greater state of internal Flow.
Now that you’re sensing your Flow: keep going. Each time you practice this training you are building new neurological connections. You are actively creating your Flow stream. Much like strengthening your body through consistent exercise, you are teaching your brain to pump up the calm. Here, you have much greater access to focused problem solving and expanded creativity. Mastering this skill glides you smoothly and quickly into your Flow lane. Remember:
“Practice does not make perfect – it makes permanent ” Alexander Liberman
Next time in Fire and Flow.