Breaking the Stress-Response Loop Article by: Barbara Mahaffey, M.A.
If there is one thing that makes most people’s lives hard, painful, unhealthy, and exhausting, it is the stress they feel, perceive, and create for themselves. Humans have taken the art of stressful living to exalted levels.
The key to unlocking the need to stress is understanding how and why we are designed and structured to stress, and understanding how our beliefs, perceptions, and habit patterns cause us to feel uncomfortable or stressed. Once you know why you feel stress, you can utilize your innate design and structure and natural selfhealing ability to correct its negative effects, and clear the beliefs and habit patterns that cause it in the first place.
The Stress Response
Essentially, stress is caused by the ego’s inability to control all the situations, people, conditions, and relationships that it wants to control. Whenever the ego cannot have what it wants, it feels powerless. Consequently, when you feel powerless or overwhelmed mentally, emotionally, or physically, you feel stressed.
The stress response is a function of the autonomic nervous system’s two modalities of operation: the parasympathetic nervous system, which maintains and restores balance in the body if it has been interrupted by a crisis response, and the sympathetic nervous system, which is the fight or flight mechanism.
Whenever your brain senses a threat â€” whether physical, psychological, or emotional â€” the sympathetic nervous system is activated. This “fight, flight, or freeze” emergency crisis response is designed to work for only a short period of time, followed by a period of normalization by the parasympathetic nervous system.
But if, as is often the case, your behavior is dominantly governed by your ego’s fear beliefs â€” fear of being rejected and hurt, fear of loss of power and control, fear of not being good enough, fear of lack, or any of the countless manifestations those fears can take â€” the sympathetic nervous system stays activated. The stress response switch is stuck in the “on” position most of the time, playing havoc with your health, your emotions, and your ability to think and perceive clearly. You therefore find it hard to relax even when circumstances normalize. Instead, you experience the habit pattern of feeling continually anxious and on guard, a victim of the “what if …” syndrome.
What You Can Do to Change the Stress-Response Loop
Fortunately, you are designed and structured to automatically heal anything that is out of balance or in dysfunction. What’s more, you can facilitate that healing by taking actions as simple as sighing and looking up, or tapping specific points on your body to clear negatively charged energy.
As soon as you can, sit down and make a list of situations at work and at home that typically cause you to feel stress. The next time you find yourself in one of these situations, use the following step-by-step Automatic Calming and Centering Technique to clear your body’s usual stressresponse habit and protect yourself from the negative effects you typically experience.
Step 1: Stop and SIGH… then look up. Sighing releases charged emotional energy. Most people are not wired to access charged emotions when they look up. (To feel bad, look down). This step alone is enormously effective in alleviating unwanted negative thoughts and feelings, and should be done each time you begin to think negatively or feel stressed.
You can do the next steps with your eyes either open or closed:
Step 2: Put your attention in your forehead (frontal cortex). This is done by simply desiring your mind to gently be aware of your forehead. The frontal cortex, located behind the forehead, is the part of the brain that is responsible for higher functions, such as making decisions, intentions to change, judgments, planning future acts, etc. When your mind’s attention is on your forehead or frontal cortex, the next command you give it â€” such as put your attention on your heart beating calmly â€” is directly and automatically carried out.
Step 3: Shift your attention to your heart. Feel it beating calmly and rhythmically in your chest. This causes you to relax and be calm.
Step 4: Bring your attention back to your frontal cortex. This strengthens conscious control of the autonomic system for the next command regarding blood flow.
Step 5: Shift your attention to the blood flowing into your hands and fingers. Feel them becoming warm and tingly. This normalizes blood pressure and is calming. This is also good for hypertension.
Step 6: Bring your attention back to your frontal cortex once again. Feel blood flowing to your forehead as it becomes warm and tingly. Flowing blood into the frontal cortex nourishes it so it can perform conscious interventions at the highest level.
The next steps are probably going to confuse your mind because it doesn’t have conscious experience or reference points on how to do them. Before it initiates anxiety, ask your mind to defer to your “Knowing” to accomplish these tasks. Your Knowing is the part of you that automatically knows how to do everything.
Step 7: Guide your attention back to your heart beating calmly in your chest. Feel your heart center opening wide open … perhaps imagining it as double doors opening all the way open … keep on expanding your awareness or energy out to each side … at least by 10 feet or farther. Remember to do this from your Knowing instead of your mind. (Your mind will be thinking, “Am I doing it right? What if I’m not doing it right?” Your Knowing knows how to do it right. After doing this a few times, your mind relaxes and enjoys it.) Opening your heart center calms you. Expanding your energy out to each side raises your vibration, which gives you a deep feeling of well-being.
Step 8: Put your attention on the top of your head. Feel it opening all the way as a camera shutter would open. Now expand up four feet over the top of your head by simply putting your awareness there. Opening in this way calms and centers you by expanding and shifting you to a higher consciousness.
Step 9: Breathe a big sigh and notice how good you feel. Now think of your problem again, and notice how your perception of the problem has changed. The emotional charge has dissipated, allowing you to handle the problem more clearly and easily.
Learning to consistently stop stress right in the moment interrupts the old stress response habit and installs the new habit of reacting with clarity and calmness. The above technique can be performed anywhere and teaches you to instantly get back to centeredness.
As you continue to practice this simple exercise your emotions and biochemistry will gradually change, as will your perceptions about yourself, your work, your relationships, your life, your beliefs and priorities. Instead of getting “stuck” in challenging moments and difficult situations, you will be able to calmly, easily, gracefully sail through them â€” with your health, happiness, and peace-of-mind intact.
Another major cause of stress is the forcing of attention to either go or stay where it does not want to. Any time you try to keep your attention on something that it no longer wants to focus on, you will experience resistance. Whenever you force your attention to do what it does not want to do, you will experience anxiety, discomfort, overwhelm, and confusion, until the attention can finally be released to go where it wants to go.
The opposite is also true. When attention wants to fixate on something and you force it to cease by repressing its energy flow and stuffing it, you will experience constriction and discomfort until it can freely express itself again.
To experience this process in action right now, take a look at some object that grabs your attention. Keep looking at it until your attention wants to go elsewhere, but force your attention to stay on it. Notice how anxious you feel until you finally release your attention to go where it wants to go?
Here’s an easy and effective way to neutralize attention resistance: Whenever you are working on a task, such as working at your computer, and the resistance of attention begins to build to an uncomfortable level, stop and take short breaks. Let your attention go wherever it likes to go. This can be done repeatedly over a period of time: First focus your attention until resistant, then sigh and let your attention wander. After it has wandered, focus again until you feel discomfort, then sigh and let your attention go. Stretch or move a little, then refocus. Continue in this manner until your task has been comfortably completed. You’ll feel the difference.
Barbara Mahaffey is a holistically oriented psychotherapist and consultant who has spent more than 20 years helping thousands of clients to get into congruency with their souls and live the life of ease, joy, and abundance we’ve all been structured for.
Learn more about Barbara Mahaffey or discover many more of her simple, powerful healing techniques in her new Nightingale-Conant program, Harnessing Your Life Force: Using Radiant Energy to Connect Your Mind-Body with Your Divine Self.