We are often warned that stress causes disease. This fact is so widely publicized and accepted that we might noteven take it seriously. The world around us is so busy, as are our minds. Even eating well, exercising or building a personal-growth practice can seriously add on the stress because, really, for most, all these choices must be squeezed into a busy work week punctuated by weekend “crashes” and a perpetual “to-do” list. I cringe when I hear, “thank God it’s Friday.” A weekly five-day marathon of grueling self-compromise in exchange for two days of personal time is not exactly a recipe for wellness. I cringe because, frankly, I can sometimes relate, and I know that the key lies within my own imagination about who I am allowing myself to be and think. How am I thinking about what’s going on around me, whatever stressor that may be?
When it comes to organizing a life that minimizes stress, attitude is everything, and fixing a bad attitude seems so much more nebulous than, say, taking one extra vitamin that is supposed to magically ward off cancer. Why do some people completely freak out about traffic, deadlines, an ill-intended comment, self-image, etc., others remain unperturbed by the very same factors? A combination of our genetic heritage and conditioning creates a unique expression of who we allow ourselves to be.
We were taught from an early age by unspoken instructions. We watched the adults in our lives respond for better or worse to work, play, partnerships, grievances, insults, successes, hopes, failures and love. We absorbed this information along with the attitudes they had about life and began to formulate our own fledgling versions of reality. We inscribed their own limiting beliefs into our codices of truth and sought proof in the outside world for the way we imagined it to be. Along the way, interpersonal tragedy and comedy further shaped our beliefs into concrete, irreconcilable differences between ourselves and others, often leaving us feeling alienated and longing for connection. Sometimes we even feel ashamed about our own need to connect. By the time we reach adulthood, we have created elaborate blueprints of how we relate to the world and how we believe the world should relate to us, blueprints as individual to us as our own fingerprints. It is these blueprints that inform our “good” or “bad” attitudes about life and our choices.
Now consider human biology as it relates to stress. The almond-shaped amygdala in the brain is part of the limbic system. It is the place where emotions and long-term memory are created and negative-experiences are encoded. This little gland is the key to the “fight or flight” response because it signals to the brain when safety is threatened, and cortisol along with adrenaline pumps into the blood stream. Consequently, our bodies become tense, blood pressure and heart rates rise, and we lose touch with our natural state. Our ancestors experienced this trigger to fight or flee in the face of very real dangers like predators. Indeed, we need this physiological ability to weather true dangers; however, to our detriment, we feel this response in little doses almost all day, every day. Think about every time you feel stressed at work, in your relationship, about finances or about your own self-image, and your body responds. Maybe you lose your appetite. Maybe you get stress sweat. Headaches, muscle tension, shallow breathing, and rapid heartbeats plague the stressed individual.
Combine these physiological reactions with unprocessed traumatic memories from childhood, jaded blueprints, unforgettable events that tainted our spirits and painful emotions we’ve learned to wear as identities, and we have an internal chemistry that breeds disease and discontent. To assuage the stressed-out-thank-God-it’s-Friday-feeling, most of us reach for some sort of vice. It’s a perpetual cycle, and worst of all, seems completely normal and often supported culturally. You might try to comfort yourself with a behavioral change like biting your nails or drinking alcohol or eating junk food. Maybe you can’t look at yourself in the mirror because you don’t like the image therein. Maybe you withhold love from your lover or yourself because it all feels like too much and you need to put up quick and permanent boundaries agaisnt feeling those feelings.
Before you give in and say, “I really need a drink,” consider that our brains can be retrained to experience new perceptions and feelings. We can condition ourselves and rewrite the blueprints by which we build our lives. I use a tool called Emotional Freedom Technique, or Tapping, as a fast track to processing the “stressy” energy felt about virtually anything from a traffic pile-up to the abusive self-chatter in my mind. The process of tapping is so simple it can, at first, seem unlikely to affect the immensity of daily drama we create; we tend to seek an equally dramatic solution to our myriad difficulties. It is, however, its simplicity that makes it such an effective tool.
It works like this. Whenever you feel stressed or experience any negative shift in energy, whether induced by a present situation or a painful memory, you percussively tap on the same meridian channels an acupuncturist uses. Take a deep breath. Imagine in vivid detail the situation that is causing you grief. Focus on the specifics you feel with regard to visual images, emotions, spiteful self-talk, etc. You progress from one acupoint to the next, remaining in one place for a few seconds. Meanwhile, you practice accepting what “is” or what “was” without fighting it, fleeing from it, or deceiving yourself. When you can shift into accepting the situation, you release your resistance to it, and the brain will literally cease to create consequent stress. As you tap, you calm yourself faster than you would if you were to merely keep dwelling on the negative perceptions and situations. Your amygdala’s panic signal is halted, and your blood pressure and heart rate return to stasis. In your brain, the hippocampus then categorizes the stressful memory or present experience as a non-threat. It’s that simple, but the key is practice. In doing so, you cultivate the mindset that reaches for acceptance instead of vice, as the source of all our perceptions begins and ends within our own heads. We begin start a dialogue in our minds that daily tells us we are powerful, amazing, capable, enlivened and growing. It is this mindset we are cultivating that enables us to be free from the vices and behaviors that lead us to seek trainers in the first place. We must love and accept ourselves into the expanded versions we desire to create.
Personally, I have been using EFT for about eight years to process physical pain, stress, emotional angst, etc. I can further coach you on how to practice this tool in order to ditch your pain meds, heal a relationship, create a new emotional pattern, anchor new lifestyle changes and connect to a broader perspective.
Learn more about Finn here.