Heart Power – Transforming Stress and Anxiety
Stress and Anxiety – Synonymous with life in the current culture. Sometimes we are oblivious to its impact on our very lives. At other times we minimize or rationalize it, “normal” for living in today’s world. As a therapist for many years, I have a unique perspective of how this all works – on our beliefs, attitudes and relationships. Emotions, real and perceived have a powerful effect on our lives and lifestyle we choose to follow. One way humans are unique in the mammal world is that we can create stress with a thought. Compare that with a deer. When they perceive a threat, they go into high alert with all the stress hormones working together to assess and deal with the threat. When the threat passes, they quickly return to their regular routine, all body systems operating at the parasympathetic level – meaning relaxed and ok. We have an 18 yr. old cat that reminds us daily of these differences. For many years, I lived the life of worker bee with the passion to help others and a desire to be seen in a positive light from others around me and in the community. When I did take time for myself, I tried to manage a marriage, exercised, went to church and tried to create the best home life for my children. In other words, time was at a premium and stress levels were high. As life would have it , there were more bumps in my life than I had anticapated.
Get ready. I hadn’t intended to get divorced or co-parent and found myself coping with the stigmas of relationship failures and parenting challenges. In my 20’s I went through 2 divorces and had one child. In my 30’s I had another marriage and another child and later in my 40’s I had another divorce. I couldn’t figure out why my life wasn’t going according to this grand plan that I had dreamed up. I was filled with anxieties that I had no vocabulary for. I was educated in the realm of social work, had spent many years in service to helping others have a better life, yet didn’t have the answers or understanding to tune into what I needed to change. From a young age I was passionate about helping and relationships. Unfortunately, the road to understanding was long. Despite theses failures life did take some wonderful turns after the decision was made to find the way in to understand myself and tap into the wisdoms of my heart. My son introduced me to this quote from Samuel Beckett that is now a tatoo of character: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
I walked the walk and tried to fit the mold and still wonder why I missed the many flags along the way. I sometimes ponder the life that would have been if I had really understood the ways of anxiety, mood and thought. I walked around with chronic anxiety and didn’t even know it. Now, I am realizing new perspectives of hardships and challenges that all humans have in one way or another. Joe Dispenza refers to genetic destiny as the path that many will follow based on the learnings and conditionings of their earlier life, sometimes way earlier life. We bring into this life emotional DNA which is related to the physical DNA characteristics we are born with. Some refer to these energies as karma or perhaps past lives and there are many theories about this phenomenon. My focus keys into the choices we have at various times throughout our lives. These choices involve questioning ourselves and learning lessons we need to learn given our soul essences. We can make changes and are not locked into our genetic destinies if we make the choice to do so. “Be all you can be” or “Live up to your potential” or “You have to go through the fire to get to the gold” are some of the phrases that come to mind related to these critical times in our life. Failures can turn into successes beyond our knowledge at the given time. The key here is intention. What do you really, really want. I really wanted healthy love relationships. Later on in my life path I met my husband; the one I had envisioned in my heart but not been able to realize until I had made significant changes and learned the lessons life was giving me. Other positive and supportive relationships have evolved and hopefully will continue. Learning is a life long pursuit as they say…and very good for brain health…challenging the status quo and stepping into the unknown.
I recently returned from a conference in Sedona, AZ where the energies of the earth are particularly strong. I was reminded again of the importance of stepping out of the comfort zone to “Embracing Bliss” (the name of the conference) where many new and creative ideas were shared and experienced. Prior to this conference, I had decided to read and implement some of the practices of one of the presenters. Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Joe Dispenza was the book that tapped into my mind. Learning ways to quiet the mind and be in the zone of No-thing the goal. To design the life you desire and taking the steps on this path to see it manifest are highlighted in the book. Mind blowing, yet I was open to experiment and work the steps so to speak. Sometimes we are drawn to things – books, experiences, opportunities etc. that make us Feel. This is the time for questioning yourself and following up on the draw of emotion in the response to whatever grabbed you. I learned that about 60% of us humans have addictive behaviors that cause us suffering and that the keys include knowledge about ourselves and practices to tap into this self…and the better we know ourselves the less we fear change.
A primary job of a therapist is to help others tap into that inner self that really does know what to do and release those negative beliefs/emotions that have caused untold havoc. We all have the secret knowledge and keys to a good life underneath all the stress layers formed over time. The puzzle is how to tap into it without having to retreat from life and meditate/pray for long hours. Greg Braden, researcher, scientist and spiritual teacher spoke about the heart brain – that our hearts contain 40,000 sensory neurons that are active in affecting our behaviors. It’s where the wisdom lies in a sense. You may have heard the phrase, “Listen to your heart”; now there is science to back this up. Heartmath’s website indicates that “the heart’s input to the brain during stressful or negative emotions also has a profound effect on the brain’s emotional processes—actually serving to reinforce the emotional experience of stress. In contrast, the more ordered and stable pattern of the heart’s input to the brain during positive emotional states has the opposite effect – it facilitates cognitive function and reinforces positive feelings and emotional stability. This means that learning to generate increased heart rhythm coherence, by sustaining positive emotions, not only benefits the entire body, but also profoundly affects how we perceive, think, feel, and perform.” I purchased a bio-feedback tool that connects with your heartrate, measures the variability of the beats and lets you know when you are “out of coherence”. It works with a smartphone and an app. Finally, a gadget I could figure out!
Heart/brain coherence practice:
The best part is the ease of this practice. There are 3 steps.
- Touch your heart with your hand of fingers, whatever feels comfortable.
- Breath into your heart and slow down your breath just a little. Maybe count to 5 on the inhale and the exhale.
- Think/experience gratitude, thoughts of appreciation, compassion or love for at least 3 minutes.
- Notice how you feel.
This has been powerful as I have worked with this practice and have seen the benefits in with those I teach it to. I encourage you to research this and practice yourself. It does involve closing your eyes from the environment that is so seductive with all its constant distractions. We can easily succumb to the addictions of stress hormones of the daily grind but the power of really getting our heart’s desires is to create this quiet state; to really listen to what it is your heart – true self really needs to create happiness. Couples that can enter this practice together have the potential to bypass trouble and create the life best for each other. I am excited to experiment and see the results. Let’s get to work!