The connection between your body and mind is not that complex although we make it seem that way. We want to attack something a 1,000 years ago and we primed our bodies in order to attack. We were afraid and we would cower down and protect ourselves in our caves. We were happy and we'd smile, our chemicals would be released as a result. It was pretty straightforward. Our body sends the signals to our brain and thus biofeedback allows us to take action.
In these times we are more intellectual and sit in an office where we don't have the luxury of spending time with ourselves in solitude in order to hear our own thoughts and figure out what the contrast is, what makes us uncomfortable, what was unacceptable and what was fine? These are things that happen by accident - you are intellectually stimulated and focused on your goal so your attention goes to only the thing that matters the most and the rest take a lower priority. You may even squash something that happened down to seem like nothing even when it is uncomfortable in order to accomplish a goal. This can happen easily. We are all guilty of striving to accomplish a goal and focusing only on that goal while the world can fall down around us.
We are now in a world where as Charlie Chaplin says 'we think too much and feel too little'. It is starting to lead us astray as we decipher other people's words and not pay attention to how we feel about them. It doesn't really matter how they feel about us but it's how we feel about them. That is where true freedom lies. It is the freedom of regardless of how they feel about us, we know how we feel about them. In saying that we are always going to be in situations where we need to calm our minds in order to accomplish a task. We get nervous and the more nervous we get the more we know that something really matters to us. We can learn to calm these nerves and balance our thoughts of what matters to us at the same time.
Amy Cuddy delivered a talk a few years ago regarding what is well know in scientific circles as biofeedback. You can train your mind based on your bodies movement. Everyone knows that when you don't feel like going for a run but go anyway you will never regret it. The run has released the endorphins into the body and sets off signals of enjoyment. The connection between the chemicals in your brain and body is intensified by the movement of the body. Cuddy states how much body language and power poses can improve your confidence going into something like an interview. (I've linked some videos below.)
It is also proven that when we are feeling down that we can uplift our own spirits with our body. Although it is not recommended to undermine our own emotions and perhaps you need to feel deeply any emotion especially painful ones so you can heal first. Once you know that you can sit with yourself in your own discomfort, you have reached what is known as one of the traits of emotional maturity. Spending time on your own without distraction and thinking about your experience even when they are uncomfortable. It is sitting with yourself and allowing yourself to feel everything no matter how messy that is. Having the wherewithal to remain introspective as well as seeing perspectives outside of yourself can show some of your own growth.
We also need to acknowledge the coping mechanisms adopted from our caretakers. It is something that we have learned since we were young in seeing how they coped with things be it in terms of aggression, stonewalling or having one person in a relationship 'win' in an argument over the other. These are all things that as an adult we need to address and recognise our own 'insanities' as they are referred to in some books. These are the things that when an event triggers them that they are automatic and without knowing it, you have repeated some of these behaviours. It is a case of recognising these and adapting your own behaviour. Being able to take a step back and listen to yourself over the voices that guided you into adulthood is one of the ways we form our own paths in life. It is also a case of remaining and maintaining a growth mindset - as mentioned in the previous post - and also paying attention to your own faults and insecurities. Looking at how we interact with the world around us can be uncomfortable at times and sometimes a challenge, however, the lessons that life presents us will keep appearing until we have them learnt. We will keep repeating the same behavioural faults until we gain such introspection.
Some of these lessons are overcoming things like nervousness when in a different place. It is a simple technique that can reduce the chemicals in our 2,000,000 year old brains. It is reducing these in order to realise what is happening at the present moment in time and that we are safe. These strategies can be useful when working in the modern world or simply meeting someone for the first time. These can include adopting a power pose or smiling. Both of which involve movement of the body to open up the heart and send signals to the brain to tell it that we are safe, we are fine and we are ready for what is to come. Adopting these in the short term in specific times often brings us great biofeedback when needed, however, it is also a case of adopting these in the best of times so that we can remember and draw on them when we need them. It can encourage and support us through the inevitable storms in life.
Of course, we can tell ourselves to smile when we are nervous or stand up and put our shoulders back. Do we really remember in times of stress when Cortisol is flooding the brain and shrinking the hippocampus while enlarging the amygdala? Will our brains cope in such a stressful task and remember what's important? Probably not! While we can consciously use these when approaching isolated events and tasks like job interviews as we prepare for them and know ahead of time, what about the events that happen on a day-to-day basis that are unexpected? What about the times that we react unconsciously and fall into old patterns that come from our learned behaviours from our caretakers?
It is then a case of practice makes perfect, we need to stand shoulders back, relax our jaws as a clenched jaw - usually someone grinding their teeth suffers from anxiety and our body tells us that we are anxious even when we don't listen to it. Our bodies hold the tension in our muscles and is screaming at us to either 1) get out of a stressful environment as it will clench all muscles and restrict blood flow in order to run from danger and send more blood to vital organs to survive or 2) make us extremely tired and sick in order to let us know that it needed a break. Both of which is our biofeedback telling us to pay attention and when we don't pay attention to our bodies then our body tells us by our posture, for example, our jaws are clenched, our sleeping habits are disrupted or our stomach is upset.
What can we do with this biofeedback? We can address our pain and seek to find the lessons that our body is trying to tell us. We can understand what makes us uncomfortable and what makes our heart sing. What can we do each day to ease our troubles and find the things that we enjoy, we can do one thing that brings us joy daily and the contrast between discomfort and joy will grow wider until we are comfortable with our own discomfort. It may not completely go away but we can learn to live with it and send other biofeedback signals back to it knowing that that discomfort will also pass - we can smile and release oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. We can even look at puppies and imagine one cuddling you as these also send signals to your brain as if it is happening. The brain can't tell what is real and what is fake but the chemicals released will allow for that good feeling that you deserve to have each and every single day.
We can also remind ourselves that we are safe. We do this by looking in the mirror and daily saying 'I am safe'. It tells your brain to relax, you will start to notice that in a couple of days that your body starts to also relax and you know that if you are in an unsafe environment that you will protect yourself more. Of course telling yourself that you are safe when you are not is another story but that is for another blog post. For now I will say knowing two things along with using biofeedback can improve confidence, reduce anxiety and allow you to grow as a person and they are knowing that 1) this too shall pass - pain is temporary and you may need to sit with that discomfort until you figure out what your body is trying to communicate to you and 2) everything requires growth and growth can be evidenced through pain and this is why we call it growing pains. Of course it is also adopting a growth mindset but that's in another blog post - https://www.alisonmcnamara.com/my-blog/done-is-better-than-perfect and https://www.alisonmcnamara.com/my-blog/technology-mypassion
Sleeping is also an issue with anxiety and of course it is also not always easy, it is challenging and it opens the world to an entirely new level of understanding that can only be described as enthralling. I have been grinding my teeth since I was a child. My teeth are jagged and I have worn a mouth guard in the past but that is history. I no longer use it. I remind myself going to bed each night to relax my jaw, relax my face by first clenching my entire body tighter and tighter and tighter and tighter and taking deep breaths and before I get to the next breath I now fall asleep and if I wake up in the middle of the night (when I remember) I do the same and it works almost every single time. It is a trick known to send biofeedback to sleep better. Of course this takes effort but once a habit is formed and we are creatures of habits then we can sleep better. I also write three things that I am grateful for that happened that day. Oftentimes I listen to a guided bedtime meditation as well as this relaxing music helps with noise and allows me to think that I am in a Spa :-D
As for stomach issues, I've also had those since I was a child but again, not anymore. I get them every so often when my stomach is in a knot about something or I am anticipating an exam - those of which I have done quite an extensive amount. I was in the education system for a long time and continue learning - it's part of who I am and I love it so I needed to find ways to relax my mind going into examinations. The ways I found to cope also involve body movement and breathing. It's a method called the 5-4-3-2-1 method that is well known in psychology circles as a way to ground yourself. Pick out 5 things that you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Once you run through this the brain acknowledges that you are present, it takes a breath and stops the 'monkey mind' hopping to the future.
They say depression is your bodies way of telling you that you need 'deep-rest' and you are caught up in the past while anxiety is linked to the future and focusing on possible outcomes that will disrupt your present. Both need your mind to pay attention for you are not living your truth. Both of which in buddhist terms are known as the monkey mind - not living in the present but focusing on the past or the future. There are simple strategies to over come certain forms of anxiety by telling yourself that you are excited. I learnt this a few years ago skydiving. Your body releases the same hormones but actually telling yourself that you are happily excited instead of nervous can make a difference in how you view and perceive the world right now including doing an examination or accomplishing a task. These are only a few tips and tricks I have learnt from reading during the PhD and adapting coping mechanisms through various situations that I have been in.
For me I need silence in order to hear myself think and that is also important, we need to listen to ourselves in order to find our own way. We need the solitude for productivity and sparking some creativity and we already know that we need a relaxed brain so that it can be an innovative brain. When it all comes down to it, life is a joy, and as my Dad says quite often 'life is what you make it'. Forge meaning in the suffering you have encountered for it is your journey, your story and it makes up you for who you are as a person - I recommend watching some of the videos below - without the bad, there is no good. We experience both the good and the bad to make up our story and biofeedback is the intelligent part of us communicating with us that something is going incredibly well or something is tragically wrong.
We can tell ourselves that we are safe, we can comfort ourselves in times of anxiety and excitement and we can and are in charge of the thoughts as we observe them coming and going like waves on the ocean. Biofeedback is something that when paid attention to, can impact our entire worlds and improve our lives immensely by stepping in and letting us know that the body needs attention. It is also a case choosing to move the body and adventures so your body can give you back those endorphins and get the 'runner's high' that we all love and enjoy. As Alastair explains in his video below - choosing 'micro-adventures' if you can't go to the South Pole then enjoy smaller adventures and enjoy these for all that they are. The biofeedback will thank you for the adventures that will ensue and as Dad says 'life IS what you make it'!
*It is important to note that I am referring to biofeedback as the natural form of mind-body self-regulation and not the EEG tests performed in studies that measure what happens, although these are interesting, I am speaking about ways that biofeedback can be used in order to overcome sleeping issues, stomach issues or events like going to an interview or taking an examination.
Image source: https://alastairhumphreys.com/life-love/
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