Thursday, January 21, 2010

"My Stroke of Insight" and Dealing with Our Emotions

In her book, My Stroke of Insight, Harvard trained brain scientist, Jill Bolte Taylor shares significant insights about the brain and mind that she gained after experiencing and recovering from a stroke in 1996. While the book offers some fascinating information regarding how the right brain and left brain both differ and work together, what stroke victims experience, what they most need, and how we can very naturally attain a deep inner piece, I’d like to focus on one particular discovery – the power of our minds to alter our experiences.

Taylor points out that while “there are certain limbic system (emotional) programs that can be triggered automatically, it takes less than 90 seconds for one of these programs to be triggered, surge through our body, and then be completely flushed out of our blood stream.” Our anger response is one of those emotional programs that can be triggered automatically. Once it’s triggered, certain chemicals are released by our brains and course through our bodies, creating an automatic physiological response. However, within 90 seconds the chemical component of our anger has completely dissipated from our bloodstream and our automatic response is over. If, on the other hand, we remain angry after the initial 90 seconds have passed, it’s because we’ve chosen to allow this circuit to keep running. Each moment, we make the choice to either tie into our neurocircuitry or shift back into the present moment, permitting our anger to dissolve as passing physiology. We unconsciously make decisions about how we’ll respond to situations that we find ourselves in all of the time. We can spiral into reactivity or consciously choose to respond by bringing our attention back to the present moment.

Taylor suggests that when our brains begin a loop that feels “harshly judgmental, counter-productive, or out of control,” we wait 90 seconds for the physiological/emotional process to dissipate and then inform our brains that while we appreciate its ability to feel feelings and think thoughts, we’re not interested in feeling these feelings or thinking these thoughts anymore. We then ask it to please stop bringing them to our attention. In making this request, we’re consciously asking our brains to stop getting stuck in unhelpful thought patterns. Another option is to use the thought stopping techniuqe or the five R’s technique (recognize, refuse, relax, reframe, resume)

Taylor writes, “I believe it is vital to our health that we pay very close attention to how much time we spend hooked into the circuitry of anger, or the depths of despair. Getting caught up in these emotionally charged loops for long periods of time can have devastating consequences on our physical and mental well-being because of the power they have over our emotional and physiological circuitry. However… it is equally important that we honor these emotions when they surge through us…The healthiest way I know how to move through an emotion effectively is to surrender completely to that emotion when its loop of physiology comes over me. I simply resign to the loop and let it run its course of 90 seconds. Just like children, emotions heal when they are heard and validated. Over time, the intensity and frequency of these circuits usually abate.” She then makes a conscious choice to return her thoughts to the present moment.

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