Un-Stressed: Dynamically Improving Wellbeing & Performance in Seconds
Can burnout be a choice?
Establishing a New Baseline Researchers have identified a central role of the heart in shaping our emotional experiences and fostering what we term "psychophysiological coherence." This term signifies the interconnectedness of our emotional and cognitive processes with our physiological systems. In essence, even rhythms between brain, heart, and the rest of the body.
Traditionally, emotions were attributed primarily to brain responses to external stimuli. However, emerging neuroscience reveals a more nuanced perspective – our emotional experiences result from the amalgamation of stimuli our brain receives from both external sources and internal feedback originating from our body.
We see that the entire system has an effect on emotional reactions.
In this network of interactions, the heart, brain, nervous system, hormonal system, and immune system are all pivotal elements contributing to the ongoing emotional experiences we undergo. Rather than our emotions being dictated solely by external stimuli and brain responses, this network suggests a more intricate interplay between these various systems.
Well that makes things more confusing doesn't it? Yes, but as we know, defining this in simple terms only means to overlook the true nature of us as humans.
Role of the Amygdala Our emotional processes are guided by the amygdala, a region in the brain responsible for coordinating behavioral, immunological, and neuroendocrine reactions to environmental threats. It's also the central hub for processing emotional memories. The amygdala scans incoming sensory inputs from the environment (e.g., sight, hearing, smell) for emotional content and matches them against stored emotional memories. It has the ability to trigger the autonomic nervous system and emotional responses before our higher cognitive centers even process the sensory information.
Our bodies are far smarter than we are. Clearly a system we inhabit, and a tool we can learn to use.
Do you feel at home in chaos?
Moreover, the amygdala determines what patterns become "familiar" to our brain. If our heart's rhythm is consistently irregular and disordered, particularly in our formative years, the amygdala becomes acclimated to this chaos, leading us to feel at home with incoherence. This preference for internal incoherence can negatively affect our learning, creativity, and emotional equilibrium. Subconscious emotional memories, along with the associated physiological patterns, underlie and influence our perceptions, emotional reactions, thought processes, and behavior.
In simple terms: If chaos and stress becomes too familiar, then we continue to seek that state. I'm sure you can see the pattern in yourself or someone you know.
This was a place I was all too familiar with.
The Power of the Heart "Since emotional processes can work faster than the mind, it takes a power stronger than the mind to bend perception, override emotional circuitry, and provide us with intuitive feeling instead. It takes the power of the heart." Dr. Childre
Again, the heart becomes a tool. The techniques to utilize it are fairly simple, we will get to those later.
Creating a Baseline Reference Our brain continually receives rhythmic inputs from various bodily processes, ranging from the heartbeat and facial expressions to respiratory, digestive, and reproductive rhythms. These inputs form the backdrop against which our brain evaluates new information and experiences. When our experiences significantly deviate from this established baseline, emotions are triggered.
I found this especially to be true when trying to return from an unknowingly chaotic baseline, to what was supposed to be "normal." This again triggered emotions even though the direction was supposedly positive.
Optimism and Pessimism Our brain assesses the consistency or inconsistency between our current situation and our expected future. This can lead to optimism or pessimism. Inaccurate assessments might come from hypersensitivity to cues resembling past traumatic experiences or an inability to effectively cope with the anticipated future. This can result in negative emotions and behaviors. We can easily become trapped in unhealthy emotional and behavioral patterns, which necessitates the establishment of a new internal reference point for change.
Regulation and Coherence The key to maintaining emotional equilibrium lies in self-regulation. By mastering the ability to control our physiological processes, we can shift to a more coherent emotional state. This promotes not only emotional well-being but also enhanced cognitive functioning.
Performance is directly impacted by our state
The graph below shows the difference in students anxiety and test scores after implementing these types of interventions. Simple tools that can be utilized to regulate coherent heart rhythms in minutes.
I like to imagine where our workforce could be if all learned this at an early age.
In the before we see incoherent or stressed patterns. The blue shows the coherent or un-stressed state. The results are quite significant. Imagine if this was a sales team.
Several studies using various combinations of these self-regulation techniques have found significant correlations between heart rate variability coherence and improvements in cognitive function and self-regulation capacity.
A study of middle school students with attention deficit disorder showed a wide range of significant improvements in short- and long-term memory, ability to focus and significant improvements in behaviors both at home and in school.
A study of 41 fighter pilots engaging in flight simulator tasks found a significant correlation between higher levels of performance and heart-rhythm coherence as well as lower levels of frustration.
A study of recently returning soldiers from Iraq who were diagnosed with PTSD found that relatively brief periods of HRV coherence training combined with practicing the Quick Coherence Technique resulted in significant improvements in the ability to self-regulate along with a wide range of cognitive functions. The degree of improvement correlated with increased cardiac coherence.
Other studies have shown increases in parasympathetic activity (vagal tone), reductions in cortisol and increases in DHEA, decreases in blood pressure and stress measures in hypertensive populations, reduced health-care costs and significant improvements in the functional capacity of patients with congestive heart failure.
A study of correctional officers showed reductions in systolic and diastolic BP, total cholesterol, fasting glucose, overall stress, anger, fatigue and hostility. Similar results were obtained in several studies with police officers.
Practical Techniques Techniques, such as breathing with a focus on the heart, enable individuals to self-regulate their emotional responses by focusing on positive emotions and establishing a new, more stable emotional baseline. This process facilitates improved emotional health and cognitive functioning.
Execute: Close your eyes, take a good posture, put your attention on your heart, imagine you are breathing in and out of it for 60 seconds.
Simple, yet most won't do it. Resistance of the mind is one of the most difficult we deal with. discipline is the key.
This is the vision we seek in the professional landscape. Imagine if you could take full control of how you feel and perform, and never lose confidence of your ability to return to feeling how you want to quickly.
That's the confidence and certainty I believe we all seek.
If you want to go even deeper into tools for resilience and finding a more optimal way of being, check out my mental shifting course.