Are you on Emotional Autopilot?
By Jacquelyn Ferguson, MS
It’s easy to block out painful emotions and operate emotionally on autopilot. Addictive behavior may be a warning sign that this is occurring habitually. To notice some emotions they might have to become extreme. But mindfulness stress management can allow you to face your emotions and not feel like you have to run from them.
According to Ronald Alexander, Ph.D. and author of “Wise Mind, Open Mind: Finding Purpose and Meaning in Times of Crisis, Loss and Change” handling stress mindfully helps you to be less reactive focusing on the big picture of a stressor. When automatically reacting to stressors you’re reacting out of your unconscious, which is largely programmed from early childhood. In other words, automatic, defensive reactions tend to be coming from your inner child. You’re also probably focusing on the details of the situation.
Alexander says, “The key to dealing with stressful situations, especially for those who take things personally, is to develop a deeply grounded core rudder so that no matter what size of wave one encounters they can recover quickly and proceed with more focus.” To remain grounded he recommends developing “mindstrength” through mindfulness meditation practice. “Mindstrength is the ability to easily and quickly shift from a reactive mode to becoming fully present in the moment, experiencing the full force of your emotions even as you recognize that they are temporary and will soon dissipate.”
He says mindfulness practices affect your brain’s amygdala, the area responsible for regulating emotions. When the amygdala is relaxed, your stress response is more balanced. Your:
* Heart rate lowers;
* Breathing deepens and slows;
* Body stops releasing cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream, decreasing the potential damage chronic stress places on your body;
Over time, mindfulness meditation, Alexander says, “thickens the region of the brain responsible for optimism and a sense of well-being. This area is also associated with creativity and an increased sense of curiosity, as well as the ability to be reflective and observe how your mind works.”
When in stressful situations he encourages you to answer these questions, taking your pulse of the here and now:
What do I feel right now?
Do these feelings benefit me in any way? If I feel anxious and fearful, do these emotions lead me to insights, or do they cause conflict, hold me back, and distract or weaken me?
If what I’m experiencing is in response to another person’s behavior, what’s the evidence that that person’s actions have little or nothing to do with me and are, instead, the result of what’s going on inside his/her own mind?
Can I depersonalize the situation?
How can I nourish myself at this difficult time?
Finally, Alexander says, “Mindfulness meditation and other disciplines such as martial arts, tai chi, and yoga are excellent ways of quieting the rational mind and opening up to the intuitive mind and its link to the spiritual creative force. Through this connection you can build “mindstrength,” stop reactivity, and focus on the big picture.” (www.ronaldalexander.com)
Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple.