(Substitute ‘drink‘ with food, drugs, phones, gambling or anything else).
Did you know that we have a part of the brain that helps us to avoid upsetting things?
Our threat system makes us instinctually avoid anything that might upset us, but activity in our pre-frontal cortex (thoughts) guide us to avoid these things as well.
So as much as therapists (like me) and other well-meaning people tell you “it’s okay to feel your feelings”, and “let it out”, “have a good cry”. The brain struggles with this initially because it is setup to avoid doing this. Unless we feel safe enough.
One reason why alcohol, drugs, social media and our phones, sex, gambling, and food can become so easy to use as distraction techniques is because they help these parts of us that want to avoid and distract from anything that might upset us. In this article in Neuroscience News, alcohol addiction was found to be associated with higher activity in the part of the brain that senses unpleasant events and makes us want to avoid them. This research shows what we have known for some time, that we can often drink to escape from our feelings. But it is our brain that is ‘helping’ us to do this, guiding us to not be upset. However this can prevent us from processing events that have happened and emotions that would just rise and fall away again if we allow them too. It may not always be the right environment to feel safe enough to do this, but it is a helpful thing to do if we can find a space to offload and process. Our threat network does us a great service, it is always there to defend us from anything that might hurt us. But living on high alert all the time is exhausting. It’s important to get a balance in there, if only to free up mental space to have clarity and focus again, to re-calibrate and reset.
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Expressive writing was first studied by James Pennebaker in the 1980’s and the first scientific study, in collaboration with Joshua Smyth in 1986 found that this technique seemed to help those who used it to offload and discharge feelings.
They studied the effects of this technique and found that a significant number of people who used the technique seemed to show benefits to their immune system, inflammation markers and in the number of health issues as well as reduced anxiety, and improved mood.
I have been studying and practising this technique personally and am now combining it with a specific technique for managing emotions and would like to offer this method to those of you who would like to try it.
I’ve put an online course together for you that I think may be helpful for those who wish to try an alternative to traditional talking therapies, or who for whatever reason cannot access therapy at this time.
The course is £25 – less than half the price of a standard therapy session.
This article in the New Scientist pulls together some exciting findings from researchers studying the role of our bodies, and particularly our hearts, in our emotional lives.
HEP looks to be an area of interest and I wonder how this links in with HRV? The part that stood out for me with the HEP studies was that they used gaze spots. The link between a fixed gaze, HEP and thoughts and feelings makes me feel intrigued as to how this links with Brainspotting.