Life & Style Weekend - - MIND - MIND YOU WORDS: NICK BEN­NETT Nick Ben­nett is a fa­cil­i­ta­tor and coach at mind­

So, have you ever been in the sit­u­a­tion where you’re es­ca­lat­ing your think­ing about a sit­u­a­tion that’s com­ing up and in which you ap­pear to have lit­tle or no con­trol? The one where your self-talk is head­ing into a full-on bat­tle about what will hap­pen, what you’ll do, your blood pres­sure is in­creas­ing along with your heart rate as you pre­pare for the worst-case sce­nario? And where you start to build anx­i­ety of the un­known out­come and your part­ner may say some­thing like “It’s OK, just calm down. Everything will be fine”? What’s the im­pact of that ad­vice? Is it to im­me­di­ately go “Yep, you’re right. Thanks

for that. I’ll calm down” or do you start loop­ing in your mind all of the rea­sons of why it’s not go­ing to be fine? This pow­er­ful set of emo­tions then cre­at­ing an over­whelm­ing sense of anx­i­ety where your nor­mally open-minded think­ing is al­most im­pos­si­ble to ac­cess. It’s in­ter­est­ing the way the mind works and, for me, what I’ve learnt through a range of ex­pe­ri­ences in­clud­ing the one above is twofold – do not be­lieve everything you think; and if you don’t con­trol your mind, your mind will con­trol you. As your brain un­con­sciously scans the en­vi­ron­ment ev­ery quar­ter of a sec­ond look­ing for threat or change (which it may re­act to as threat) it will at­tribute sim­i­lar­i­ties in the sit­u­a­tion it finds to sit­u­a­tions it has ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore and will bring forth sim­i­lar emo­tions and re­ac­tions used in those ex­pe­ri­ences. It will do this un­less we con­sciously ap­ply con­trols. In or­der to get a level of con­trol over the lim­bic re­sponse that has us amp­ing up, the op­por­tu­nity is to work in a dif­fer­ent way by tak­ing a more phys­i­cal approach and that approach is to take con­trol of our breath­ing. When we are un­der threat – real or imag­ined – our breath­ing be­comes shal­low and our fo­cus be­comes on what­ever is the threat, whether in­ter­nal or ex­ter­nal, as we pre­pare to fight or flee, freeze or ap­pease. This phys­i­o­log­i­cal re­ac­tion is be­cause our sym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem is en­gaged. By fo­cus­ing at­ten­tion on con­trol­ling the breath by tak­ing a deep breath in and slower longer breath out, then do­ing that con­sis­tently, we ini­ti­ate our para-sym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem. Apart from pro­vid­ing much needed oxy­gen back into our in­ter­nal or­gans, this es­sen­tially flicks a switch that brings a calm­ing ef­fect on our sys­tem and en­ables us to re­lax and get back to a more bal­anced state in emo­tion and think­ing. This is not a cure-all for our re­sponse to events. It is a great way to get a quick break in what over­whelms us so we can re­spond more ef­fec­tively to those sit­u­a­tions that trig­ger us. Re­mem­ber – just breathe.

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