How to Deal With Modern Stress

Under stress, the brain’s blood flow to the hemispheres is unequal, and this makes you have more worry thoughts.

By: Dr. Carol Kershaw and Dr. Bill Wade

We live in a world of information overload.  The words “breaking news” flash across the screen of your smart phone multiple times a day telling your brain that you are in immediate danger and to Pay Attention.  Add to this reality the fact that the country is seriously divided politically and that more people are frightened about their immediate and long-term security, physically, economically, and emotionally than for generations.  When you hit overload, your brain has the reaction of fight, flight, freeze, or faint.  The reaction is useful if you are about to be attacked or a tornado rages in your direction, but few of the problems you may have can be solved by your fight, flight, freeze, or faint response.  Even in emergency situations, solutions often require calm and deliberate thought and action.  Think of Captain Sullenberger, the pilot who lost both engines after taking off and had little time to come up with a solution to land the airplane safely.  Because he was an expert pilot and had been trained to remain calm in the face of an emergency, he was able to override his stress response and determine a complicated and novel solution, which saved the lives of everyone on board by landing the plane in the Hudson River.

Even though most of us are not in that level of emergency situation, we have many decisions to make on a daily basis.   Reactive thinking seldom leads to effective solutions. Based on the latest neuroscience and cognitive research, there are a number of strategies that can help you not only avoid the suffering which occurs in a constant state of overload, but teaches you how to remain in the “zone” mentally and make better responses to multiple life challenges.

The first strategy is to interrupt your worry by shifting attention away from it.  This is not avoiding the problem.  Worry rarely leads to good solutions but rather more worry.  When you move attention to the external world away from internal rumination, it is impossible to worry. Taking a walk or doing some activity that is fun for 20 minutes can be amazingly refreshing.

The next step is to inoculate the mind against stress reactions. An inoculation strategy is to give yourself a number when you think about what is stressful on a scale of 1-10, 10 being high in stress.  Under stress, the brain’s blood flow to the hemispheres is unequal, and this makes you have more worry thoughts. By tossing a ball back and forth, 6-8 times across the midline, the number comes down.  When you continue tossing the ball until you move yourself down to a 1, blood flow is equalized, and you feel better.  Think about the stressful topic again.  If your number goes up, repeat the exercise until it stays at a 1.

In order to move beyond getting over worry to living in states of thriving more frequently occurs by practicing states of “flow.”   This is the zone state you enter when you are doing something so interesting that time stands still, and the activity seems effortless.  In this mental state it is impossible to worry, and the more time you spend in the zone, the happier you are.  The benefit is that your mind becomes conditioned to being cheerful, and you will return to that state more easily after stressful events.  When you learn how to make your brain work better for you, you can dissolve worry and live a life full of possibility.

About the Authors:
Carol Kershaw and Bill Wade are licensed mental health clinicians who have been in private practice in Houston, Texas for 35 years.  From their own research and the latest findings in the field of neuroscience and neurobiology, they found and developed simple and practical tools to change the worry state of mind to optimal functioning.  Through the human superpower of neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to alter its structure, function, and chemistry through attention training, anyone can experience breakthroughs to new possibilities and not only overcome problems but live in states of thriving for longer periods of time.

They recently published a book The Worry-Free Mind: Train Your Brain, Calm the Stress Spin Cycle, and Discover a Happier, More Productive You.

Bill and Carol have been married to each other for 33 years and run workshops and retreats on dissolving worry, overcoming fears, discovering inner resources, and building an empowered inner guidance system to lead toward the best possible future.  They have taught in the United States, Canada, Chile, Italy, Spain, and Mexico. Learn more about them at www.drscarolandbill.com.

Photo: Giorgio Montersino