Deborah Sandella, PhD, RN, is a psychotherapist, professor, and the originator of the RIM (Regenerating Images in Memory) Method, a neuroscience tool for reducing stress and improving the quality of life. She is author of the new book Goodbye Hurt & Pain, 7 Simple Steps to Health, Love and Success (Conari Press).
Stress can cause anxiety, self-doubt, ineffectiveness, loneliness and illness. We keep trying to make it better, but are fatigued from all the effort.
Today’s world is filled with stress. Feeling whole is more complicated, yet everyone wants it more than ever. According to a report from the American Institute of Stress, stress-related and stress-induced illnesses account for 70 percent to 80 percent of visits to the doctor. Some estimate stress contributes to half of all illness in the United States.
Many of us feel that stress is happening to us because we have no control over external factors. We haven’t understood the internal emotional resources with which we are born until now. The Regenerating Images in Memory, or RIM, Method offers a variety of ways to unleash your organic emotional resources, so you can manage stress more effectively.
Stress happens in your body long before it formulates into words and thoughts. As in all things, it’s most effective to go to the source of a problem, which in this situation is your body. You may notice that when you’re tense and overwhelmed, it’s easy to become preoccupied with worry, which is a form of thinking. In effect, your attention has left your body and is circling as negative thoughts in your head.
In contrast to methods that focus on changing your thoughts through willpower, the RIM process guides you into the raw feelings in your body at the present moment. It’s much easier than controlling your thoughts because it allows recognition of what you’re already experiencing, but like most people, you’ve been trying to ignore, shelve or bury. And it isn’t a wrong instinct to dislike negative feelings. When they become chronic they can cause illness. For example, recent research shows that chronic stress, depressive symptoms and hostility significantly increase your risk for a stroke.
But when we try to stop negative feelings, similar to building a dam in an emotional river, we stop their natural flow and cause them to linger in the body. In essence, we create what we’re trying to avoid. However, now you are learning a new way to allow negative emotion to keep flowing until naturally gone from your body and presence.
The funny thing is, when we allow feelings, they organically dissipate quickly. Our fear about having these feelings is worse than experiencing them; they are spontaneous and transient unless we try to stop them.
A big, brawny guy recently stood up at a workshop to share an uncomfortable feeling. Visibly close to tears, he said, “I can’t talk anymore or else I’ll cry.” I asked him to feel this feeling as much as he could instead of talking about it or trying to shut it off. Suddenly, the pressure in his throat was gone and he visibly relaxed. Everyone in the room was shocked, yet it’s simple physics — when we try to contain emotion we create resistance, and like the water pushing against the dam wall, the feeling grows stronger. When we allow rather than resist, our organic emotional operating system moves feelings through us naturally.
The key is to locate and allow intense emotion in a safe way without hurting anyone, including you! Here’s a simple activity you can use to sense the stress in your body and allow it to evaporate quickly.
Our physical and emotional feelings are experienced in the body and constantly changing. This is called interoception. Becoming aware of this internal process helps us tune into our organic emotional resilience.
Similarly, your autonomic (automatically without thinking) nervous system is tuned into what’s happening in and around you. When you take manual control of an autonomic function, you can interrupt automatic stress responses. For example, intentionally changing your breathing pattern can shift you out of fear and worry.
When you practice easy, yet unfamiliar breathing patterns, you rein in thinking with a mental task and you begin to relax into mindful inner awareness.
Try This Activity to Relax
- With your eyes open or closed, take a deep cleansing breathing through your nose and as you exhale through your mouth, sense your shoulders sinking toward the earth.
- Imagine your next breath coming in through your forehead and flowing through your torso and exiting out your bellybutton …
- Breathing in through your throat, exhale out the soles of your feet.
- As you inhale through your shoulders, it moves through both arms and out the palms of your hands.
Your emotional operating system is smarter than you’ve thought. You’ve just needed to know how to turn it on! Now you do!
What stresses you out the most? —Deborah Sandella