My father, a road construction business owner and father of seven, has many times said to me “stress is a choice.” Often his nugget of wisdom came through the other end of the phone after I had found myself getting caught up in the responsibilities of to-dos, comparing myself to other’s version of success, or spinning in emotions which left me in foul moods or too exhausted to think clearly. I smile and laugh just remembering the utterance of this now familiar phrase with it’s predicable arrival. I have often wanted to disagree with him or ignore what he was trying to tell me. Yet, here I am writing about stress as a choice? I imagine you’re expecting me to say something about parents, years and wisdom… Yes, of course I am grateful to him for this persistent reminder for living well.
Over the past few years, and more intensely in the past few months, I have be studying and practicing HeartMath. While HeartMath doesn’t say it in quite the direct and succinct way my father does, the writings, research and practices of HeartMath does suggest that stress is, well, a choice. “The key to transforming stress lies in your power to regulate your emotions and perceptions…You don’t manage the situation, which may be beyond your control, you manage your reaction to it…” (Childre & Rozman, 2005, p. 18). Reactions, true, are quite automated and are often stuck in patterns that lead us to an experience of stress. Through practices of self-regulation these automated stress reactions can be rewired to those which lead to an experience of empowerment and ease instead - transforming the stress experience. Hence, the HeartMath publication authored by Doc Childre and Deborah Rozman (2005) titled Transforming Stress: The HeartMath solution for relieving worry, fatigue and tension.
Self-regulation practices are addressing the underlying patterns of stress, not just quick fixes for temporary feel good. Allowing you to be about a way of living that is more at ease rather than one which you are persistently running the rat race with maybe the occasional relaxation pit stop. Like when you know you don’t want to respond in a particular way, but you do anyway because the habit is so engrained. Just like how we don’t forget how to ride a bike… For example, when my thoughts race with all the things I could have done instead when I perceive I’ve not met someone’s expectations of me (or didn’t meet the expectations I created for them to have of me!). Insight alone is just not enough sometimes (p. 71). Unfortunately, positive thinking alone isn’t enough either (p. 106). These strategies, while helpful in supporting a shift away from the immediate stickiness of a situation, don’t get into the subcortical ways we hold on to stress patterns. Self-regulation is empowerment and reactivity is victimization. Transforming stress allows you to live with resilience because you are more prepared to deal with the unexpected and vitality because you are less emotionally and physically drained by stress!
I’ve come to learn that stress is a choice. And we can choose daily practices to change how we respond to day to day situations – which will it be for you? Stress or vitality?
Now that I’ve had time to practice HeartMath for myself, Be Still Counseling is now offering coaching in the HeartMath interventions. I am also integrating the biofeedback process into Somatic Experiencing focused sessions. The biofeedback technology is easy and non-invasive; a node that is clipped to your ear provides a visual on a computer screen of the state of regulation or dysregulation you are in at any given moment. Biofeedback can be a useful tool to track your body’s reaction over a period of time or throughout a single session. Many find getting the immediate feedback on how self-regulation skills are working is positively reinforcing and hopeful.
HeartMath Neutral Tool from Rachel Hutto on Vimeo.
HeartMath Neutral Tool
Follow Be Still Counseling on Facebook, Twitter or at BeStillPLLC to have a first-hand experience with HeartMath self-regulation interventions through guided videos. The very basics of HeartMath is already available – watch how to use the Neutral Tool.