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Emotional Healing – Why ‘How’ You Deal With Stress Matters, 2 of 2

Emotional healing is no easy road. In varying degrees, anxiety and depression are ingrained patterns of behavior, reactive attempts to deal with stress that become increasingly ineffective, and eventually, life-impairing.

These patterned responses are particularly resistant to change as they are associated with emotional-command circuitry in the brain that automatically activates the body’s survival system in response to stress or certain triggers.

Human being are fully equipped inside however, with everything needed to unlearn these responses, and self-direct change and own healing.

In Part 1, we looked at reasons why it’s essential to tune into your inner-world experience more than you do outer-world signals, in particular, to become aware of any prevailing mindsets, personal or cultural, that are limiting.

In this post, we discuss putting this amazing equipment to use, more specifically, with a focused awareness on the differential impact of how you address or deal with what most stresses you.

Too often, stress and the effects of stress symptoms are negatively portrayed with a single brushstroke. While it is true that stress has been shown to negatively affect the quality of life and relationships, and linked to serious conditions such as cancermemory impairment, and onset of heart disease, it is also important to keep in mind that stress itself is not the problem!

In fact, the brain and body are designed not only to handle stress effectively, they even need and benefit from stress. The real problem has to do with a three letter word – how – how you respond to stress or stressors makes all the difference in the world.

Why an awareness of ‘how’ you deal with stress?

Perhaps, nothing is more critical to living a happy and fulfilling life than growing self-awareness, and thus getting to know and understand yourself both as a unique individual and as a human being in the broader sense, such as understanding how your mind and your body are hardwired with healing intelligence.

There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance,” says a famous quote by Socrates. “The unexamined life,” he also explains, “is not worth living.”

Naturally not all knowledge is empowering, however. Limiting ideas that cripple the brain with survival fears (i.e., early survival-love scripts) are examples of what you must steer clear of or unlearn, replace and heal, as necessary. So, it’s essential to distinguish between knowledge that disempowers versus knowledge that enriches your life by liberating you to think and feel the full range of your emotions.

When it comes to emotional healing, a helpful understanding to begin with is, that:

  • Painful emotions are not the problem.
  • Stress is not the problem.
  • Events even traumatic ones are not the problem.

In other words, stress itself is not the problem. The problem lies in how you deal with stress, more specifically, this speaks to how you have wittingly and unwittingly taught your subconscious mind to automatically process and manage what stresses you.

You may have the equipment you need to remain in charge, the question is, do you know what to do with it? Can you remain relatively centered, confident and calm inside in triggering situations where upsetting emotions surface?

The reason an awareness of how you address what triggers or stresses you forms an essential foundation is that it helps you:

  • To develop healthful, natural ways of responding to stress that do not unnecessarily discharge your body’s survival strategies.
  • To develop the ability to feel upsetting emotions and – at the same time – disallow them from activating your automatic defense strategies.
  • To strengthen the ’emotional muscles’ of your heart to have the courage to remain open and present, thus empathically connected to inner sources of compassion.

If you can withstand the discomfort, you will see the power you have to choose how you respond to stress – in any moment in time – is your one and only source of power.

At root, depression and anxiety problems are rooted in emotions that activate survival fears, making them ineffective ways of regulating your human emotions. Emotional healing is about learning to treat yourself like a human being, and accepting this will not be a one time or occasional effort, rather a lifelong striving to stretch to learn ever better and more compassionate ways to live inrelative harmony with yourself and life around you – recognizing that both you and others are always works in progress.

So, what determines ‘how’ you deal with stress?

‘How’ you respond to what triggers you is shaped by your beliefs. What causes stress for one person doesn’t for another; it’s all due to mostly subconscious beliefs.

Your subconscious mind manages your stress by tuning into your most deeply held perceptions, core beliefs. Your responses are always shaped by what you believe, i.e., your interpretations, in effect, how you explain your problems to yourself.

Emotions are the language of the body, and words and language spark emotion-laden meanings. It’s how your body understands your experiences to know what do. You couldn’t possible do all that your subconscious mind does for you to ensure your body’s optimal functioning.

Emotions are also how you understand your experiences as well, whether you can identify your emotions or not.

The meanings you create and hold to be true in your mind turn around to shape you, your actions, the choices you make, your responses, perhaps every aspect of your life. What you believe forms the perception filters that the mind of your body relies on to interpret your experiences moment-by-moment. It’s how your body ‘knows’ what dynamic neural activity to activate, fire and wire.

Anxiety and depression are patterned responses that are particularly resistant to change as they are associated with survival-response neural pathways in the brain – emotional-command circuitry – that automatically activates in response to stress or certain triggers.

What activates reactivity inside you are not stressors, rather how you respond to what triggers you. A trigger, such as a thought, an action, an event that brings up core fears of rejection, abandonment, inadequacy and other emotions associated with these survival fears, which are shared and universally human.

Once emotional command circuitry is integrated, or learned, it means  the subconscious mind regards it as an adaptive response to stress. Whatever your body-mind associates stress, it also automatically associates with your survival-response, the fight-flee-or-freeze, and thus may vehemently resist change. Albeit ineffective, anxiety and depression, and other emotional disturbances, are often habituated response sets to stress.

Why?  Like a computer, your subconscious automatically uses strategies you have wittingly or unwittingly ‘taught’ it to use. From day one, it has kept a meticulous ongoing record of what most stresses you, what automatic defensive strategies ‘work’ to give you quick-fix relief, and so on.

This protective circuitry in your brain however is unnecessarily activating your body’s survival response, thus, squandering your energy. When your brain is in protective mode, this puts a lot stress on all systems of the body. If this occurs occasionally, it’s not a problem; the body knows how to restore the balance.

If this occurs on a regular basis, however, this overwhelms your body’s resources, thus, blocking the natural healing processes. As a result, life becomes out of balance, emotionally, mentally and physically.

In other words, how you respond to stress has a lot to do with what you have learned to think, believe, do, thus, what you’ve been practicing, over and over, most of your life. When your brain is in protective mode, your higher cortex is barely working, thus, you are blocked from being present within yourself enough to fully experience or to make conscious decisions in key defining moments of your life.

In fact, subconsciously, these beliefs tell your body specifically what you think the problem is – which may not be the real problem at all!

Limiting beliefs cause big problems as they can mislead you to focus most of your attention and energy on attempts to control or change what you have little or no control over, such as how a loved one ‘feels’ about this or that, or what they should or shouldn’t do. At best these are illusions of having control to fix or change others (misguided and futile ways to feel valued and loved). Viewing painful emotions as defects or weaknesses that you must eliminate, for example, can activate survival-fear triggers.

How your body defines the problem may be the real problem.

By defining the problem as ‘painful emotions,’ your beliefs tell your subconscious mind what to focus energy on solving, in this case, by eliminating them! What you subconsciously believe is ‘the problem’ controls every aspect of the dynamic decision making processes that get activated inside your brain and body.

In truth, painful emotions are critical messages from your body, at any given time, telling you where you are in relation to where you yearn to be, particularly, with regard to your inborn emotional drives to matter and to meaningfully connect to key persons and to life in general. (These drives are not learned, they are universal.)

So, for example, if you’re telling your body that you get some person to love or value you in a specific way before you can feel loved, or that you must get others approval before you can feel okay about yourself – well, that’s enough to put your subconscious mind into a loop. Why? It’s not a ‘real’ problem! It’s not something you can solve, like it or not.  You’re simply not designed to have control over what other people think on demand. Any control you think you have had in the past, or think others have, is an illusion, albeit a powerful one (and very real to the body).

Anxiety and depression can be thought of as misinformed interpretations of the problem. These protective strategies are misguided ways that your subconscious has adopted  to resolve issues that trigger your survival fears. Of course, to the bearer they may not seem like ‘protective’ mindsets because they cause so much pain.

Try to see it from the perspective of the subconscious mind, however. As a protective strategy, the subconscious mind of:

  • The person with anxiety hyper-vigilantly looks for clues to ensure they remain in ‘control’ over how others ‘think’ of them, for example, and activates protective strategies accordingly to help them get pseudo-doses of the acceptance or recognition they’re driven to seek, i.e., fixing the problem via angry attacks or avoidance.
  • The person with depression selectively looks for clues to release themselves from responsibility for taking action to make their life better, for example, and activates protective strategies accordingly to get quick-fix relief, i.e., by wallowing in thoughts that take away hope,  rather than risk more failed attempts t to establish meaningful connection with life around them.

These strategies are practically guaranteed ways to make yourself feel powerless or anxious or helpless and the like. They also make sense, in some way, to the subconscious mind.

Protective strategies are often rooted in early life experiences interacting with caregivers, and their own protective strategies. The discovery of mirror neurons in the brain now makes certain dynamics in families more understandable, for example, certain intense interaction patterns are  transmitted from one generation to the next.

When your focus rests on how you respond to what triggers you, with a conscious intention to respond in ways that allow you to maintain an optimal emotional state of mind and body – when you are dealing with a challenging situation – this shifts the locus of control (power) of the problem to what is going on inside of you. This means you can attend to what is largely within your control, such as:

  • How you view (or relate to) painful emotions, your own and others’ in general.
  • How you view anxiety or depression conditions, or stress in general.
  • How you interpret past life events (more often, subconsciously).

Defining life issues in solution-focused terms of what aspects are within your power to control or change saves you a lot of energy. When you view painful emotions as neutral or potential friends, you find new sources of energy to learn what works best, and avoid what does not, in dealing with stress.

It’s about getting comfortable with uncomfortable sensations inside.

How do you deal with stress?

If you’re like most, getting to know yourself intimately is the least thing you desire! And yet, a continual flow of awareness, understanding and knowledge of yourself in relation to your life forms a critical foundation for lifetime of learning – the basis for emotional healing and personal change. Accepting and embracing your role in regularly drawing from and contributing to these inner ‘knowledge banks’ is a blueprint for a happy and healthy beautiful life.

Stress itself is not the problem. The real problem, what most stresses us, lies in how we explain a problem to ourselves. When reactive, it often forms an inner attitude that causes us to stop loving or to abandon ourselves just because we feel unhappy about a certain situation.

True, getting to know yourself and making changes does not sound like an exciting job. It’s painful and arduous at times; however, this is more the case to the extent you resist. Also, you may want to consider, what’s the alternative to embracing this responsibility? Potentially, the default is living in a perpetual state of powerlessness, perhaps even despair, wondering what is wrong with you or everyone around you, when all along, the real problem lies in what you are doing inside that may be blocking you from trying something new.

Life harming levels of depression or anxiety can be thought of as problems related to a learned inability to understand, utilize or benefit from the emotional signals of the body, and the difficulties are ones that arise as a result of mis-regulating painful emotions in ways that put emotions of fear in charge of decision making.

Emotional healing calls for deep integrative work and attunement, and invites you to a conscious place of joy and compassion where you can get comfortable with fear to access your natural healing potential.

Your body is designed to give you extraordinary boosts of energy and  strength to help you best deal with problems that arise. Like it or not, you are hardwired with a motivation to seek to find ways to feel a sense that you matter in life (power) in relation to life and others – the question is will you use life-harming or life-enriching ways of doing so.

Are you aware of how you deal with stress?

Emotional Healing – Why ‘How’ You Deal With Stress Matters, 2 of 2

Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Relationship consultant, author, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Athena Staik motivates clients to break free of anxiety, emotion reactivity, and other addictive patterns, to awaken wholehearted relating to self and other. She is currently in private practice in Northern VA, and writing her book, What a Narcissist Means When He Says 'I Love You'": Breaking Free of Addictive Love in Couple Relationships. To contact Dr. Staik for information, an appointment or workshop, visit, or visit on her two Facebook fan pages DrAthenaStaik and DrStaik

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APA Reference
Staik, A. (2019). Emotional Healing – Why ‘How’ You Deal With Stress Matters, 2 of 2. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 15, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Mar 2019
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