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5 Steps to Thrive and Not Just Survive Challenges (or Challenging Relationships)


196158_10150104976521787_322340456786_6767767_2198241_sYour thoughts are powerful energies that can, and do, shape your responses and life.

Whether conscious or subconscious, shifts in your thoughts, in particular, to what you believe and hold in your awareness, literally, change the state of your mind and body in a split second in time.

You literally have the power to consciously command these inner processes; it’s a capacity that is yours to cultivate.

A world of difference exists, when it comes to your emotional and mental and relational health and wellbeing, between living your life in primarily in survival mode, where fear takes over your ability to choose. As a human being, you’re not wired to be primarily controlled by the sympathetic division of your autonomic system. You’re wired to be happy with your self and relationships, to thrive and grow, and become all you’re meant to be.

According to Dr. Candace Pert, neurotransmitters are “molecules of emotion” that activate the chemical reactions necessary to run your body. In the same way that words and verbal communication is the language that your conscious-self understands, emotions are the language of your body.

How you think about a problem determines what you focus on, and in turn, what you hold in mind, sparks images in your mind and emotions accordingly — either emotions of comfort and pleasure (love-based) or emotions of distress (fear-based). Regardless the issues you are attempting to solve, personal or relational, optimal solutions and actions are unlikely when your thinking brain is in fear-mode.

Here are five steps to self-activate your body’s relaxation response, in other words, to consciously shift away from survival-reactivity and instead remain in learning mode, that is, ensuring the parasympathetic division of your body’s autonomic nervous system is in charge.

1. Learn how your brain works.

The last two decades have produced more research on the brain and brain technologies than all past years put together.

Much of this new information dramatically changes how we view the brain, revealing mental and emotional capacities that, providing we know how to access them, can be lifelong assets with which we may create positive changes … and do so consciously … in the direction of our highest aspirations. That’s really good news.

You may have heard it before: change your thoughts, change your life.

If this sounds too simple, think again.

Consider that, in a split-second, a fear-thought can cause a panic attack, unnecessarily by activating the body’s survival response when there are no “real” threats to one’s physical survival, for example, yet a love-based thought in response can restore a sense of immediate calm and safety.

One key understanding is that the human brain isn’t designed to remain in survival mode for extended periods of time. It’s all about seeking fulfillment and happiness that stem from the quality of our relationships to our self and life around us. Certain universal emotion-drives direct many or most of your actions, in particular, toward a lifelong overarching pursuit “to matter” in relation to self and others, seeking meaningful connections in life.

This explains why a sense of love and connection to someone or some aspect of life enhances your sense of security – and why some of your greatest fears have to do with, not physical dangers and lions and tigers, but rather a fear or rejection, abandonment, inadequacy, all of which threaten to steal the meaningful connection to life we yearn to realize.

All its operations in some way have to do with maintaining balance to protect the integrity of the multitude of relationships that support you to survive and thrive, whether physically, mentally or emotionally (spiritually?).

Based on the yearnings to matter, and fear of not realizing these core-drives, you are also wired to form certain protective patterns in the first years of life.

Once set, these habituated protective response patterns operate, for the most part, without conscious awareness.

From infancy to adulthood, your brain is wired to work directly shapes and is shaped by relationships throughout life.

2. Identify any limiting beliefs and “self-talk.”

The next step is to identify and become aware of toxic thinking patterns, or “self-talk,” that is, what you tell yourself in your mind.

The cells in your body respond to your thoughts, in particular, interpretive thoughts, the kind that explain (to your body’s operating system, the subconscious mind) how you see the world in any given moment in time.

Your self-talk has power over your emotions and responses, to the extent that it remains unaware. In fact, no one has ever literally “controlled” you; it’s your thoughts, so become aware of your thoughts, and their underlying beliefs, and be careful to consciously guard your thoughts and thus heart, mind and body, from negative and toxic influences in entertainment media.

In what areas of your life or relationships do your thoughts drive your body to automatically activate its survival-move, and defensive strategies that repeat old negative reactions and stuck outcomes?

It is estimated that you have about 60,000 thoughts a day. Many of these are remnants of thoughts you picked up in childhood interactions with parents and other influential persons in your life, to include programs you watch, the music you listen to, and so on.

More precisely, certain perceptions that you formed as a small child, and that you associated at the time to early-survival fears, such as fear of rejection, abandonment, inadequacy – in moments of stress – can hijack the otherwise amazing capacity of your brain to heal old wounds and make the changes you want (even miraculous ones).

Based on what emotions they activate, thoughts correspondingly release hormones into the bloodstream, which affect the chemical firing of neurons in your brain. In other words, your subconscious mind activates emotions and physiological sensations throughout your body according to your perceptions.

The emotion of fear, survival fears in particular, can have a paralyzing effect on the brain, that is, unless you know how to process fear in ways that allow your brain to engage in certain natural integrative processes. If not, early-survival fears can jam the network for purposes that are often well-intentioned, yet misinformed.

Essentially, these limiting beliefs are scaring you into protecting yourself in situations where it is not necessary to do so!

Your beliefs are perceptions that interpret the events in your life. In what areas of your life or relationships do your thoughts drive your body to automatically activate its survival-move, and defensive strategies that repeat old negative reactions and stuck outcomes?

3. Set an intention to break free of limiting fears.

Your thoughts create images in your mind that your entire body responds to accordingly. A focus on what you want or how you have overcome obstacles in the past, for example, is going to produce completely different chemical reactions inside you from a focus on what you lack or how your loved have not met your expectations. When you apply focused attention to these processes, however, you get to actually choose the specific changes you want to make to your brain. This key finding in the field of neuroscience is discussed by several experts in the field, for example Daniel Siegel notes that:

“The power to direct our attention has within it the power to shape our brain’s firing patterns, as well as the power to shape the architecture of the brain itself.” ~ DANIEL L. SIEGEL, M.D.

Your brain is always primarily in one mode or the other, by the way. Your subconscious mind is continually eavesdropping on your inner self-talk 24/7. A master at multi-tasking, remarkably, your subconscious is designed to process millions of bits of information per second, in contrast to your conscious mind that only needs to process hundreds at any given time to do its job.

Thoughts and emotions are designed to work together.

In cases where you experience problems, stuck places, addictive compulsions or emotional suffering in your life, such as depression or anxiety, etc., it is because your thinking patterns are preventing your conscious mind (logic) and subconscious mind (emotions, heart) from working together. This produces imbalance in your life, and the primary cause of this imbalance, in my experience, is the emotion of — fear.

These often “well-meaning” protective blocks, comfort zones and walls of fear may be preventing you from stretching and growing out of “old” comfortable places that you must leave behind, much like a butterfly a cocoon, in order to realize the happiness and empowered life you want to live.

In reality, by offering a false sense of security, “comfort zones” can impair your ability to realize the inborn yearning for happiness you are designed to fulfill. You need a way of thinking that empowers optimal emotions at any given time, a way of “making sense” of your life experiences that consciously creates healthful conditions for your brain and body.

By practicing a new way of responding to or thinking about an old issue causes neurons to fire together in different ways, forming new connections, perhaps new neurons.

Your first step to becoming aware of your own inner stream of thoughts, is to set an intention to do so. This engages your subconscious mind to support you to focus on becoming more aware of your “self-talk.” Are you open and willing to let go of old fears and protective strategies, old comfort zones, in exchange for taking command of your life choices and direction, by choosing optimal thoughts and emotion states in response to triggering situations?

4. Develop your ability to shift to the most optimal states of body and mind.

Certain perceptions that you formed as a small child, and that you associated at the time to early-survival fears, such as fear of rejection, abandonment, inadequacy – in moments of stress – can hijack the otherwise amazing capacity of your brain to heal old wounds and make the changes you want (even miraculous ones).

You need a way of thinking and responding to challenging situations that empowers you to “make sense” of your life experiences and, at the same time, promotes healthful conditions for your brain and body. Your brain is always in one of two modes, either in “learning” or “protective” mode.

The former describes the mind and body in a natural state of balance, one in which you are open to reflectively think and learn from your experiences or environment. In contrast, the latter describes the body in “fight or flight” mode, a state in which your defense strategies put up barriers and walls that automatically and purposefully block processes of the higher cortex, such as reflective thinking, and in effect, block change.

You are always in the process of becoming what you are most thinking. Thoughts shape your actions. You become what you do.

As is often said in neuroscience since the late 1990s, neurons that “fire together, wire together.” When a pair of neurons fire at the same time, they build an association or connection between them.

This is what happens whenever learning takes place. Whenever you learn something new, a new grouping of cells comes together to form neural associations between them. If you learn something new, it is because either old or new neurons are wiring together in new ways. When you hear certain words or see certain images around you, and respond to what you see and hear in different ways, for example, your brain automatically forms new associations. With repetition or practice, these connections thicken and strengthen, meaning the behavioral response is more likely to be repeated.

This, by the way, is how you learned all of what you know, even how to walk, run and ride a bike. Even prior to birth, your brain began processes of structuring neurons in certain patterns, wiring and rewiring neurons together to form set pathways that permitted the essential transmission of these chemical and electrical messages throughout the neural network of your body. As you can imagine, most of this learning happens subconsciously, that is, without a lot of conscious thinking on your part. Let your brain work for you with optimal efficiency by discovering the power of consciously focusing your attention.

Whenever you experience re-occurring problems, stuck places, addictive compulsions or emotional suffering in your life, such as chronic depression or anxiety, etc., it is likely connected to these early neural patterns that, essentially, prevent your conscious mind (logic) and subconscious mind (emotions, heart) from working together.

New learning occurs as new cells and connections between cells are formed. Though events and experiences may alter the structure of your brain, new learning and connections largely depend upon how you respond to events around you, rather than the actual events themselves. If your brain is in a protective mode, such as may occur, for example, when you or someone criticizes you, your body turns off the brain’s learning mode. (You know all those lectures you’ve heard or given? They were a waste of time and energy.)

Much anxiety is a misinterpretation of what poses a threat or danger to you. How can this knowledge help you optimize your life, and take charge of the direction of change in your own brain?

5. Hold a clear and inspiring vision of who you want to become, the life you aspire to realize, and how you want to relate to yourself, others, your mind and body, your life.

A vision is seeing what you most yearn to create. It energize your imagination, and gives you a laser focus on what changes you want to make to the circuitry of your brain.
when you feel connected (to self, life, others in the present moment), despite the circumstances around you, you likely feel an overall sense of love and safety. What is now happening in the brain to make this difference? In this case, Oxytocin, a naturally occurring hormone that produces a felt sense of safety and bonding, of love and connection, is released into the bloodstream.

The feelings of trust and connection that this hormone stimulates automatically reverse the survival response by reducing fear and anxiety. Oxytocin is the body’s antidote to Cortisol.

You need a vision of a new way of being, way of thinking and responding to challenging situations that empowers you to “make new sense” of your life experiences and, at the same time, is set in a direction that promote your highest health and well being, healthful conditions for your brain and body.

Your thoughts are a powerful energy that can, and do, completely shape your responses, even as they change the state of your mind and body to what you believe and hold in your conscious awareness.

Do you have a clear and inspiring vision that subconsciously commands powerful inner processes?

What you most passionately want in your thoughts, combined with what you believe and feel as possibilities, release emotional states of mind and body, and energize you to hold a conscious awareness and act to keep reaching as if you’re already there … is a winning formula. Test if for yourself.

 

5 Steps to Thrive and Not Just Survive Challenges (or Challenging Relationships)


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 www.drstaik.com, or visit on her two Facebook fan pages DrAthenaStaik and DrStaik


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APA Reference
Staik, A. (2020). 5 Steps to Thrive and Not Just Survive Challenges (or Challenging Relationships). Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/relationships/2020/08/5-steps-to-thrive-and-not-just-survive-challenges-or-challenging-relationships/

 

Last updated: 14 Aug 2020
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network (blogs.psychcentral.com) prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.