I am always trying to find new and better ways to help my patients and clients work through emotional challenges in a productive and empowering way. To train the brain into a more helpful and healthful state requires us to learn how to direct our intention and attention. We all have the ability to rewire our brain’s activity by self-directing practices in the form of selective internal focus – by actively choosing a series of behaviours, thoughts and feelings.
I created the acronym B.R.A.I.N. to help people change their brain’s response to work through challenging emotions. My goal with creating B.R.A.I.N. was to help individuals connect to their pain or challenge in a manner that is soothing, insightful and instructive. When facing a challenge, be sure to go letter by letter and fully engage as best as possible with each step. If the emotions feel very strong it is appropriate to return to step 1 or “B”, until you are ready to continue engaging with the other letters.
5 Steps to Manage Emotional Challenges
Activate the parasympathetic nervous system (your rest, digest, recovery nervous system), by slowing down and softening the breath. This should not feel awkward or demanding. An example of this breathing would be 5 second inhale, 5 second exhale.
Where in the body is this sensation felt (ex. Neck, back, stomach, throat, chest etc.)? Emotions are stored in the body as electrical/chemical messages. Our brain interprets and narrates these sensations to create a “story”, and what we call a “feeling”. Therefore, we want to build our mind-body muscles by actively focusing on where the emotion is stored in our body, versus getting distracted with our “feelings”, or “narrative”.
Attend to this area of your body, to this emotion, as a great friend would. This is your time to connect to yourself before you correct yourself. This should always be done with gentleness and courage. Therefore, your goal at this stage is to be present, and not judge yourself. This is your chance to build your self-compassion muscles.
Unpack patterns, details, and misplaced emotions. At this point, with non-judgement and balanced breath we can start understanding what these sensations are trying to teach us (worth, safety, money, time, attachment etc.). Asking yourself questions like: What is the obstacle within myself that caused this to come up? What am I learning? Do I recognize this pattern? Is there another perspective I can take that would be more helpful and healthful?
From this new vantage point, what is the first step I can take? What is a more beneficial, thought, feeling or action I can integrate into my experience? Then take that action, that 1 step. The more we string these experiences (thoughts, feelings, and actions) together, the more likely we will encourage our brain and body to repeat a more healthful response.
Remember, we are all human, therefore the work never ends. However, by practicing B.R.A.I.N. you can become more effective and efficient at responding with hope, optimism and resilience towards emotional and physical challenges.