There is an ocean of advice on what to do when you are stressed out or feeling anxious. However, for most of us, that advice is hit or miss. Should I meditate or should I do yoga? Should I drink chamomile tea or a martini? CBD or THC or B-12?
Beyond the confusion of what to do, there is usually only a vague perception of whether it worked or not. For example, I cannot tell you how many of my clients will answer, “I dunno, maybe? I mean I think so. But I am not sure…” when I ask them if X or Y approach is working for them. And that pisses me off, not because they are doing anything wrong, but that they are wasting time, money and energy on things they can’t even tell are working or not.
My clients know that that shit doesn’t fly with me. We seek and deliver significant and undeniably noticeable shifts in wellbeing – none of this “I think so” crap. Achieving said results requires two things: fine tuned self-awareness and the “right”* techniques.
In the time of COVID-19, we all need techniques that are high impact and are immediate. Therefore, I am calling it Stress First Aid.
Now, Stress First Aid doesn’t focus on a bunch of try this techniques. It focuses on the three levels of your neurobiology that are each responsible, in their own particular way, for your stress and anxiety and then offers up principles for getting each back into balance. In particular, Stress First Aid is based on the F.I.E.R. Progression.
Feel: First you have to feel and become aware of what you are experiencing physically and emotional. Where are the areas of tension in your body? On a scale of 1 to 10, how tense are you? What are the one or two overarching emotions you are present? If you cannot connect to these feelings, you will remain disassociated from the reality of the three levels of your neurobiology and incapable of significant change.
Instinctual: The oldest layer of our neurobiology is our reptilian complex, aka The Lizard. The Lizard has very primitive but incredibly powerful reactions to stressors (threats) in your life. They are fight, flight and freeze. The Lizard doesn’t give a shit about rationalizations or subtle emotions, its concerned primarily with fear, rage and survival and it wants to initiate physical and kinetic responses to your stress and anxiety. Therefore, we want to give The Lizard its outlet through movement, sprinting and punching being at the top of the list (though almost all forms of movement and exercise can accomplish this).
Emotional: The second of the three neurobiological layers is the paleomammalian complex, aka The Child. The Child houses our raw, unfiltered emotional needs and urges. The language of this brain is not kinetic but feelings based. The scared child wants, comfort, love and safety. Like The Lizard, The Child doesn’t give a rats ass about rationalizations or explanations, it wants to know, or more accurately, feel that everything is going to be OK. Therefore, we want to give The Child all manner of positive emotional, physical and social soothing to make him or her feel safe. This can happen through self-dialogue and imagination, becoming authentically connected to those who love us, and intentionally engaging in self-soothing activities like cuddling or eating a treat.
Rational: The newest layer of our neurobiology is the neomamammalian complex, aka The Adult. The Adult houses our rational, logical and belief based brain which analyzes our past, present and future to provide for our needs. The language of The Adult is facts, figures, arguments and belief systems. It is usually unconcerned with emotions, feelings and instincts. It wants to know how much money is needed for food on the table every week and wants to calculate exactly how to earn that money. Therefore, The Adult needs a plan and it needs one supported by facts. This is accomplished through gathering data, analyzing it and coming up with specific plans of action.
Stress First Aid
Effective Stress First Aid requires us to Feel and then attend, in order, to the instinctual, emotional and rational layers or our neurobiology. The importance of doing it in order, from bottom to top, is that the optimal function of the next brain layers is predicated on the optimal function of the one below it, and by extension, of the brain as a whole. So, if you have ever wondered why trying to rationalize yourself out of a really triggering situation hasn’t worked, its because your instinctual and emotional brains are freaking and out and have hijacked your rational functions (not to mention that the instinctual and emotional brains don’t speak the rational brains language).
To read more about the techniques we use here at Stress School, click here.
There are numerous techniques to apply to each of these layers, but given the limitations of this blog post and my preference for principles over techniques, let me leave you with this Stress First Aid Prescription for when you find yourself at your stress or anxiety limit:
1) Pause, notice your body. Ask yourself, what physical sensations am I feeling? Where? What is the overall emotion that I am feeling? Then give it a # from 1-10. Do this for 1-3 minutes
2) Ask your Lizard what sort of movement would feel appropriate/helpful? Sprinting, punching, dancing, jumping. If possible, imagine the movement as an escape or an attack on the thing(s) that are stressing you out. Then, do it vigorously for 3 to 10 minutes.
3) Pause, feel again, and ask your Child what it needs. How can you help. What kind of comfort can you provide? Really feel the self soothing. Do this till The Child (and your body) feels better
4) Pause, notice your body and your mind, are you feeling better? (if not, try steps 1-3 again). If you are, take a moment to attend to your Adult and see what practical problems or challenges it wants to attend to. Make a list, make a plan, make the time to attend to the problems, ask for help. Have your Adult promise the Child and Lizard that its going to keep them safe and that everything is going to be OK.
5) Notice how you feel : )
For more information, have a look at my Youtube channel.