False Alarms

February 12, 2020 practicalcoach_y7p8ax 0 Comments

I am constantly seeking new ways to share the value of mind management with other people. I’d like to think I know the value myself, because I practice it daily, and it has fueled drastic and beautiful change in my life. It has helped me so much that I decided to become a life-coach myself. Finding ways to communicate how powerful this work can be is sometimes difficult. It was incredibly ironic and humbling to have a recent experience open my eyes to coaching in a way I had never considered. Today’s blog is about that experience.

Why is mind management such an incredible skill? 

Once upon a time I stood over a sink processing surgical items. Out of nowhere I reeled from an abrupt, searing pain in the back of my skull, and my right arm lost all feeling. To make a long story short I had just suffered a work injury due to the repetitive motions I was making every day. At the same time I was learning how to navigate my way though pain and the paper work for the injury, my relationship of 15 years came crashing down around me. Two things I trusted more than anything were broken; my body and my heart. I didn’t know anyone in the area. I had no support. I ended up loading everything I cared about into my car and driving back to my home state, with my two cats howling in the whole way, spinning from the emotional and physical pain. I had no job and no partner. I had never felt so alone and afraid. I gradually picked up the pieces of my life. 

Needless to say it was an experience I will never forget. All of us have had moments like this in life.

About four weeks ago at work, without warning, my injury came roaring back to life. I cannot put into words how deep the sinking weight of devastation pulled my mind. I thought this was it, it was finally going to be permanent, and I would never be pain free again. I stopped hiking, walking, rock climbing, even sitting in a chair beside my partner to watch a movie was torture. I went to my doctor. She prescribed physical therapy.

I have just returned from my first physical therapy appointment and my mind has been BLOWN.

My physical therapist explained that often, when our bodies experience physical trauma AND we are experiencing stress, trauma, and anxiety in other areas of our lives, our brains combine the two together. The emotional stress and physical stress I felt during my injury were interpreted by my brain as one single trauma, and my brain wants to ensure it will never again. My nervous system (in this area of my body) is on high-alert. It wants to protect me. It’s pretty certain I might be dying. Things that may not normally trigger a nerve response are triggering ALL of my nerve responses. My brain is basically like:

Let’s say your body is like a house with a built in alarm system. If a basketball rolls through your driveway the alarm doesn’t sound. Someone would have to throw a rock through your window to get it to activate. Then, suddenly, someone drives a vehicle through the side of your house. As a side note, completely unrelated to the car crash, your house also catches on fire. Your alarm system goes ballistic. Eventually you stop the chaos. It takes time, but you repair the house, and finally reactivate the trusty alarm system. Things seem OK. Maybe not exactly as they were, but your house is a house and you are happy to have it. A couple of years pass. You start to relax a little. Then, a basketball rolls through your driveway…

Your alarm system goes completely bananas, because it’s convinced you’re probably going through the same thing you did when the car crashed into the wall. It’s not just monitoring like it was before, it has become HYPER vigilant. Even if a light breeze blows some leaves into the yard the alarm goes bananas. Everything causes the alarm to sound, even if it’s totally benign. My alarm system can’t tell the difference between normal activity and traumatic activity. It’s haywire. Physical therapy will help calm the irritated nerve that resulted from my original injury- but that’s not all. More importantly, it’s going to help rewire my alarm system. It will re-teach my brain how to tell the difference between a leaf in the wind or a car driving into the wall.

So, what does this have to do with coaching and mind management?

This is what blew my mind. It blew my mind because I realized this is a perfect physical example of the value of mind management. 

My primal (caveman) brain remembers how scary and painful my life was back in 2018. It thinks it’s helping me, protecting me, by throwing up these crazy red flags at the wrong times. It’s convinced another car is coming to drive through my house. It doesn’t understand I am perfectly safe. In fact, it’s pretty convinced unless I sit completely still and do NOTHING I am going to die. 

I have to re-teach my brain what is dangerous and what is safe. I am purposely exposing myself to the stimulation that is causing me pain, but in small doses, so that in time my mind will learn that I can sit in a chair and nothing is wrong. It will tolerate a basketball rolling into my driveway. It requires consistent practice. This is exactly like managing our minds, except we work with the emotional health of the brain instead of the physical health. They are equally important.

All of us have experienced things in our lives, past and present, which were uncomfortable, scary, or traumatic. All of us will experience them again. That’s part of life. It’s always going to be 50/50 because we live in a world that isn’t perfect. Unfortunately many of us respond to negative emotions by panicking. We believe something has gone wrong, or that we’ve made a mistake, and that we need to avoid it again at all cost. If something hurt us particularly bad, it’s only natural we would want to avoid hurting that badly again. Our primal brain sees us in distress and decides it needs to protect us. It begins throwing up the same red flags that I am experiencing now, but it is emotional pain and discomfort instead of physical pain and discomfort. Why is this a problem?

If we start avoiding things simply because we might be uncomfortable we start limiting our lives. We chip away at our growth. This is one way to become stuck in the grey.

It’s easy for our primal brains to get carried away if we aren’t paying attention, especially if we’re confused about which alarms are important and which are not.

We stop dating because we’ve been hurt in past relationships.

We stop showing up 100% at our jobs because we’ve experienced conflict with a boss or coworkers.

We stop trying to lose weight because we’ve failed before, and it hurts so damn bad every time we let ourselves down.

We stop.

Just like I had stopped hiking, climbing, and showing up in life. I was afraid to hurt again.

The truth is negative emotions aren’t bad. They are part of the human experience. We actually need them to grow and prevent ourselves from becoming stagnant. I’m not saying we should go hunting for negative emotions :P, but if a negative emotion happens to roll into our driveway (and it will), it doesn’t need to cause panic. Coaching shows us what our minds are currently doing. It shows us the thoughts and emotions we might not be consciously aware of. We can see where the alarm system has gone haywire, and work to reset it back to a healthy, normal level of our choosing. By learning to expose ourselves to negative and positive emotions, sitting with them, allowing ourselves to feel them, we teach our brains that emotions are nothing to be afraid of. We can tolerate them, and even start using them to make our lives better. Yes- negative emotions can make our lives better! Instead of avoiding these parts of our lives, we can learn to be 100% present in them, which gives us control over what we do with them as a result. We have to know WHAT to change before we can change it.

Now we’re getting somewhere!

Physical Therapy is calibrating my body. Life Coaching is calibrating my mind.

Most of us have emotional alarms that need re-calibrated. Can you imagine trying to live your life with false alarms constantly banging in your skull? It’s enough to make anyone confused and a little crazy. We can move out of our houses. We cannot move out of our bodies or minds. We have to live inside them for the entirety of our existence. I don’t know about you, but I want to make my home a place I like to spend time. I want my body to be a place I enjoy living, and I want my mind to be a place I enjoy existing, otherwise it’s going to be a long prison sentence. 

How many false alarms do you have right now? Do you know? How can you tell the difference? 

Emotional false alarms are only successful if we are unwilling to feel negative things. Once we start exploring the why behind our reluctance to do something, we can discover if the danger is real, or if it’s a false alarm. What’s the worst that could happen? Are you literally going to be eaten by zombies, or are you just avoiding an uncomfortable feeling? Is a moment of discomfort something you are willing to feel in order to grow?

Download my free work sheet with 4 simple questions that will help you uncover your own false alarms.

If you get to the end of this work sheet and find evidence you are holding back in life, it is most likely because of your false alarms. They are preventing you from taking action. In the beginning it is very hard to sort our false alarms from the rest of the clutter in our brains, but with practice, it becomes simple and straightforward. Discomfort does not equal danger, but our brains would like us to believe otherwise. New things are uncomfortable, yes, but I can pretty much guarantee MOST of you are not about to walk into the den of a hungry mama bear. When we are willing to feel uncomfortable without fear, we can move forward and consider new options and new paths. We stop being stuck. Mind management gives us the tools to reset the false alarms.

 Suddenly, the world seems much less intimidating.

False Alarms was last modified: March 2nd, 2020 by practicalcoach_y7p8ax

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