For about 20 years I have been telling my patients to use a “have done” list, instead of a “to-do” list. Sometime during the day, usually near the end, they are to write down any tasks they completed or made progress on. The feedback has been extremely positive. People feel more hopeful and more energized from their “have done” list, and knowing what they have done helps orient them to what to do next. Its much less stressful than staring at a “to-do” list.
Apparently there is now some research support for this. The authors of the following article use a more structured process than I do. I simply ask people to write down what they have done, without planning to do something first. But I imagine their version may work too.
The “review” and “redo” techniques are powerful ways of training helpful habits. I received a request for instructions on these techniques from a participant in an online course on resilience that I am co-facilitating.
The instructions are adapted from a presentation I gave in Helsinki in Jan 2019 to health care professionals who worked on rapid resuscitation teams in hospitals.
For those who want to download a pdf of the instructions you can find that here:
The following instructions are to help with stress and are not meant as treatment for any medical conditions. If you have any discomfort from any technique then stop using it.
Recovery breathing maintains our reserves.
Stress tends to wear us down physically and emotionally. In the model of stress that I use, this comes from our reserves being depleted. When our reserves are depleted we feel physically exhausted or emotionally drained. Even thinking about doing something can feel too much for us.
We need to maintain our reserves no matter what type of stress we are dealing with. Breathing techniques can help us do that.
We can optimize the rate we recover from stress by developing three aspects of breathing. These are
In this post I will describe unease, one of the components of stress. I will explain how unease is related to emotions. I will also give an example of a meditation technique to reduce the effect of unease on our nervous system. An audio version of the text is below. A meditation track is at the end of the post.
I am working on various ways of presenting material. I had a request for an audio version of posts so I will include that here as well as the text version.
I read a recent report on scammers preying on people’s fear of COVID-19 to sell them bogus cures. I thought it would be interesting to apply the unease modulation model of stress to understand how scammers work and how to protect ourselves.
Our parasympathetic nervous system helps us recover from stress. When we breathe at a slow pace, generally between 5 and 7 breaths per minute for adults, our physiology shifts into a recovery state in which natural restorative processes become more active. This is associated with activation of the parasympathetic nervous system and it will occur within a few seconds of beginning that breathing pattern.
The link below points to a page with a series of videos that you can use to breathe with. Pick a pace and breathe with it. If a particular pace does not feel soothing then try a different pace. You are looking for a breathing pace that feels effortless and soothing. Your body should settle into it effortlessly. Most people like a pace between 5 and 7 breaths per minute. Continue reading Paced Breathing for Brief Relaxation→
Here is a video of my colleague Dr. Judith Andersen being interviewed for a Finnish show, Successful Mind, hosted by Teemu Karppinen. We were in Finland working on a stress-management program with Dr. Harri Gustafsberg. Judith and Harri created a successful program to reduce use-of-force errors by police officers, the International Performance Resilience and Efficiency Program.
After months of work the research article I was working on has been published in Frontiers in Psychiatry. The article describes a new model for stress by breaking stress down into several components. These components are:
Sympathetic Activation (SMP)
Parasympathetic Activation (PMP)
These components affect how we experience the world and how we respond to it. Unease has more influence and so learning to modulate unease is the most important part of dealing with stress.
I had taken this video down because I have some important revisions to make, however I received a few requests from people who wanted to review it. So I am reposting it. I hope to get the revisions done by next month.
Stress and Resilience
The video here introduces a model of stress, strain, and resilience. It breaks stress down into three components, pressure, strain and feeling, and the processes from which those components arise, assessment, activation and appraisal. It then introduces some methods for developing resilience. Continue reading Stress and Resilience v1→
This is a summary of what we covered in the last class on changing habits. I was impressed by how engaged people were and how many ideas they shared. (I apologize for the delay in posting.)
Everyone caught on to the concepts well. We could all see how the various types of stress, i.e. pressure from demands, distress from negative emotions, and strain from sympathetic activation could all make it difficult to change a habit. With this framework people came up with ideas for reducing these different components in order to make developing a healthy habit easier and more successful.
One of the more subtle and more important points that I want to emphasize here is how the feedback between distress from negative emotions and sympathetic activation can be a major source of difficulty.
We had a lot of discussion in class. Many people talked about how much difficulty they had making a habit of exercising or of avoiding certain eating habits. We came up with some points to help with these.
Some principles involved in changing a habit are:
The habit reduces discontent and that is what reinforces the behavior. The greater the reduction in discontent and the faster the reduction the greater the reinforcement.
Negative emotions increase discontent and so we need to find ways of dealing with them that do not involve the habit we want to change.
Pressure tends to increase discontent, so if the habit causes an increase in pressure then the discontent will come back quickly. We need to make sure that we find new habits that decrease pressure in the long run.
Sympathetic arousal also tends to increase discontent. So when we are feeling tense, stressed or in pain we may be more likely to engage in the habit. We need to work on healthier ways to deal with those.
We need to practice experiencing discontent without having our body respond with tension or strain. We develop discontent tolerance.
Many of us have habits we think we would be better without. Usually we have tried to change those, but too often without long term success. In this and the next two classes we will be looking at habits, the ways that habits develop, and methods and techniques for changing habits effectively and sustainably.
One common complaint I hear is the sense that the person is trapped in their thoughts, especially worried thoughts. This is a technique to train your mind to shift attention away from thoughts into your body, without trying to stop thoughts. It teaches you to get out of your head. The more skill you have shifting your attention away from thoughts to sensations the easier it will be to ignore worried or other unhelpful thoughts without having to stop them or change them. Continue reading Escaping From Thoughts – Fast→
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