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You can't outthink your triggers

Last week I talked about the importance of choosing attention and how I direct my attention *towards* my panic while I’m in the throes of panic. It sounds counterintuitive I know.

We can’t outthink our triggers. When our autonomic nervous system is firing and our body is flooded with sensation or we feel shutdown and numb (fight, flight, or freeze), we lose access to our prefrontal cortex where our executive functions like objectivity and logic reside. The more we try to talk ourselves out of how we’re feeling, the stronger the sensations flare.

This is survival. Our body is screaming at us that something isn’t right and we need to pay attention. If we resist, the feeling of unsafety only grows. It persists until we’re forced to pay attention to it. Our bodies don’t care what we *think* about what’s happening, it just wants to keep us safe. Ie: stop thinking about what the lion might do and get the f*ck out.

This is what our bodies are designed to do. Get our attention to keep us safe and healthy. The flood of sensation and hormones from stress completely overwhelm the few neural connections our limbic system has to our prefrontal cortex, tossing reason and logic out the window. Our work is to reduce nervous system reactivity and that work starts with the body.

So I pay attention to my panic. I feel my racing heart, the knot in my stomach, my left ear that weirdly burns. I take a mental note of all my physical sensations and breathe into them. And then… then things start to shift. I calm down enough to access my higher thinking and my better judgement. I delete the snarky text I want to send or the three-paragraph email detailing every reason I’m right about something at work, and chances are I probably need to eat something too.

I come to my senses. Literally.

And to be clear. I hate this. Leaning into discomfort and pain is really hard. My initial reaction is to try and run from, hide from, ignore, and force it to go away. Taking the pause to actually feel my physical sensations has been a practice of trial and error, but it gets easier each time. It will for you too.

Just by acknowledging that something is happening in our bodies, that something feels stressful or off, allows us space to shift the firestorm happening internally and pay attention to our thoughts and actions to make choices that are adaptive, not reactive.

This is how we become better leaders, partners, parents, and people. We do the often-challenging internal work so that we can show up how we want to show up.

The body leads the mind.

Cheers to better living


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