New research reveals that you can tap into one of four specific parts of the brain to instantly eliminate different types of stress. Here are four easy ways to outwit worry and usher in more joy!
Over the past year, we’ve had to manage everything from seismic shifts in our daily routine to roller-coaster emotions,which have thrown both the rational and emotional parts of our brain into overdrive, resulting in heightened feelings of anxiety, doubt, and uncertainty. Thankfully, new research from leading neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD, author of Whole Brain Living (Buy on Amazon, $18.79), found that we can intentionally tap into targeted areas of our brain and use them to allay specific types of stress, while restoring hope and boosting resilience.
To appreciate the role our gray matter plays in our response to stress, it’s helpful to rethink how we see the brain itself, says Bolte Taylor.
“It’s a myth that the left brain is purely rational and the right brain is purely emotional,” she reveals.
“Both hemispheres have emotional and logical tissues.” In fact, the brain contains four distinct groupings of cells, what Bolte Taylor describes as “Four Characters”: Left Thinking (organized, overdoing); Left Emotion (protecting, fearful); Right Emotion (creative, unstructured); and Right Thinking (experiential).
“The goal is to know each of your regions and how they work so anytime a stressful situation arises, you can consciously tap into one and choose how you want to feel,” says Bolte Taylor. Read on to discover the simple mind-resets that boost confidence, calm and peace of mind.
Burned out? Ground Yourself in the Now
Your to-do list is so long, you’re exhausted from worrying about getting it all done before you’ve even completed the first task. In this case, your analytical Left Thinking brain has taken charge. “This is the ‘executive’ that likes to organize,” says Bolte Taylor. “But it also leads to burnout because it will just keep going.”
When you’re mentally drained, tap the Right Thinking brain by focusing on the now. “If I’m stuck in go-go-go Left Thinking, I take a walk outside and try to be in the moment,” says Bolte Taylor. This lets you access Right Thinking, the experiential area that thinks visually and savors the present. “As soon as you’re in nature, your world expands and thoughts are grounded in the now. This is also the part of the brain that is activated when we pray and that connects us to a larger, collective experience, away from our individual worries.” If you still feel stressed, she suggests “chatting” with your Left Thinking brain: “I call mine Helen, as in ‘Hell on Wheels,’ and I just say, ‘Give me 30 seconds to relax.’”
Fearful? Get Creative With a group
With budget cuts looming at work, you can’t help but worry that you’ll be laid off. When you’re fearful of the future, Left Emotion brain is in the driver’s seat. Explains Bolte Taylor, “Fear, worry and self-doubt all arise in this part of your brain.”
To curb anxiety, take comfort in the playful, creative Right Emotion brain. “This region is all about innovation and feeling connected to others,” says Bolte Taylor. While fear-based Left Emotion tries to protect you from danger and focuses on scarcity, the innovation and curiosity of Right Emotion focuses on abundance. Whether you’re conjuring a new cookie recipe with your grandkids or taking a watercolor painting class with pals, flexing your imagination as a group dials down worries faster than doing so solo because collaboration lights up more brain regions, boosting the spirit of connection that lets you feel truly rich and able to handle life’s curveballs.
Tempted to binge? Refocus on Small Tasks
After a stressful day, you scarf down a piece of chocolate cake, triggering a cascade of “what the heck” decisions, from bingeing on more comfort food to impulsively shopping online. If this sounds familiar, your Right Emotion brain, which craves a comfort rush, has taken the wheel. Though this part of your brain is a creative powerhouse, says Bolte Taylor, when allowed to go unchecked, it can also create chaos.
Overcome temptation and regain a sense of control by switching into Left Thinking brain. “The key is to create some order with something small like walking the dog or doing the dishes,” advises Bolte Taylor. This simple reset helps restore the structure and organization that exemplify Left Thinking. Even doing something as simple as taking a bath is enough to help you slow down and change gears, she says. In fact, the smaller your task, the better, because it allows for a clear beginning, middle and end—a sense of closure and accomplishment that helps subdue swirling emotions.
Overwhelmed? Boost Bliss With a ‘Brain Huddle’
When you’re feeling stress from many different directions, you can call on the wisdom of your whole brain by doing a “brain huddle,” advises Bolte Taylor.
To find peace in 90 seconds, just focus on the acronym BRAIN. That stands for Breathe, Recognize, Appreciate, Inquire and Navigate, explains Bolte Taylor. Just breathe to center yourself. Next,recognize which of the four brain regions (described above) is in charge. Appreciate that you have all four available at any moment. Inquire within and invite all of them into the ‘huddle’ so they can collectively plan your next move. Navigate the situation with all four areas offering their strengths.
Bringing them into harmony lets you negotiate the world with less stress and more confidence. “If someone walks into the room and is rude, for example, I can say to myself, Oh gosh, I think they’re in their fearful, self-protective Left Emotion brain,” says Bolte Taylor. “And that gives me choices of how to respond. The number-one job we have is to love one another, and knowing how your Four Characters interact with each other helps you understand yourself and others.”
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.
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