March 21, 2013

Your Client’s Brain: How to De-Stress

This is the sixth of eight new articles by Olivia Mellan and Sherry Christie that continue the discussion on Your Client’s Brain that began with Investment Advisor’s February 2013 cover story—Double Think: Getting Past the Conflict in Your Clients’ Two Brainsand a feature article—Second Thoughts: Making Better Decisionsin the March 2013 issue of IA.

There are many body-based techniques for reducing feelings of stress. One of the simplest is Hand On the Heart from therapist and trainer Linda Graham’s new book, “Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being.” To restore calm in yourself, she recommends you follow these four steps (edited here for brevity): 

      1. Begin by placing your hand on your heart, feeling the warmth of your own touch. Breathe gently and deeply into your heart center. Breathe in any sense of goodness, safety, trust, acceptance and ease you can muster. Breathe a sense of calm and peace into your heart center… a sense of contentment, well-being, a sense of kindness for yourself, gratitude for others, self-care and self-love.

      2. Once that’s steady, call to mind a moment of being with someone who loves you unconditionally, someone you feel completely safe with, at a moment when you felt seen and accepted, loved and cherished. It may be a beloved partner or a beloved child or parent, a dear friend, a trusted teacher, a close colleague or neighbor, your therapist, your grandmother, a third-grade teacher or a spiritual figure like Jesus or the Dalai Lama; it could be your Wiser Self. It could be a beloved pet. 

      3. As you remember feeling safe and loved with this person or pet, see if you can sense in your body the positive feelings and sensations that come up with that memory. Really savor this feeling of warmth, safety, trust and love in your body. Take a moment to allow the feeling to become steady in your body. 

      4. When that feeling is steady, let go of the image and simply bathe in the feeling itself for 30 seconds. Savor the rich nurturing of this feeling; let it really soak in.

      “We come into steady calm by experiencing moments of feeling safe, loved and cherished, and letting those moments register in our body and encode new circuitry in our brain,” explained Graham. Neural pathways to the brain signal it to release oxytocin, which evokes a sense of safe connection with others and immediately reduces feelings of stress. (A variation taught by Buddhist meditation teachers and authors James Baraz and Tara Brach: place your hand on your own cheek and say gently, “Oh, sweetheart!” Your touch and kind intention toward yourself will release oxytocin as well.)

      Breathing deeply, gently and fully activates the parasympathetic branch of our autonomic nervous system. This balances the revving up of the fight-or-flight response generated by stress, restoring brain-body equilibrium. Breathing or pranayama, Graham added, has been a core practice in yoga and meditation to relax the body and steady the mind for over 3,500 years.  

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We invite you to visit the Your Client’s Brain landing page on AdvisorOne for additional archived and ongoing coverage of this important topic.

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