Saturday, October 22, 2011

Stress Counseling by Michael Logan

Stress counseling is a significant part of my practice, and you may ask what stress counseling means.

Stress is the internal physiological response we have subsequent to a thought about any event in the external world, and stress counseling would be the process of teaching a client how to pay attention to the subtle shifts inside the body, and deciding whether or not to keep them. Generating eustress rather than distress. The stress counseling process is a little like the process we go through when we steer a car, with lots of little shifts in speed and position of the vehicle on the road.

In my anger management workshops, I tell my clients that it is very possible to view even a windfall like winning the lottery as a problem and create stressful physiology by thinking the total winnings are "not enough".

Stress counseling needs to include information on how fast my perceptions happen, (1/18th or 1/25th second depending on whether you are reading Cszikszentmihalyi or Ekman, which is twice as fast as I can blink my eyes), and how we are built in terms of responding to nonverbal cues like tone of voice and facial expressions, such as contempt.

Paul Ekman has studied facial expression for 24 years I believe, and he reports that expressions like contempt are responded to with stress chemistry across cultures.

In other words, my response to contempt is a human response not mitigated by culture.

I really like the computerized tool of heart rate variability biofeedback as a stress counseling tool.

This heart rate variability biofeedback tool gives me information on my computer about the time between my heart beats, and how what I am thinking about and how I am breathing impacts my stress hormones or more importantly, my 'contentment' hormones.

So if you are thinking that you can begin to engineer your internal response to life situations by paying attention to your thinking and feelings heart beat by heart beat, you would be correct.

Seem like too short a time to slow down? After all, heart beats might happen once per second, but your central nervous system works at least 18 times faster.

The good news is that you have been successful at this process thousands of times over your life.

For example, my daughter who is four years old, meandered into my office last night while I was working, without my noticing, and when she spoke, I was startled way beyond the usual startle response, and I could feel even as I jumped in my chair, a recognition of her voice and a realization that I was not in danger, and the starting of a calming.

Most of our startle or stress responses are handled naturally by the body, quickly, efficiently, as we interpret our situation as non-dangerous.

Stress becomes problematic when I keep the "danger" interpretation of physiolgy going too long.

For example, I was reading in our local paper how restaurants are going to respond to increased beef prices. I laughed a bit, because I know this will be stressful for my wife and children who are big fast food folks. They will worry and fuss about how to get the msg laden fast food and still pay cheap prices. Cannot be done.

I will stress about the high cost of beef in my crock pot. But maybe I can learn to cook some soups and breads to fill up on.

That later thought helps me calm down, because I love baking my own bread and cooking stews and soups.

What has all that got to do with heart rate variability biofeedback? Stess Counseling on the computer or on the hand held emWave unit, gives me real time feedback about my stress response internally. I can see myself move out of coherence, which is a consistent amount of time between heart beats, and back into coherence, when I change my thoughts to something more pleasant and take a few deep breaths.

Most folks are pretty amazed to see the coherence information on the computer screen. They are amazed at how fast the internal change is, and how subtle the experience of moving into and out of coherence is, and how easy it is to manage, once one learns to pay attention to the inside more than the outside.

After all, my experience of reality exists only inside my head, and it is different than yours too. That is where all sensory data is processed.

My heart has a very sophisticated nervous system which can learn independently of my cranial brain.

That is amazing information which was unknown not too many years ago, and I can train heart intelligence to respond by regulating my heart beat with either deep breathing or pleasant thoughts or both, so once my heart intelligence learns this process, I can induce or cue the relaxation response associated with coherent heart beat for the heck of it, just to feel good.

I can make it a habit to cue the relaxation response every five minutes or so, for a couple of heart beats in order to feel good.

Oh, and the internal hormonal bath accompanying the heart rate variability biofeedback is DHEA, the anti-aging hormone.

Anti-aging is an inside job. Yes, it is, as is stress counseling, and I can learn to steer my heart beat so that it is on cruise control.