By Jennifer McCartney
We are all well informed about the damage stress inflicts on our health, happiness, and efforts to succeed—a recent study has shown 77% of Americans suffer from stress. Yet most of us have given in to it, accepting stress as the new normal. The stress reduction programs we’ve tried simply haven’t worked.
But we shouldn’t give in. There is a solution.
Don Joseph Goewey, the founder and managing partner of ProAttitude, a company focused on ending work stress, and the author of “The End of Stress: Four Steps to Rewire Your Brain,” and “Mystic Cool: A Proven Approach to Transcend Stress, Achieve Optimal Brain Function, and Maximize Your Creative Intelligence” joined Tammy Mastroberte, founder of Elevated Existence Magazine for the “Living an Elevated Existence Mind, Body & Soul Summit Season 2,” to share how we can overcome stress once and for all.
Neuroscience discovered genetics and past traumas wire our brain for stress reactions, but we can rewire those faulty circuits through a specific shift in mindset, which can switch our brain’s “auto-pilot” from knee-jerk stress reactions to one that defaults to higher brain networks, calm and peace, Goewey explained. Making this shift is simpler than we would imagine and change happens quickly, within four to eight weeks. Once the shift is made we can unleash the brain’s capacity to generate creative insight, foster greater self-esteem, and improve our relationships.
“If you add up all the stress related disease in America you have the No. 1 cause of death,” he explained. “It knocks out cognitive functions, we get aggressive with other people, it’s rough on relationships.”
The greater the stress, the more we bicker with our partners, and it can even effect the way we look, with chronically stressed people appearing older than they actually are, he shared. Stress also affects our IQ making it difficult for us to function at full capacity. “If we’re chronically stressed, it means the stress response system is on full time,” he explained. We secrete stress hormones when this happens, and our emotional “set point” is to be anxious, angry or depressed. “When we’re having a stress reaction basically the primitive brain is in charge,” he said.
But how do we stop stressing? High stress work environments aren’t going away, and the usual stress-reducing programs just aren’t working—our collective stress levels are going up, not down. To make things more difficult, a full 50 percent of our experience of stress is determined by genetics, which plays a big role in wiring us for stress responses. However, the good news is that 40 percent is determined by our attitude or mindset (with the other 10 percent being circumstances). This 40 percent becomes the key to reducing our stress, said Goewey.
It’s all about neuroplasticity. If we can reprogram the way we react to stress, we can begin to take control of our lives. “It takes practice,” he said. “The practice that it takes to built that mindset, to change your brain and change your life in all those positive ways, is a simple practice –it just needs to be practiced.” Anyone can do it because age doesn’t matter when it comes to the ability to retrain our brain. “A change in experience literally changes your brain…and to change our experience you have to change your attitude,” he noted. This can all be done in four to eight weeks, and Goewey shared the four steps to do it — all of which are outlined in his book, “The End of Stress.”
4 Steps to End Stress
1. The first step is awareness. “We create all kinds of stressful events purely in our heads,” he noted. Acknowledge the thought is within you, and not reality. This will help us become aware of the thought patterns that lead to stress. “You want to step into your day in a very conscious way, and be grateful. Gratitude sets of a flurry of positive emotions.” One tool he shares is to take five minutes in the morning to get quiet and be grateful, and set the intention to have a great day no matter what happens.
2. The second step after awareness is making a conscious choice not to activate the stress response. It starts with not believing our stressful thoughts. Ask ourselves, “what does my experience become when I don’t believe that thought?” This will interrupt the stress response and allow us to make a different choice.
5. The third step is about expanding our brain power. As we begin to move out of stress and make the conscious choice for peace, more brain power becomes available, and opens the door to creativity, primarily a function of the right brain. Part of expanding beyond stress includes taking breaks from work throughout the day, walking in nature and taking vacations every year. Goewey recommends taking a 15 to 20 minute break mid-morning and mid-afternoon each day to recharge the brain and keep creativity flowing.
4. The last step is to form a personalized practice that sustains the gains that you make and builds on those gains. Here we can pick and choose the tools that work for us to maintain a stress-free lifestyle.
The Clear Button Tool
As a practice to bust stress in 90 seconds, Goewey shared one of the tools he teaches called The Clear Button Tool. When we become aware of a stressful thought or are in a stressful situation, we start by holding out our left hand. With our right hand, press the center of our left palm, or what he calls “The Clear Button.” Press down and count to three, and then for each count think of a different color. For example, on the first count, inhale and count one, and then on the exhale, think of the color red. Take a second breath, and count 2, and on the exhale think blue. On the third, think green. This is how you “reset” your brain. It’s a form of distraction, and allows you to see the calm or peaceful path through the stress. It stops the stress reaction in its tracks. He also said this can be repeated two or three times, if necessary.
It doesn’t mean we will never experience stress again, but rather that by learning a practice we can shift our thought patterns away from fear and stress, and into a more dynamically peaceful attitude. Our brain will have a new “autopilot” setting that gives us choice, freedom and a better life.
“A lot of people think letting go of fear and stress is hard, but living with the fear and stress is much harder,” Goewey said. “You make the decision to end stress right here right now in the present moment, or you don’t.”
For more from Goewey and the other 25 experts in mind, body and spirit topics, sign up FREE to Season 2 of the Living an Elevated Existence Summit.