Sunday, March 16, 2014

Technique to increase the “good” emotions and their corresponding hormones

Stress for Success

March 18, 2014, Week 448

Brain science is exploding. We’re learning more and more about how to regulate stress, emotions and hormones through, what I call, Brain Training techniques, since these functions are part of how the brain operates. There are many researchers touting these skills. One I will quote is “Heart Math,” ( Based on their extensive research, they present a very simple approach to increasing the emotions associated with the hormone DHEA, which helps regulate and suppress the necessary yet potentially damaging stress hormone, Cortisol.

Before I get into this research, let me remind you that I’ve admitted in the past that I have had an odd awareness of my stress response, the fight/flight, since early childhood. Over the decades my awareness became stronger and eventually more academic, having taken many courses over the years to keep up with the growing body of research.

Over the decades, I came to the conclusion that to change anything about myself, from ending some truly unhealthy eating habits to quitting smoking, my own fight/flight response had to be tamed. So I devised many little tricks to do so ranging from deep breathing to what I call “Mind Games.” These enabled me to stop my automatic (fight/flight) reactions by creating a “space of time” between a stressor and my automatic reaction to it. Eventually, this space of time allowed me to bring in the response I’d decided was my preferred. My husband has often marveled at my ability to change many a bad habit and defensive reactions over the years.

Now much reliable research explains why my own strategies and those of many others can work. Here’s the basic explanation from Heart Math’s “Transforming Stress”.

Heart Math explains the connection between emotions and the hormones they trigger through what they call “Emotional Landscape.” They position four “types” of emotions categorized as:
·         High energy emotions: Anger, hostility, impatience, etc., and happy, motivated, creative, etc.
·         Low energy emotions: Bored, lethargic, hopeless, etc., and calm, content, relaxed, etc.
·         Emotions accompanied by cortisol, which in too high amounts over a long enough period of time lead you to be vulnerable to illness and disease development: Anger, hostility, impatience, bored, lethargic, hopeless, etc.
·         Emotions accompanied by DHEA: Happy, motivated, creative, calm, content, relaxed, etc.

Heart Math’s first approach to calming down the emotions associated with cortisol is a   breathing technique called, “Neutral Step.” Here are the three steps:
1.    Focus for a few seconds on the physical heart in your chest;
2.    Then inhale and exhale evenly to the count of 4 or 5 and imagine that your heart is doing the breathing (don’t ask me why);
3.    Repeat for several rounds;

Since I’ve been doing my own version of breathing and Mind Games for so long, I can’t attest personally to the effectiveness of this strategy. However, I’ve heard many, many people’s stories about how this simple technique has allowed them to deal more effectively with their daily challenges. Here are some examples from workshop participants:
·         Approaching home after work, seeing nothing picked up off the yard as requested that morning, and breathing to calm down to decide consciously how to respond in a way that gets the best results versus automatically blowing up.
·         Others testify to how much better they sleep doing this breathing exercise in bed at night to calm their overly busy brains.
·         Others have said the skills they had learned in other workshops, like dealing with conflicts, were only now being successfully used because they calm themselves down first with the Neutral Step.

This Neutral Step is so easy and it doesn’t require will power, so why not try it? The reason I believe it works is because the regulated breathing is much deeper than the fight/flight breathing, which is shallower and faster. Taming your fight/flight allows you to change some of your emotional reactions you do not like. It’s really pretty simple.

In my next article I’ll address Brain Training techniques to divert blood flow in your brain away from your “fear center” to other areas to help balance you emotionally.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S. is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach.  Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at  Email her to request she speak to your organization at