Article by Tom Bunn L.C.S.W. in Psychology Today
Expert advice that doesn’t work is not merely useless; it is worse than useless. When the advice of experts doesn’t work for us, we think there must be something wrong with us.
When stress hormones are released, they grab our attention. Something unexpected – perhaps something out of control – is happening. We feel alarmed. And we should. What is going on may be a serious threat. We need alarm to get our attention. Then, if we have good parasympathetic nervous system programming, this system kicks in and calms us automatically. Automatic calming is vital. Clear thinking is needed to deal with an emergency. To think clearly, we need to be cool, calm, and collected.
There Is a Solution
The Three-Button Exercise
This is one of the exercises to use if immediately when you feel stress. Remember a person with whom you felt your guard let down. The signals that cause your guard to let down are transmitted by the person’s face, their voice, and their touch. I want you to imagine buttons you can press to calm yourself.
Imagine your friend has pasted a sticker on their forehead bearing a picture of a button with the number 1 on it. Another sticker, showing button number 2, is pasted on their chin. A third sticker, with button number 3, is pasted on the back of their hand.
Now imagine feeling alarmed. Imagine putting your finger on the button 1 sticker on their forehead and then releasing it. Their face comes clearly to mind. You see the softness in their eyes. It feels good.
Imagine putting your finger on the button 2 sticker. As you release it, the person’s lips begin to move, and you hear them greet you in a special way. You may notice that the quality of their voice calms you deep inside.
Imagine touching the button 3 sticker on the back of their hand. When you release the button, the person lifts their hand and gives you a reassuring touch or a hug—whatever gesture is appropriate in your relationship with this person. You may notice calming stillness rest on you.
You can activate your calming system by pressing the buttons any time you wish. But we want to set up calming that works automatically. To establish automatic attenuation, intentionally remember feeling alarmed, and then press button 1. Remember the feeling again; press button 2. Bring the feeling to mind again; press button 3.
Repeated use of this exercise is one of the steps used to teach the parasympathetic nervous system to automatically kick in when calming is needed.
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