An Excerpt from a
Get the Applications in One Easy-to-Use Guide
by Ruth Buczynski, PhD
with Rick Hanson, PhD, Kelly McGonigal, PhD,
and Bill O’Hanlon, LMFT
How the brain processes stress
People often experience some amount of stress during the day. And any amount of stress can leave us feeling overwhelmed and drained. Here, Rick Hanson explains the dangers of high stress
“Mother Nature has endowed us with another setting in the brain – the ‘Whoa’
setting – which is where we experience in our core that one or more of our
fundamental needs of safety, satisfaction, and connection is not met.
Then the brain fires up into its fight/flight stress response mode, or it goes into an intense freeze mode – the red zone.
In the red zone, which is not meant to be sustainable at all – it is a brief burst – the body burns resources faster than it takes them in. Bodily systems are really disturbed; there is a fundamental sense of deficit and disturbance, and longterm building projects like strengthening the immune system are put on hold.
In terms of avoiding, approaching, and attaching, the mind is colored with a
sense of fear, frustration, and heartache.
Red zone experiences are normal, but as Robert Sapolsky talks about in his
great book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, most red-zone spikes of stress in
the wild end quickly – one way or another.
Then the animals go back to long periods of green zone recovery – refueling,
renewing, and repairing.
That becomes a problem with modern life. Most of us, at least, in the developed
world, are happy, with some unfortunate exceptions. We are not spending
our days running and screaming in terror from charging lions – we don’t
have severe spikes of red zone stress.
But on the other hand, we are exposed to mild to moderate chronic stress, with
very little time for recovery – which is a complete violation of the evolutionary
model.” (pp. 6–7 in your transcript)
2. Developing a positive mindset
Bad days and negative experiences are sometimes just a part of
life. But according to Rick Hanson, we don’t have to let them ruin
our mood entirely. Here, he shares his two-step process for shifting
your brain’s perspective from negative to positive.
“The neural psychology of learning shows us that this is a two-stage process. Quickly here, it moves from one, activation, to two, installation.
In other words, we need to have a positive, useful mental state – typically an
experience of the inner strength itself or some factor of it.
If you want to develop mindfulness, you want to have more moments in which
you are mindful.
If you want to develop gratitude as an orientation to life in general, you have
more moments in which you are grateful.
So now we have that activated mental state, but we need to install it as a lasting
neural state: activation and installation.
Once we have that neural trait growing inside us as an inner strength, it fosters
states of it, which then give us new opportunities to install it as a positive trait.
By the way, this process of going from state to trait to state to state, works
positively and negatively.
In other words, negative states rapidly become negative neural traits, which
then foster more negative mental states.
The brain is in fact biased toward that process of negative learning, and relatively
poor at and weak at the process of positive learning – even though positive
states are the primary source of positive traits.
So that is what I have gotten very focused on, because most positive states are
just wasted on the brain.
They are momentarily pleasant, but if they don’t transfer those short-term
memory buffers to long-term storage, there is no lasting value. ” (pp. 9–10 in
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