Updated: Jul 29
A big part of retraining the brain and calming the limbic system is redirecting our focus and thoughts. When our limbic system is overactive and stuck in a protective pattern, our thoughts and focus tend to be on the negative. The brain naturally wants to focus on symptoms, challenges and pretty much anything that isn’t going well. That’s all part of the brain impairment and the limbic system doing it’s best to keep us safe. The problem is that this does not send a message of safety to the brain and nervous system. Constantly focusing on what doesn’t feel good or isn’t going well, tells the brain-things aren’t good, I’m not ok.
We can send a message of safety to the brain by gently shifting our attention to what is going well, feels good, is enjoyable, etc. Notice I said gently? I would also add to that, calmly. One of the common mistakes I hear clients make all the time is redirecting their attention from symptoms or negative thoughts with fear. There is an underlying approach of “oh no, I shouldn’t be paying attention to this.” Followed by a quick and fearful redirect to something else. This is often done from a place of wanting to get it “right” and not allow the brain to notice these challenges.
Redirecting in this manner feeds the old, unhealthy pathways in the brain and does not help to calm the limbic system or nervous system. It keeps us in a hypervigilant state and often feeds into the paradigm that noticing symptoms is bad or having negative thoughts is going to harm us or slow our healing. “Oh no,” followed by swift action to fix or correct what the brain is doing still lights up the fear pathways in the brain, even though we are redirecting in an attempt to not feed those pathways.
It’s natural for our brain to notice what doesn’t feel good and it’s also normal to have negative thoughts. It is what we do with this and how we respond that matters. Instead of having a perfectionistic or fear-based approach that feeds into trying to fix or stop this, we can step into a paradigm of knowing we are safe even with symptoms. We can allow our brain to notice the sensation (notice the language change to a less charged word?), for a few moments or even a few minutes before we gently and calmly shift our focus. The underlying approach here is that we are safe in our body, even with challenging sensations, and we are shifting our attention because those sensations are not a tiger. This approach also gradually builds our capacity to have a challenging sensation arise and not have our nervous system go into fight/flight/freeze because of it.
We can also take a similar approach with our thoughts. Instead of "oh no, I shouldn't be thinking this", we can step into "isn't that interesting that my brain is focusing on that?". This replaces the fear with curiosity and an underlying energy of it not being a big deal. It's not something that has to be immediately stopped or fixed it. We can instead gently and calmly shift our attention because there are other more interesting things to place our attention on.
There is of course, more that goes into this and I could write several pages about the nuances of how to embrace this approach. But this is a good start to get you thinking about and noticing how you are redirecting and the energy or approach that is driving your redirecting.
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