Changing the Machinery of Upset

Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence (from Random House in October ...Read More

Let’s consider ways to cultivate more peace of mind – and even its consummation in profound equanimity – by working with the eight gears of the machine of suffering that we explored in this earlier post.

This list is by no means exclusive: it just points to how many great tools are available these days for managing our emotional reactions.

Methods for Appraisals

  • Stay mindful of the whole.
  • Be mindful of the meanings, the framings, we give things.
  • Challenge the significance the mind gives something. Is it really an 8 on the 10- point Ugh scale? If it’s really a 2, why is my anger an 8?
  • Challenge the intentions we attribute to others; realize we are usually a bit player in their drama.
  • What beliefs are implicit about others, world? Try cognitive therapy methods for challenging inaccurate, negative beliefs.

Methods for Self-Referencing

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  • Recognize the suffering that comes from selfing.
  • Practice mindfulness of the sense of “I”
  • What are the implicit representations of self: Strong? Weak? Mistreated? How does this underlying framing affect your experience of situations?
  • How much are we taking things personally? (“Negative grandiosity,” I’m so important that they’re deliberately hassling me.)
  • How does getting upset intensify or shade self?
  • See the interconnectedness of things in the situation, including yourself.
  • Identify legitimate rights and needs, and take care of them.

Methods for Vulnerabilities

  • Hold a frame of compassion for yourself and self-acceptance
  • Do an honest self-appraisal of physiology/health, temperament, and psychology: Weak spots? Hot buttons?
  • Protect vulnerabilities in situations: e.g., eat before talking about what upset you; ask people to slow down if you tend to be rigid; push through possible inhibitions in assertiveness due to culture, gender.
  • Shore up vulnerabilities over time: e.g., medical care, vitamins, 5-HTP, antidepressants; build up greater control over your attention; take in positive experiences that slowly fill the hole in your heart.

Methods for Memory

  • Be aware of the “pre-amp” turbo-charging of memory and sensitization.
  • Increase positive emotional memories by “taking in the good.”
  • Shift emotional memories in positive directions over time by recalling old painful experiences while simultaneously bringing positive thoughts and feelings prominently to mind.
  • With a therapist, consider other methods for painful experiences or traumas (e.g., EMDR)

Methods for Aversion

  • Understand the central place in psychology and in spiritual growth of working with aversion; use that to motivate yourself to not act aversively.
  • Meditate on the Second Foundation of Mindfulness (feeling).
  • Focus on neutral feeling tones.
  • Dwell on the conditioned, compounded, and impermanent nature of the unpleasant.
  • Find compassion for people who are aversive to you.

Methods for Bodily Activation

  • Understand the mechanical, animal nature of activation.
  • Regard stressful activation as an affliction (as the health consequences of chronic stress)
  • Use one of the many methods for stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system to down-regulate the SNS.
  • Get in the habit of rapidly activating a damping cascade when the body activates.
  • Regard bodily activation as just another compounded, “meaningless,” and impermanent phenomenon.

Methods for Negative Emotions

  • Practice mindfulness of how thoughts shape emotions…and emotions shape thoughts.
  • Explore the many practices for letting go of negative emotions (e.g., visualize them leaving the body through valves in the tips of the fingers and the toes).
  • Cultivate rapture and joy – and the dopaminergic neurological benefits of those states, including for steadying the mind.

Methods for Loss of Executive Control

  • Slow down; buy yourself time.
  • Cultivate steadiness of mind.
  • Describe your experiences in words (noting).
  • Actively enlist internal resources, e.g., the felt sense of others who love you,
  • recollection of what happened the last time you lost your temper.

  • Enlist external resources, e.g., call a friend, do therapy, go to a meditation group.
  • Stay embodied, which helps dampen runaway emotional-visual reactions.
Keep Reading By Author Rick Hanson, Ph.D.
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