The most important pathway for the survival of the species is not fight, flight, or freeze, as most stress now is psychological. Freezing makes us look foolish, fighting is so unattractive, and fleeing doesn't help us solve the original problem.
The best case scenario is that we stay present to our emotions – despite signals that we are going to be eaten alive by the emotional monster of the moment – process our intense negative emotions, update our expectations about life, and then enjoy the reward that follows – a burst of endorphins.
Children experience the hidden pathway
We do that as children very well, repeatedly experiencing a complete emotional meltdown, then some wonderful parent comes along, cares that we hurt, and uses their brain and body to augment our functioning. This is fundamental to passing along resiliency circuits from generation to generation.
How do we do that for ourselves as adults? Intimate relationships help, but after achieving independence, the buck does stop with us. We can't be dependent upon another person to be there for us 24/7 when we are depressed, feel abandoned, are scared out of our minds, or experience any of the other states that are perfectly normal responses to the impossible demands of modern life.
We can find that pathway in adulthood
AT UCSF, we discovered a way to expand our capacity to replicate the experience of having someone be there for us all the time and help us process our emotions. Before that, we didn't focus on rediscovering that pathway because we believed we could only experience it if we were with another person or when we were in rare moments of spiritual rapture.
Traditionally, practitioners have used cognitive methods to manage emotions, and research has now shown that cognitive and awareness methods are not effective when we need them the most, when we are in high stress. The missing link was to find a way to use emotions effectively, so we could stay present and aware even in high-stress times when the thinking brain is apt to go offline. We found it by teasing apart stressed emotional states like hostility, depression, anxiety, shame, numbness, and false highs. If we express balanced emotions in a particular order – anger, sadness, fear, and guilt – the thinking brain can stay online enough to be functional and enable us to stay emotionally connected to ourselves.
That discovery and several others led my colleagues Igor Mitrovic, Lynda Frassetto, Lindsey Fish, and me to propose a new paradigm in healthcare. That new approach is based on using these tools to access the brain's resiliency pathway and experience positive emotions and optimal well-being in the moment. It was to use that same pathway to update faulty circuits to bring about more lasting results and, over time, raise the brain's set point. In 2019, a book on the program was published to give more people access to these ideas and tools.
It's so powerful. Why not use that pathway?
Our goal is to move to a new paradigm in healthcare in which each of us has the power to use our resiliency pathway quickly and easily in daily life, not only to get from stress to joy, but to update the emotional architecture of our brain and thereby improve habits, productivity, moods, relationships, and health.
It's a movement, and that movement is beginning to catch on. Already, we are listed on the Top 100 Health Blogs as #11. More people may be asking themselves, "If I have this natural pathway from stress to joy, why not use it?"