Dear Candy Q & A: Feeling the zest in life without the CAN chemistry
Q: The main thing (I experience) is still feeling that burnt/fried/overstimulated feeling and it coming on without much warning in a way. I'm wondering if this is something I can incrementally train on?
I kind of alternate between feeling like I'm doing way too much (when I ought to be resting and healing) and that I'm bored and want to add more to my life - I sometimes feel like I can't really tell if I'm doing too much or too little...I want to be able to feel joy and be able to jump around and be excited, without it finding that old pathway of running frazzled fight/flight energy - that unhealthy excited feeling...my end goal isn't to be a monotone person or someone who sounds like they're constantly in meditation, talking slowly and calmly - I am naturally expressive...so wondering how to keep that joie de vivre but get rid of the CAN chemistry that has been trained to go along with it at times?
A: Let's start with the first question. I would certainly train on feeling burnt/fried/overstimulated by first acknowledging those feelings are a part of limbic system dysfunction and then going into rounds of practice when those feelings come up (in the moment whenever possible). You can also bring to mind (briefly) the last incident where you felt one of those feelings and then immediately go into a round of practice. By bringing it to mind you are accessing working memory, and it is from working memory that we can shift our brain's pattern of association with that experience. Another option is to engage in an experience that you've found typically leads to those emotional states in the past, and then immediate go into a round of practice. Don't wait to see if those feelings show up. While there may be times where you don't know what sets it off, you don't have to work with every scenario that creates this, or even know what they are. Because our brains work by patterns of association, but accessing some of these situations it will help to rewire that pattern more generally in the brain.
The second part of the question is a little more complex and challenging. The bottom line for many of us is our brains are addicted to a state of adrenalin. It feels really good to be going full steam, and when we access that adrenalin it gives us the illusion that we are fully engaged in life, perhaps even filled with joy. To try and access excitement without tipping into adrenalin can be virtually impossible at first because those old pathways are so well worn that it doesn't take much to set them off, and physiologically there is very little difference between excitement and a stress response.To be able to tease out the enjoyment and aliveness of living from the stress response not only takes practice, but requires time to first prune away the old pathways to stress so they are not so easily activated. It starts with building a foundation of elevated emotions that are not so closely aligned with adrenalin. Going for wonder, awe, pleasure, & beauty in life rather than excitement and high activity can help to build a stronger foundation from which to later access the more active elevated emotions. Staying out of CAN chemistry at first may feel boring or dull, in part because your system is going through a process of withdrawal as you are no longer running the old neurochemistry. It takes time to adjust and to find meaning and zest in life and feeling alive in other ways. Experiment with what brings that enjoyment without the adrenalin high. It may take some time to find other things that fit for you. Treat it like an adventure, one of discovery. Watch for the cognitive distortions or automatic negative thoughts that try to justify going back into adrenalin or convince you that life isn't meaningful without CAN chemistry. These are the thought processes that will keep you stuck in the old patterns and make change very difficult. Rewiring the brain doesn't mean you need to live a dull and boring life, but it may require you to go through a process that feels dull and boring for a while in order to rebalance the neurochemistry in your brain. Taking the time to find meaning and aliveness in other ways can help move this process along and support you in still feeling engaged in life, while challenging the core belief that if you are not in a stress response you are not really living life to its fullest. The outcome of this process is well worth the effort for longterm wellbeing.
Next time we will talk more about pacing, which can help minimize the back and forth between doing too much and too little.
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Candy Widdifield is Registered Clinical Counsellor, Wellness Coach, and Registered Reiki Master Teacher in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. She works with people all over the world, helping them to optimize their wellbeing and thrive in their lives. Her modalities include coaching, therapy, Reiki and the Safe & Sound Protocol. More information about Candy can be found at www.candywiddifield.com