The 90 second “rabbit hole” that changed everything  

I love to surround myself with people who engage in conversations that take long and windy roads. You know, the talks that start out with the rundown of good and bad from the week and end up with a mutual love of guacamole and micheladas vs. margaritas? Inevitably, at least one of the interested parties walks away with a nugget of wisdom that sticks with her for a lifetime. 

I recently had one of these chats with a woman whom I believe could really become a true friend. My answer to her “How are you doing?” that morning was an admission that the control I thought I had over my anxiety, which is so closely tied to the end of my marriage more than a year and a half ago, seems to have resurfaced and I cannot understand what has triggered it.  We talked a little about it, more on a surface level, and as we wrapped up the topic she threw out a little reminder: “Remember, all it takes is that 90 seconds to tap into it and it’s gone.”

She asked me to remember something I clearly didn’t know to begin with because those moment NEVER go away in 90 seconds. They seem to linger for days. I wrote a note on a post it, tucked it in my pocket and went about my day. In the evening, I posted the note on the refrigerator and let it just linger for a week or so, until I found the time to sit at the computer and do a little digging. 

How do you try to find some life changing piece of advice from a soundbite? Google it, of course.  “90 seconds to tap in”. That’s where I started. Don’t laugh, it worked. It took little discernment to navigate the correct path, but I think I got there.  I arrived at a topic that was widely written about, back in 2008, after the most interesting Ted Talk by a neuroanatomist named Jill Bolte Taylor. Her accounting of her own stroke and how she wrapped it up in a BIG, BEAUTIFUL bow of a **more peaceful planet** is the best thing I’ve watched in a while. Please if you have 18 minutes, watch it!

A little back story before I get back to the 90 seconds...

Almost a year and a half ago, I made the excruciating decision to leave an abusive relationship. Do you wonder why making that choice was so difficult? Most times I wonder too. There are a multitude of reasons it took me so long and if I think about them from a logical perspective, I guess it seems obvious that I should have done it much sooner. But most of us know that sometimes love and relationships are  anything but logical. The drama that came with such a decision lent itself to many sleepless, stressful months riddled with daily anxiety that took a toll on me, mentally and physically. But over time, with a lot of work - therapy, exercise, deep breathing, essential oils, self development books, hugs, tears, laughter - my days and nights became less about managing the heavy chested nervousness and more about taking control of how I want to feel. Things are looking up...mostly.

There are still those moments. Usually after a challenging encounter with my ex. Trust me, if I could just avoid those moments I would. But when you share a child with a difficult person, there is contact. Which leaves a whole lot of opportunity for difficult encounters, inciting emotional “episodes”. Cue rapid heart beat, strained breathing, heavy chest - all the fun stuff. And every-single-time I just close my eyes, take slow deep breaths and it works...until it doesn’t. I repeat. It works. Then it doesn’t. Why doesn’t it work like it’s supposed to?

Now is where this 90 second little nugget of science comes in. Here’s the gist:

When a person has an emotional reaction to something, there is a physiological process that occurs. The body will release the stress hormone cortisol which alerts us that quick reaction may be necessary (fight or flight). It stays in the body for 90 seconds. We cannot control this process. BUT, if after 90 seconds, the emotional response is still occurring, it is because we are stuck in a loop, perpetuating the “story”. We need to take a look at the thought that we are thinking.

Good news, there is a solution. A solution which takes practice. 

1. During that 90 seconds, breathe. Slow and deep. Tune into that feeling. Acknowledge it.
2. Give your brain something else to do. Instead of repeating the thoughts, the story, about what caused the reaction, redirect to something positive and relaxing. 
3. Now, step out of the left hemisphere, which continues to feed that negative emotion, and visit the right hemisphere. Tap into your senses. What do you hear, smell, feel? Is there a taste in your mouth? This step takes you away from embedding the story into your brain and allows you to move through the process much quicker. No lingering emotion to carry throughout the rest of your day.

I am a learner. Among the many things that I am, I am proud to continue learning each and every day. I had the opportunity to put this into practice not long after I learned the process, and it worked. Like - a - charm! It does take practice and a mindfulness that when the moment occurs, it’s time to take action. Not always easy, but definitely worth the effort.

Thank you to my friend for that little contribution to my overall well being! I’m grateful.

I encourage you to listen to the Ted Talk by Jill Bolte Taylor. And if you want to go down your own little internet rabbit hole, here and here is a good place to start!