Conscious and Unconscious Beliefs
To summarize what we’ve covered so far, a stressor can be defined as any experience that results in the triggering of the fight or flight reflex in your body. This is a very ancient reflex because it has been so successful evolutionarily, and it is deeply engrained. When triggered, it effects nearly every process in your body. You cannot stay stressed and stay healthy at the same time, that’s just how you’re designed.
You have essentially three different nervous systems in your body. The one you probably know the best is the central nervous system, comprised of your brain and spinal cord. Your intestines also have their own nervous system and some estimate that it actually has more neurons than your brain. (Therefore, don’t underestimate your “gut feelings”.) Then there is your autonomic nervous system. It is made up of two parts: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic runs your fight or flight (or stress) response and the parasympathetic runs your snooze under a tree (or relaxation) response. All three nervous systems are working all the time and communicate with each other.
When you are in a healthy state, the sympathetic and parasympathetic balance each other. When you are stressed, the sympathetic system dominates and you are in what we call “sympathetic overload”. I bet you’ve heard that term.
Sympathetic overload makes you feel like you are being threatened, even when you’re not, leading to anxiety; it raises your heart rate; induces rapid, shallow breathing; increases your blood pressure, blood sugar and muscle tension. It also dampens down your immune system and shunts blood flow away from your intestines. Your body is designed to tolerate stress for about three weeks. After that, the stress can cause some self-perpetuating physiological loops to get started in your body. Once that happens, even if you get out of stress, the effects keep going in your body. The gift that keeps on giving.
If this sounds like you, come on in for an evaluation or see another good integrative physician, get the loops diagnosed and snipped, and you can get your vitality back.
But, before any kind of medical treatments can help you, you need to get out of the stress. Otherwise, all any practitioner can do for you is give you a set of crutches: you can hobble around a bit better, but your leg is still broken. A good integrative practitioner can help you with any physiological stressors and self-perpetuating physiological loops you may be dealing with, but how do you keep all the potential stressors that are occurring outside your skin from getting under your skin?
As we discussed earlier, that depends upon how you look at your life…and that depends upon what you believe. All the beliefs you’ve formed and all the conclusions you’ve drawn determine how you look at your life. Now, here’s the tricky part: you might think you know what you believe, but that’s not true. You only know about the beliefs that you hold in your conscious mind. As it turns out, you also have a whole set of beliefs in your unconscious mind. To restructure your relationship with stress, you need to be able to change any belief that is making your daily experiences feel like stress, whether that belief is known to you or working in the background. Just because something’s in your unconscious mind doesn’t mean it’s unreachable. There is hope. There are ways to work effectively with the unconscious mind.
Once you identify the belief, the same process can be used to change it, no matter where it came from. So, first, let’s talk about how to find beliefs that are operating in the unconscious and bring them into the conscious. Then we’ll talk about how to change them in a way that avoids getting into an arms race with them.