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Beginners guide to taming your reptilian brain

I drove to Boston this week. I’ve done this drive so many times, sometimes once a month or more. So frequently in fact that I can do it on autopilot. And guess what, in these COVID times, I am ecstatic to be driving to Boston! Leaving town! Getting out of my back yard! The thrill of it all! I do not have on NPR, nor am I listening to the NYT Daily podcast. I am not getting more and more spooled up in my anxiety with current events. I spent some of my drive thinking, and mentally reviewing my week - with a light touch. Sort of flitting through my week. I wasn’t thinking about what I didn’t get done, articles left unread, lists left unchecked. I spent at least 30 minutes of this magic carpet drive behind an Airstream, literally chasing my own dream.

And not obsessing about my own obsessions.

Three and a half hours on the road right now seems like a luxury. I haven't made this trip for five months. Which shocks me into the realization that we’re also five months into this pandemic. No wonder I’m finally succumbing to bouts of depression. FIVE MONTHS. Maybe you’re feeling it too?

I’m writing again to share my journey to slow down. And again, that sounds so ridiculous because on the surface, it just couldn't get much slower unless I just, well, didn’t get out of bed.

Five strategies to tame my reptilian brain

So, it’s my mind that I am practicing slowing down. With that in mind, here are my five strategies to tame my reptilian brain from jumping to conclusions, deciding the end is near and dissolving into a puddle.

  1. Name it to tame it - when I get emotionally triggered, that’s just the way it is, until I can acknowledge that I’ve been emotionally triggered. Right away that gives me a little perspective.

  2. Feel your feelings - things always get worse for me when I try to push the bad feelings away. Once named and claimed, I put words on paper and let myself dive deep to explore just how bad I feel. Once I’ve poured out my heart onto paper the feelings lose their power over me.

  3. Be kind to yo’self - Along with the crappy feelings comes shame and blame for having the crappy feelings. For me, the remedy is self compassion. It probably sounds woo woo, but, I imagine myself as a child and then I tenderly take her into my arms and soothe her, just as I would my own children.

  4. Know that you are not alone - pretty much no matter what my situation, I’m not the only one nor am I the first one. This is helpful to stop the shame and blame too.

  5. Wash, rinse, repeat - gentle cycle. Meaning, I gotta keep doing it. I am the queen of trying something, having it work, telling all my friends and then never trying it again. Breathe. Begin again.

Bonus #6. Be present. Earlier this week, I was in the middle of yet another emotional wallow when I arrived at my yoga teacher’s beautiful backyard yoga practice. It took some time for me to settle into the class. My teacher is a true student of the art and she shared with us lessons on the Tapas from the yoga sutras, (which, note to self, translates as Discipline). I was finally able to settle in when my head tilted up and I could see the brilliant blue sky and white puffy clouds just drifting along. I felt myself melt into an expansive feeling of connection, where I had been feeling so isolated. Just before we took the final pose, she instructed us to take any position or move our bodies in whatever way that we felt we needed to in order to complete our practice. I took my arm and raised it above my head on the ground and slowly swept it over the grass and relished being on the earth. I then assumed the very best yoga pose and let the corners of my mouth rise towards my ears.

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