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Column: How To Be Well: Don’t Hit the Replay Button

As I get older, I find myself saying, “I can’t believe it’s already (fill in the blank of whatever month it is),” every month.

Seriously though, can y’all believe it’s already time for Daylight Savings and Spring Break?

All this thinking about time reminded me of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s work. She’s a Harvard-trained neuroscientist who had a massive stroke in 1996. It left her unable to walk, talk, read, write, or remember any of her life. It took her eight years to recover.

Lucky for us, she was a neuroscientist, as she used her experience to further her research about how our brains create and perceive reality. And one of the things she discovered still seems unreal to me.

She says, “When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90-second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.”

90 seconds, y’all! I’m not sure any of my feelings have lasted only 90 seconds. 

That’s because when we are upset, we often hit the replay button. We think about our emotions versus feeling them. Or, we tell ourselves a story about what happened over, and over, and over again. Thus, tripping that 90-second reaction again and again.

The antidote to this is something that seems relatively simple: Just pause and let your feelings happen. Most of us aren’t good at this, though. The sensations connected with our feelings are often uncomfortable, and it’s much easier to avoid them. Not to mention, when it comes to emotional sensations, most of us are pretty disconnected from our bodies.

When I ask clients to identify their feelings, they usually give me what I joke is a “thoughting” (a thought about their feeling). And when I ask them to identify where they feel something in their bodies, they look at me like I have a third eye.

Hint: Feelings are one word, i.e. angry, sad, irritated, joyful. They describe your experience and come with some physical reaction like heat in your cheeks, tightness in your chest, or butterflies in your stomach.

If this all seems foreign, Tara Brach teaches a model I often use. Dubbed RAIN, it’s an easy-to-remember tool for learning how to let our emotions just be that 90-second reaction. It uses the following four steps:

  1. Recognize what is happening;
  2. Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
  3. Investigate with interest and care;
  4. Nurture with self-compassion.

While I know all this is very “counselor-y”, when we learn how to just let our feelings come up and naturally resolve it gives us more time to spend on important things like recovering from the time change and planning Spring Break.

If you, or someone you know, need help not hitting the replay button, let us know. We provide free and confidential support, as well as six free counseling sessions to qualified individuals. Call or text 208-354-6198, email, or get in touch with us. Our offices are staffed Monday-Friday from 9 am-4 pm.

76 N Main Street, Suite 206, Driggs, ID 83422
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