Last week I was listening to Jonathan Van Ness’ podcast, Getting Curious (whom many of you might know from the Netflix show, Queer Eye). The episode, What is Toxic Stress & Why is She So Bad?, featured Dr. Caroline Leaf who’s a cognitive neuroscientist with a PhD in Communication Pathology and a BSc in Logopedics and Audiology, specializing in metacognitive and cognitive neuropsychology.
Where Does Toxic Stress Come From?
Leaf describes how negative thinking – especially the same negative thought repeated over time – creates toxic stress. For example, if you always criticize and judge your body every time you see it in the mirror, that negative thought creates “bad wiring” in your brain that affects the health of your body.
What about the Toxic Stress of Homophobia?
As an example, last year I began to feel physically tired and almost ill whenever I received a homophobic or hateful comment on my Medium publication, Th-Ink Queerly. The anger began to negatively affect my health and my relationship. In my emotionally frustrated state, my creativity was completely blocked, which is the essence of my livelihood. I knew I had to change because the situation itself wasn’t going to change.
The Importance of Being the Witness.
How to observe your behaviour by “standing back” and learning how to change what you're feeling. Things that help with this process include regular meditation, becoming aware of your triggers, and practicing noticing. You can take this to another level by asking for help in the form of an “awareness buddy” or working with a coach.
How can we think in ways that make for a physiologically healthy brain?
You Think, You Feel, You Choose.
You can't suppress an emotion like grief or anger. It doesn't go away. Instead, you need to acknowledge and express the emotion to deal with it over time. Yet you can re-wire your brain, even if you’ve been stuck in a pattern of negative thinking for a long time. Your brain and your thoughts are not who you are, and just like a habit, it takes time and consistency of practice to create new and healthier ways of thinking.
Leaf’s 5-Step Process to “Switch on your Brain”
- Deep analytical thinking.
- Write it down
- How to Let Go of Being Right to Be Who You Are – LOP018
- Why the Stories of Your Past Are Not Who You Are – LOP020
- How Journaling Helps You Create What You Want in Life – LOP023
- Is Forgiveness of Homophobia a Gay Male Gift? LOP030
- How to Manifest Your Dreams When They Seem Impossible – LOP045
- If Fear Is the Mind Killer What Is Its Opposite? LOP046
- What Holds You Back vs What Do You Want More? LOP062
- Being At Ease With Yourself – LOP067
- Your Relationship with Your Mind (the Ego) and the Other
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