Simple ways to ease brain strain

Special to the Daily

You may have had a chance to leave the mountains recently, maybe for vacation like I did with my family. Trips out of the country are good for the mind, causing a break from the habits and chores of daily life. But they are especially useful because they stretch your comfort zone and allow you to become someone other than your typical self.

I love having a break from the stress of being me. As Einstein noted, “the true value of a human being can be found in the degree to which he has attained liberation from the self.”

One way travel causes you to stretch your limits is through the sense of isolation, as happens when you’re in a place where you don’t speak the language.

Being in another country and not understanding the foreign “tongue” isn’t the only place I feel this. I can also feel isolated among people with a different mindset, worldview or technical expertise I don’t understand.

How often do you find yourself in the midst of a crowd wondering how you became so alone?

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You may feel alone for several reasons, including a fear of being “discovered” that you don’t have the skills or expertise of those around you. Or you are hiding some aspect of yourself that triggers past shame. Or you don’t like being asked to perform in a way you are not ready for because of a limiting belief about yourself.

Or maybe you just don’t speak the language, in which case your (and my) isolation is an attempt to avoid looking foolish.

Even though I speak marginal Spanish, I don’t relish the feeling when I utter the wrong words.

Riso and Hudson, in “Wisdom of the Enneagram,” refer to the “master emotions” of anger, shame and fear, which are at work when we are consumed by our ego, working hard to keep ourselves safe, connected and accepted by our fellow travelers.

In those times when you feel ashamed or angry (which often is just masking fear) and you feel vulnerable or exposed, it’s not really because others don’t value or accept you. It’s usually because you don’t fully accept and honor yourself. And it’s not that you’ve fabricated this scenario out of thin air — it’s rooted in your brain’s very real need to avoid harm, feel rewarded and be attached to others.

There is a way around it, though — you don’t have to remain trapped in the snare of your brain’s ego, no matter where you find yourself stressed or traumatized, burned-out, stuck or isolated.

Learning to love yourself and the world around you, just as it is, allows you to embrace who you are. It also nourishes the parts of your brain that keep you separated.

And how do you do that? Here are simple steps to calm your brain and reduce your stress.

Your reptilian brainstem needs to be protected, so appreciate what is safe and nurturing in your existing environment to soothe your natural instinct to run or fight perceived threats.

Who are the people in your life that reliably make you feel safe? Be with those people. What is beautiful and safe about your environment? Immerse yourself in that.

And your mammalian brain’s limbic system needs to feel rewarded, or appreciated, so notice the existing aspects of your world that reinforce your positive qualities. Do things that build upon your strengths and be with people who recognize them.

Your more recently-evolved cerebral cortex (higher brain) needs to be attached and connected to others, so enrich your life by being with others who also protect and appreciate you. This will calm your monkey brain.

As neuropsychologist Rick Hanson suggests that loving the world in ways that also enhance your own primal instincts can help you, the world and others in it flourish, while also enhancing your body’s natural healing systems.

If you’re ready to learn how to manage stress when your mind keeps your body stuck in fear and stress, download the free report “Calm Your Body & Mind, Reduce Your Stress: 10 Easy Ways to Counteract Life’s Rollercoaster” at to reduce your stress and anxiety.

Holly Woods, Ph.D., is a life coach based in Eagle County. She works with people in-person, by Skype or phone. She can be reached at 970-331-1639 or Learn more at

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