I have seen people in my retraining group confused about which program to purchase to retrain out of chronic illness. I write about that here. I have also seen them hesitant to purchase a program due to cost and fear that it will not work. I can understand this thinking, as we are conditioned to go outside of ourselves for healing, I spent thousands in supplements, testing, diets, juices, healers, and sometimes would feel better for a bit. But, it was an investment of 250.00 in DNRS that finally led to real healing.
The creators of these programs have not really invented anything new, they just learned to put strategies good for mental health together in a way that is easy and accessible for most people to use. I do feel that getting one of these programs is the best thing you can de for your health, since it is a structure that is easy to follow daily. However, I get the hesitance, and so I am listing some ways to begin retraining without buying a program. If you are ready to buy a program and confused about which one to buy, I write about that here.
We have gotten stuck in a chronic state due to long term stress or shock trauma, and retraining out of them requires changing some of the way we think, feel and behave (not all, just what may be associated with illness). It also requires calming the autonomic nervous system down through consistent practice. I am listing some strategies I used while retraining, aside from my core practice of DNRS, that may be helpful for you. This is a partial list of strategies that came up as I retrained using DNRS, but I want to emphasize that it is not a complete list. A core program like DNRS is very helpful while adding in what you need from here.
Also, there are somatic exercises I began using when mostly healed that I do feel would be very beneficial. This blog lists top down tools, whereas bottom up therapies like vagus nerve exercises, use the body to help the nervous system down regulate. An example of this is found in TRE which I am now facilitating as well as still using as a centering practice for myself.
First, in order to retrain the nervous system it would be best to start distancing yourself from symptoms. It is very hard to do, but observing symptoms rather than enmeshing yourself in them will keep you from spiraling into more symptoms. Focusing on symptoms brings awareness to them, making the symptom have more power. Focusing on how we feel or may feel shapes how we actually feel. An example of this is evidenced in this study in which the participants were told about results of genetic testing and whether they were protected or high risk for obesity. Learning the results actually changed the physiology of the participants to match.
Mindfulness exercises can help you stay in the present rather than focusing, analyzing, ruminating and feeling enmeshed to symptoms. It would be good to start a mindfulness practice in order to start becoming aware of your thoughts, emotions and other patterns that may be associated with symptoms. Mindfulness means observing not analyzing. Watching your thoughts, emotions and behaviors without judging them will help you to understand ways of being that may no longer be serving you and watch them in a non judgemental way. “Trying” too hard to be mindful will create resistance and more suffering, so just label with curiosity any patterns you notice. Using mindfulness techniques not only brings awareness to mental schemas, it helps to grow the watchtower of the brain, as Bessel Van Der Kolk calls it, while calming the amygdala. You can read more about mindfulness here.
Mindfulness is needed to learn to self reflect and distance yourself from thoughts , behaviors and patterns you no longer need (and sometimes even relationships), but at some point after you have learned to accept your old ways of being, think about , feel and even try to do the opposite. In other words, embody a positive state. It will not feel natural at first of course, since your body has memorized a negative state, but faking it until you make it really will help you heal. Each time your mind wanders to a symptom bring it back and find something positive to think about. If you can’t find something positive to think about in the moment, laugh. Laughter is healing. Laughter brings many physiological benefits such as lowering cortisol, increasing heart and respiratory rates, decreases cortisol, and enhances immune function. You can read more about the benefits here.
When I used laughter it was a few seconds at first and it, of course felt fake, and the more I laughed, the more I wanted to laugh. Now, I can interrupt negative thinking and do at least 3-4 minutes of laughter. It is fake at first, but the brain actually registers it as laughter and the same benefits are received in the body. Sometimes, I would turn on funny youtube videos to elicit laughter. I never created a playlist, but it is a good idea to do so. Each time you are feeling negative or thinking negative it is ok to become aware of the reasons, and to process them. Sometimes, there are good reasons to feel and think negative, but it is important not to stay there. So, distract, either with intentional laughter or eliciting laughter from watching funny videos.
Another technique I used and you can use is to begin savoring. Rick Hanson has a technique that he talk about for free on youtube. It is called HEAL You can learn about HEAL here and also here. Rick Hanson describes HEAL as “taking in the good.” You can also read about it in this blog , here. Basically, you are savoring a good experience. Savoring this experience while linking it to a negative one will help interrupt the pathway of negativity activated when “triggered” in any way, either by symptoms, oe emotions. Anytime, you find yourself in symptoms, interrupt in by using the HEAL technique, in order to elicit a better chemistry in the body and also prime the brain for positive.
Use curious empathy. Retraining your brain and changing negative pathways takes time and is a difficult process. It is about changing how you think, behave and feel. When we begin to try to change how we think, examining thoughts and emotions leads to learning more about why and when these strategies were created. Sometimes, these discoveries lead to secondary negative emotions. For example, when thinking about why I was always looking for “help”, I traced back memories of my childhood in which I wanted help, feeling incapable of completing tasks which brought on the emotion of unworthiness. Rather than continue down this spiral, I distanced myself from the story only to observe it with curiosity. I collected in my mind all the times I felt I needed “help” and saw the pattern. I gave me, the child, teen, young adult, who looked for “help”, empathy like a parent would, or a friend. My curiosity about one of my patterns became a motivator for compassion rather than staying in negative emotions that came up. Compassion for myself after exploring in a curious way all my patterns was key in healing. I speak more about curious empathy here.
Curious empathy is also good to use for relationships. Distancing from a negative emotion a friend or family member provokes in us, to examine with curiosity why they would do such a thing, can help elicit compassion for them as well as us. Of course, at first there may be anger and hurt and this is something to process. I had relationships I was very “triggered” by and a few beyond repair, but those I wanted to continue with, I used curiosity to understand them , as well as placing myself in their shoes to understand their strategies to navigate life. This did help me feel compassion for them.
Curious empathy was part of reparenting for me. In retraining the brain out of illness , I was trying to calm the emotion center of my brain. I began to see this part of me as the inner child who was holding all these old emotions and stuck in them. It was her patterns I was trying to change, her emotions and her thoughts. So, I began a new relationships with this inner child. Daily I had a dialogue with her and often visualized her living inside of me . I also visualized myself embracing her, to help soothe and regulate. I spoke to the different parts of her that she had created. She was often worried, or anxious, trying to be perfect, sometimes lazy, and often very scared and alone. Depending on the pattern showing up, I would curiously observe it with a distance, and then help soothe her by having a conversation about the part that had come to the surface, with compassion. And, after I would distract with something positive, thought, laughter, video , movement, etc. I speak more about reparenting here.
Another strategy I used to retrain was opposite action. You can read more about opposite action here. Basically, I did the opposite of what I was feeling, like I spoke about when using laughter. Another example is when I felt very tired. I found myself sleeping alot or wanting to sleep. I began to do the opposite. Rather than sleep what could I do that I was capable of? There was a time I was too sick to do much, so I found things I could do. Sometimes it was only thinking about the opposite. For example, I “thought” about running, or bike riding. when I began to get more capable, I did what I could. If I felt angry and wanted to yell, I found other things I could do, such as walk away from whoever was making me angry, or laugh. Sometimes, I thought of the opposite after I had already been triggered. And, in the space of awareness I would stop, take a breath and do the opposite. It is ok to fall into an old pathway, as long as you are willing to get out of it. Opposite action for me was a skill I often used after I had already fallen into an old pathway. As long as you become aware, you can STOP, TAKE A BREATH, and interrupt that pathway to rewire it. It is during this time you are triggered that the most change can happen.
The STOP technique to calm down is very effective to place in front of any of the above practices or to use as a stand alone. For example, if you are going to savor to interrupt a pathway (thought behavior, emotion that is not serving you or a symptom) using the HEAL technique, use the STOP technique first and then proceed with HEAL. So, stop, take a deep breath, observe your surroundings and practice HEAL. You can do the same for each practice using STOP first and then proceeding with the practice. You can read more about STOP here.
These are some strategies I used when retraining, while also incorporating the dynamic neural retraining system (DNRS), and they are very effective practices. They work if you do them consistently throughout the day and for a long period of time. I would suggest getting a structured program as I said. However, if you are unable to, this list can get you started.
I do hope it helps.