• Erin Bannink, DVM, DACVIM

Quick Coherence: 60 Seconds to Happiness

Updated: Apr 30, 2019


Life can be stressful, chaotic and emotionally challenging. If you are also facing a diagnosis of cancer in your pet, these additional stressors can challenge resilience and capacity for emotional balance, ultimately affecting the ability to enjoy the precious moments in life. Here, I'm going to share with you a quick 60 second practice you can do any time, anywhere to help you cultivate a state of calm and get in touch with positive emotions that are proven to increase well-being.


COHERENCE

research has shown that emotions have a strong effect on our physiology

positive emotional states have a beneficial impact on well-being

neural pathways and activities of the heart have a significant impact on brain function and emotions

The mind cannot hold a positive emotion and a negative emotion at the same time

Here, you will learn a technique to leverage the power of emotions to your benefit, through a phenomenon called "coherence"

The Importance of Self Care

One of the things we will always come back to at Metta Pets is the importance of self care practices. Emotional well-being is one extremely important aspect of self care, and it increases our capacity for kindness and compassion. In this culture of fast-paced living, competition and multi-tasking, stress has become an epidemic. This chronic stress has numerous effects on our overall well-being, including decreasing our emotional resilience. Additionally, in the Western world, we are not generally culturally conditioned to value kindness and compassion as a strength and asset, which leads to social and work interactions which are often challenging or hostile. All this can compound into stressors that keep us from being our best self and make coping with new situations more difficult.

Anxiety, sadness, anger, denial, blame, guilt and fear are common emotions that arise after a diagnosis of cancer in a loved one. These emotions will naturally ebb and flow during the journey after your pet's diagnosis of cancer. Which emotions and how strongly they arise will vary from person to person. But grief is real for us all. And it is important to remember that compassion for yourself as you traverse this time is an important part of the care you are providing your pet. Because this time you take for yourself increases your capacity to be present with them, and also to be present, supportive and compassionate for your human family as they go through their own emotional processing.

Quick Coherence Technique

There are many techniques to decrease stress and increase emotional well-being. The one I want to share with you today is called the "Quick Coherence Technique" and was developed by an organization called HeartMath Insititute. The basis for this technique is research that has shown emotions have a strong effect on our physiology, and vice versa.

Most of us experience life in a reactive state, where we are unconsciously responding to and reacting from our emotions. These emotions, especially when strong, dictate our experience of the world and interactions with others unless we learn to cultivate emotional awareness and self-regulation. Without these skills, our emotions can seem to rule our life or become overwhelming or out of control.

While we tend to think that our thoughts drive our emotions, it is equally true that our emotions drive our thoughts. Here, we are going to learn a technique to leverage the power of emotions to our benefit, using them to create a state of calm and peace through a phenomenon called "coherence".

This is a technique that you can do in as little as 60 seconds any time you notice a negative emotion arising.


Physiology and Emotions

The following information is from the HeartMath Institute:

It has been shown that engaging with the actual emotion of a memory has a stronger physiologic effect than merely mentally recalling an emotion. It has also been shown that positive emotional states have a beneficial impact on well-being, whether that be physical, mental or emotional well-being. Additionally, the neural pathways and activities of the heart have a significant impact on brain function and emotions. In the Quick Coherence Technique we use all three of these factors to create a state of intentional coherence and a rapid shift in well-being.

Physiological Coherence

A state characterized by:

High heart-rhythm coherence (sine-wavelike rhythmic pattern).

Increased parasympathetic activity.

Increased entrainment and synchronization

between physiological systems

Efficient and harmonious functioning of the

cardiovascular, nervous, hormonal and immune systems.

The Heart-Mind Connection: What HeartMath Institute says:

There are twelve pages of interesting information on mind-heart coherence and the research HeartMath has been doing on their website.

Here is a snippet of what they have to share:

"Most of us have been taught in school that the heart is constantly responding to “orders” sent by the brain in the form of neural signals. However, it is not as commonly known that the heart actually sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart! Moreover, these heart signals have a significant effect on brain function – influencing emotional processing as well as higher cognitive faculties such as attention, perception, memory, and problem-solving. In other words, not only does the heart respond to the brain, but the brain continuously responds to the heart.

"HeartMath research has demonstrated that different patterns of heart activity (which accompany different emotional states) have distinct effects on cognitive and emotional function. During stress and negative emotions, when the heart rhythm pattern is erratic and disordered, the corresponding pattern of neural signals traveling from the heart to the brain inhibits higher cognitive functions. This limits our ability to think clearly, remember, learn, reason, and make effective decisions. (This helps explain why we may often act impulsively and unwisely when we’re under stress.) The heart’s input to the brain during stressful or negative emotions also has a profound effect on the brain’s emotional processes—actually serving to reinforce the emotional experience of stress.

"In contrast, the more ordered and stable pattern of the heart’s input to the brain during positive emotional states has the opposite effect – it facilitates cognitive function and reinforces positive feelings and emotional stability. This means that learning to generate increased heart rhythm coherence, by sustaining positive emotions, not only benefits the entire body, but also profoundly affects how we perceive, think, feel, and perform.

"Our research indicates that the key to the successful integration of the mind and emotions lies in increasing one’s emotional self-awareness and the coherence of, or harmonious function and interaction among, the neural systems that underlie cognitive and emotional experience."

"Many contemporary scientists believe it is the underlying state of our physiological processes that determines the quality and stability of the feelings and emotions we experience. The feelings we label as positive actually reflect body states that are coherent, meaning "the regulation of life processes becomes efficient, or even optimal, free-flowing and easy," and the feelings we label as "negative," such as anger, anxiety and frustration are examples of incoherent states. It is important to note, however, these associations are not merely metaphorical.

"For the brain and nervous system to function optimally, the neural activity, which encodes and distributes information, must be stable and function in a coordinated and balanced manner. The various centers within the brain also must be able to dynamically synchronize their activity in order for information to be smoothly processed and perceived. Thus, the concept of coherence is vitally important for understanding optimal function."


Tips for Successful Emotional and Physiological Coherence

The Quick Coherence Technique is a two step process. Step one is to breath and to pay attention to your breathing. Step two is to recreate the feeling of a positive emotion. HeartMath calls these "regenerative feelings" because they support our well-being, increasing our energy and revitalizing our emotional state. If you are in a "funk" it can sometimes feel difficult to genuinely experience a positive emotion. But that's just because you are out of practice self-directing your emotions. It gets easier with practice.

There are a few ways to generate a positive emotion voluntarily. The one recommended in the Quick Coherence Technique is to think of a person or situation for which you generally feel gratitude, appreciation or care and then recreate the feeling of that positive emotion in your body. It is the recreation of the feeling of the emotion in your physical body that is the key to the effectiveness of this practice. So really try to get good at this.

Sometimes I find that the above technique doesn't always work easily for me if I am feeling sad or angry or particularly stressed or tired. Then I call on some of the other meditation techniques I have learned. One of those is for me to close my eyes and visualize a favorite place I have been that makes me feel joyful, free and vibrant, or calm and relaxed, whichever is more helpful at the moment. I try to visualize this as clearly as I can and remember how I felt when I was there, recreating these emotions in the present moment. Then I sit in this feeling and breath for a few minutes. It does wonders to recalibrate the emotional state.

Another technique is to plan ahead. Right now, think of a time in your life or an event in your life during which you felt a strong positive emotion. It might be when you first fell in love, were filled with joy or very happy, a favorite memory of an awe-inspiring trip, for example at the top of a mountain or on the sea where you were overtaken with the sheer beauty of the place and that positive emotion filled your body and opened your heart. The point is that the memory makes you feel good, and that you can feel that positive emotion as if you were living it again, right now. Then, tag this memory and the accompanying emotion as the one you will call up when you do your Quick Coherence Technique. You can practice calling up this emotion every morning, in the quiet of your own home before distractions and triggers arise. Then you will be building your positive emotion "muscle" so you can call it up more effectively when the need arises.

Do this technique every time you feel like you are going off kilter or you notice you are in the midst of a challenging emotional experience. You can do this for a little as 60 seconds, or as long as you want. The more often you engage the technique the more quickly you will find you are able to reset your emotional state. As you spend more time in a state of heart-mind coherence, you will be better able to thrive in the face of life's challenges and maintain a genuine emotional presence of calm, peace, compassion and kindness for yourself and others.

Key Tips:

The point here is not to fight with a negative emotion or suppress it.

It is to simply invite another experience to replace it.

ONE

recognize

a negative emotion is present

TWO

accept

that it is there for a reason and that's okay

THREE

breathe

engage the power of breathing to begin to release the intensity of the emotion.

We have all heard people say "take a deep breath" when someone is upset or angry

The reason is that our breath is intimately linked with our mental and emotional state - at some level, we all recognize that

FOUR

choose a positive emotion

to give your poor body and mind a break from the physiological imbalances that negative emotions cause

Our mind cannot hold a positive emotion and a negative emotion at the same time. We might toggle between these two states, but they cannot exist simultaneously. This is one of the very interesting things we come to observe and learn through mindfulness practices. We reinforce thought patterns and emotional states that we choose to feed. This simple practice can empower you to experience more positive emotions and, therefore, significantly increase your well-being.

Quick Coherence Technique

60 seconds to

Reduce Stress in the Moment

Feel positive, calm and energized

Increase emotional resilience

STEP 1:

HEART FOCUSED BREATHING

Focus

your attention at the area of the heart

Imagine

your breathing is flowing in and out of the heart, or chest area

Breath

slightly slower and deeper than usual

STEP 2:

ACTIVATE A POSITIVE FEELING

Make a sincere attempt to experience a regenerative feeling

such as gratitute, appreciation or care

for someone or something in your life

For those of you who like Technology and gadgets

It seems HeartMath has a tech device to help you measure in real time whether you've reached a state of coherence. I've not used it, but it seems interesting from what I am reading. You can check it out here.

HeartMath Resources:

www.HeartMath.org

www.HeartMath.com

Conflict of interest:

None. I don't work for HeartMath. I don't sell HeartMath. I'm not a consultant for HeartMath. I don't get any money for you looking into or purchasing anything HeartMath...other than a more harmonious and effective community of people around me. I'm just a user of a few HeartMath techniques, along with my other meditation and spiritual practices, that I find very helpful in navigating my stressful and sometimes bombarded-with-other-people's-intense-emotions life. It helps me serve my clients and patients better. That's my goal with Metta Pets. Plain and simple. To help people in the small ways that I am able and contribute something good to this world where goodness isn't yet always recognized or valued. I hope it helps you too.

I hope it empowers you to be a positive influence in your own life.

REFERENCES:

McCraty, R., et al., The effects of emotions on short-term power spectrum analysis of heart rate variability. Am J Cardiol, 1995. 76(14): p. 1089-93.

Rein, G., M. Atkinson, and R. McCraty, The physiological and psychological effects of compassion and anger. Journal of Advancement in Medicine, 1995. 8(2): p. 87-105.

Fredrickson, B.L., Positive emotions, in Handbook of Positive Psychology, C.R. Snyder and S.J. Lopez, Editors. 2002, Oxford University Press: New York. p. 120-134.

Isen, A.M., Positive affect, in Handbook of Cognition and Emotion, T. Dalgleish and M. Power, Editors. 1999, John Wiley & Sons: New York. p. 522-539.

Wichers, M.C., et al., Evidence that moment-to-moment variation in positive emotions buffer genetic risk for depression: a momentary assessment twin study. Acta Psychiatr Scand, 2007. 115(6): p. 451-7.

Fredrickson, B.L., The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 2001. 56(3): p. 218-226.

Fredrickson, B.L. and T. Joiner, Positive emotions trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being. Psychological Science, 2002. 13(2): p. 172-175.

Fredrickson, B.L., et al., What good are positive emotions in crises? A prospective study of resilience and emotions following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2003. 84(2): p. 365-376.

McCraty, R., Atkinson, M., Tomasino, D. and Bradley, R. T., The coherent heart: Heart-brain interactions, psychophysiological coherence, and the emergence of system-wide order. Integral Review, 2009. 5(2): p. 10-115.

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