Insights, Part III – Recognizing Stress

But let’s say we do learn to integrate our left brain neuroceptions. How does that help us with stress management? When we watch high quality, proactive coping systems in action, the first critical step in managing stress is the simple recognition that it exists. It sounds silly to say, but the truth is that most of us have learned to ignore our own experience of stress because it’s more comfortable, makes us feel more in control, or makes us appear stronger. The experience of stress is hard to notice, because we often make rational (left brain) observations about stressors. We say things to ourselves such as “Yeah I have some insecurity at work,” or “My dad’s illness is getting worse.” This gives the impression of the recognition of the stress. But notice that those are perceptions. They are thoughts about the situation in language. What we are ignoring are the neuroceptions. We ignore the feelings and intuitions about the situation, what is sometimes referred to as “our gut.”

Neuroception, unlike perception, very rapidly proceeds in three steps: observation, evaluation, and action. Consider the encounter with the snake you catch out of the corner of your eye. If it were left up to only the left brain to recognize the stressor we might find ourselves stopping, looking closer, determining the type of snake, the distance between us, the degree of potential danger, and so on. If it was indeed a threat to us, we would be too late! But with the right brain taking charge, we make the rapid observation of a snake, coloured by the feeling of danger, and conclude with the need for the action of escape—all before the left brain has even started up! Imagine how we might deal with the more subtle and complex stressors in our life if we could gain greater awareness of what’s going on in the right brain. We would add moving and action-oriented feelings to our rational thoughts, and the result is a far clearer picture of just how we should respond to life’s challenges.