The saying, “What you resist persists” is especially relevant when considering brain retraining techniques.
Brain retraining often combines a form of exposure therapy to support the nervous system in adapting and shifting associations with previous triggers. This shift can be managed through thoughts, but there is particular value in training on experiences and the somatic or felt sensations that might be crosswired into a stress response. We can’t think our way out of everything, but we can support the limbic system, and the amygdala in particular, to change through our self-talk and embodied beliefs, which can be accessed in visualizations or tangible experiences.
An avenue I see brain retrainers often getting caught on is the tendency to control experiences through all-or-nothing thinking that relies on avoidance tactics.
This is not a sustainable way to find healing as we can only control so much outside of ourselves, but we have an expansive world within that can be modeled and reshaped throughout our lifetime, including our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and belief systems.
Something I personally struggled with was establishing heat tolerance. So many conditions can seem to be exasperated by environmental temperatures in either direction. Our tolerance for these environments comes from our repeated exposure to them. The body adapts. The nervous system adjusts. What might have been crosswired to sympathetic activity can shift to be capable of supporting balanced parasympathetic activity.
We can’t always control environmental temperatures. Weather is often unpredictable and non-linear. There are fluctuations. When we can adapt to that ability to be flexible, too, it brings a level of peace that might not exist if we persist in trying to control or keep things constant/fixed. When we rely on avoidance tactics primarily, we may actually be supporting the persistence of the sensitivity or belief system that the temperature shift is a threat to safety.
I live in an environment that challenges me in a way that I get to consciously choose what belief system I want to subscribe to. Now I choose to find the middle ground that I can walk through using my higher cortex/self.
For example, this weekend there was a heat advisory in my area. I decided to spend the majority of the day indoors working on a new book project—more on that coming soon. It was a fun project that I enjoyed and didn’t feel resticted by in spending time inside.
Monarch caterpillars appeared in my garden earlier in the week, so I also ventured out to visit a local nursery to restock on milkweed in the morning. The caterpillars ate through all 3 plants by the afternoon, so I went foraging in a local woodland for wild milkweed in the evening.
I went as the sun was setting so it was a milder experience and I still got to have a mini-adventure that was rooted in joy. Plus it was fun to try to identify plants and test my brain (I used a camera app to facilitate that process).
I took the heat advisory into consideration and adjusted as needed, but didn’t see it as an overall restriction to the quality of my weekend.
A level of freedom can be reclaimed and empowerment accessed in our ability to change the thoughts we attach to and the beliefs we hold.
Often we can adapt or find ways to work around perceived obstacles. The mindset that maintains the perception of an obstacle can be more of a roadblock than the circumstance.
This concept is applicable for many, if not all, triggers.
However, for the purposes of this entry, I will offer 5 tips for adapting to hot weather.
Start with comfort + gradually grow beyond that
One of the ways I trained on heat was actually in my home. I started by adjusting the temperature I kept the house, so that I was still physically in my comfort zone, but expanding it from the temperature it was also accustomed to. This was a way to maintain some control over the environment and support myself through neuroplastic changes.
I would increase the temperature by 1 degree and work my way up over days or weeks. I tuned in to what my individual needs were, and could decrease as needed. This practice supported me in also tolerating a wider range of temperatures in external environments, such as other buildings or outdoors. I had a lot of stories I subscribed to about what temperature impacted what, and this practice helped show me the possibilities that existed beyond that sort of mindframe.
The results of this practice are not immediate nor are they linear. However, I find them to be worth the effort. Someone training for a marathon or olympic goal doesn’t jump out of bed one day and go for the gold. It’s a process that often consists of many smaller opportunities that lead into that greater goal. The same can be true for adjusting and growing the comfort zone. Starting wherever you are and gently moving in the direction of the goal can be a great way to see it come to fruition. You build up momentum through consistency in the practice.
Combine joy or personal interests
Joy can be great motivation and also shift stress chemistry or preoccupation with fear. I was more likely to venture out if I had something I wanted to do or see. Wildlife photography became a great mindfulness practice, rooted in joy and curiosity, that helped my prefrontal cortex lead my decisions. Birding is another mindful activity that can help keep the focus off compulsive body-scanning. Both of these became regular tools in my personal toolbox to support being more adventurous and less restricted by weather. The joy of the experience also became added motivation to repeat and continue to stretch my comfort zone. Other hobbies like gardening, hiking, swimming, or dog-walking can also be great ways to engage in activities that will help expand the training zone in supportive ways.
Lead through the cortex (higher self)
Sometimes it may not be practical to spend time outside during heat waves at the same capacity from normal routines. It’s important to grant permission to adjust and make conscious choices. For times where the outdoors seems impractical, I reframe it not as a restriction or that safety is only available indoors (viewing the outdoors as a danger), but that I have chosen to stay inside for a reason that goes beyond weather. This is to help my brain not be fearful of heat, but to see it as a reasonable choice so that the option still exists.
I do this by thinking of something I can do inside that is supportive or fun. It could be a project, catching up on a book or show, organizing, or tending to something that maybe has been overlooked. Staying indoors becomes intentional and purposeful, and any preoccupation with the weather fades through my focus on something that captures my attention more fully.
Repattern the subconcious association
If you have had any negative imprinting or associations with heat (or any other potential trigger), it can be useful to flood the mind with supportive associations to help tip things emotionally in the direction of neutrality.
For example, sinking into the warm or soothing feeling of a cup of hot tea, warm clothes or bedding fresh from a dryer, a cozy fire in the middle of winter, or other sensations where warmth is not seen as “bad” may help create subconscious shifts and more somatic relief.
If you can bring those feelings up in the moment of feeling triggered, it can be a way to powerfully shift out of the stress response. This shows the brain, particularly the amygdala, that heat can be safe or supportive.
Another tool for this is consideration for the benefits of heat (or any other potential trigger) such as saunas, hot springs, or hot yoga. Entertaining those thoughts can help dilute the feelings attached to the opposite.
This may seem obvious, but it’s important. What does your internal voice say if fear or apprehension are present?
Does it go into playing horror story scenarios and extreme what-ifs? That’s the negativity bias trying to maintain protection, but we can intervene through the higher self.
Ask: What do I need in this moment? How can I create comfort?
Sometimes it’s an external support, like a bottle of water or shifting focus on the cold of an ice cube. Sometimes the words we speak to ourselves can be particularly powerful in meeting the underlying emotional need that might be present. Self-compassion introduces rich restorative chemistry. Reaffirming safety and self-trust may be enough without a need to manage the external.
There are also ways to manipulate the breath to help adjust or regulate body temperature if that is the concern.
Whatever the method, meeting the need, rather than ignoring or bypassing it, is important. You don’t want to push through the experience with pressure. That can create a lack of self-trust that may be counterproductive. Remember, it’s okay to be supported, by yourself or by others. Progress, not perfection.