Ask Alina is a weekly video series on the Brain Gardening instagram discussing Alina’s experience and insights after recovering from chronic illness through a brain retraining practice. Questions are gathered on Tuesdays from that account’s IG Stories. Episodes are filmed on Wednesdays and posted as soon as possible. To increase availability and accessibility of these materials, they are being archived on the Brain Gardening™ YouTube channel, which includes the option for closed captioning. The videos are provided for information purposes only and should not be used to replace or supplement the advice of a physician or other health care provider. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions prior to using any information or resources contained on or through this video. Brain Gardening™ is not affiliated with any other neural retraining programs.
A transcript of the questions and responses contained in this episode is available below.
How do you manage intrusive or anxious thoughts?
First it’s identifying that the thought is part of a fight/flight/freeze/fawn response. So, 1 would be awareness. That awareness that a thought is anxiety is already a huge accomplishment because the higher self is coming through to say wait a minute, what is that and the reflex isn’t so automatic. Instead you can be curious about the anxiety rather than overruled by it. When we’re functioning primarily from our limbic system, the response to anxiety would be more anxiety or more fear, creating a loop. To get out of the loop, you have to first step into a place of acceptance or curiosity or non-judgement. So there isn’t an added emotional layer on top of the anxiety where you’re you’re frustrated by the anxiety or being hard on yourself, but moving to a more neutral place emotionally in the presence of anxiety so that the anxiety can be addressed more directly. That step can bring a lot of peace into the circumstances and allow the higher self more access to explore the source of the anxiety. Offering yourself compassion during the moment of anxiety can also be a way to create a more emotionally neutral place to rest. If that doesn’t seem attainable in that moment, it may be helpful to sprout some alternative pathways by engaging in an activity that will help capture and redirect your attention. As you redirect the anxiety into something else, over time you may create space for looking more curiously at it because the fight/flight response is less prominent.
Usually something bigger is rooted to the surface feeling of anxiety or the symptoms that may come along with it. Getting to the bottom of the why is what I’ve found to be most effective for long-term management of anxious or intrusive thoughts. Sometimes that’s not accessible to do in the beginning but becomes more approachable when you break it down into smaller bits like I mentioned. So with anxious or intrusive thoughts, it’s recognizing that they are anxiety, and either not emotionally attaching to the thoughts but letting them sort of drift through, or redirecting the thoughts into a more supportive inner monologue. What would be of comfort to hear or do and can you offer yourself that?
How do you start brain retraining?
Brain retraining is multipurpose. So many people come to it as a result of having a physical condition that is not being effectively resolved through more traditional means. It helps to rebalance the nervous system so that 1) other treatments can be more effective 2) replace the need for other treatments and resolve the root of the conditions.
Brain retraining can also be used to establish a new habit, undo an existing habit, or address core beliefs. The first step is to identify what would you desire to change and then you can map out a means to do so through either a brain retraining program or consulting with a brain retraining coach who can help guide through the process with actionable or incremental steps.
What brain retraining program did you do, and did you get a coach?
I did DNRS to get out of the limbic loop. I did have a coach who I would reach out to if I felt stuck or needed a fresh perspective. One of the great things about coaching is that you are sort of borrowing someone else’s higher self to look into your specific situation and that can be really helpful for finding the connection to your own higher self.
How long was it before you began to see results?
Well the tools I learned from the brain retraining program I did were immediately helpful because it created more choice out of situations where I felt like I was stuck. I also started to build more curiosity and confidence. I would say within the first month is I was having shifts in thoughts and behaviors. Incremental training was also building up confidence and strength in areas. The progress is not linear but I felt overall to be improving. When I went to an in-person seminar about 5 months later, by my second day of the seminar I was experiencing big shifts in my mood, my physical symptoms, and my social behavior. I truly felt a sense of belonging and connection around me. Like I was finally around people that understood it and that knew a way out of it.
Do you think you can benefit from brain retraining even if you don’t know what’s causing your symptoms?
I think anyone can benefit from brain retraining because it helps bring more consciousness to non-conscious patterns in our thoughts and behaviors. A framework like a neural-retraining program can be helpful because they usually provide a model of common behaviors in every-day life that are tied to the fight/flight/freeze/fawn response and can chronically entertain stress pathways. And we know a lot of conditions are strengthened by stress chemistry, particularly when it’s maintained at a chronic level. Brain retraining provides you a means of reoptimizing your nervous system so that you are navigating through a more grounded and clear place that is less reactive or fear-driven, which I think is of benefit to really anyone.
How would you go about rewiring sensory stimuli from an unknown source that is 24/7?
In this case, if the source is unknown I think the source becomes irrelevant. Even when I had an identifiable source for something, it became less about that source and more of a means of equipping myself with a sense of safety and security, since that is usually what becomes questioned in the presence of a trigger. If you have an unknown trigger, and particularly if it is a 24/7 experience, I would focus on cultivating opportunities for calm and safety, even if that means turning back to a time where you felt those feelings or imaging yourself feeling safety or calm through a sensory experience that reaches the limbic system. So you’re not intellectually convincing yourself, but giving yourself the opportunity to source and experience those feelings again. The brain doesn’t physically know the difference in timelines, so if you’re thinking of something from the past, the brain can still produce the neurochemistry affiliated with that time in the present. This is true for pleasant or unpleasant experiences. So if you are experiencing a 24/7 issue where the body may be in an activated state of fight/flight/freeze/fawn, I would shift into consciously bringing about chemistry that would be more restorative in nature. Over time and patterning by repetition, this can help to lessen or resolve a symptom that might be part of a hypervigilant state from elevated stress hormones.
How do you not fear the spikes especially if you’re new to your symptoms?
The science behind what is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system and what is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system helped me see how the brain could be connected to certain conditions or symptoms when it seemed unrelated. When I started to see more symptoms as simply the result of excess cortisol, adrenaline, or norepinephrine (stress hormones), then my focus shifted on what I could do to shift into dose chemistry or the restorative chemicals of dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. So fear would be adding more CAN chemistry. What would be more supportive would be something that engaged my attention to shift the neurochemistry in that direction. Fear wasn’t helpful for my recovery so I needed to do my best to shift things chemically. Another thing personally that brought more peace with symptoms was to filter my concerns about sensations or symptoms through a trusted individual. This could be a medical professional, a therapist, coach, or trusted friend who had access to a higher that could discern the situation without the lens of the limbic system. Sometimes I would seek medical support to help alleviate concerns for things that were new or different. Over time I learned to better gauge what was limbicly driven and to see connections between events and symptoms and if my threshold for stress was not as cushioned. So the symptoms began to be viewed as a way my body was communicating with me that stress hormones were in excess or that restoration was needed, and helped to inform incremental training opportunities or adjustments in my thoughts or habits to offer that support to myself.
Do you believe that DNRS helps chronic/recurring digestive issues and stomach pain?
I want to start off this answer to say that I am not a DNRS coach or affiliated with DNRS. I was a DNRS retrainer and DNRS helped me personally to heal digestive issues I experienced. I had a lot of food sensitivities, intolerances, and dietary restrictions. I had chronic IBD and recurring colitis. Brain retraining helped me rebalance my nervous system so that my rest and digest processes were optimized. I was able to undo restrictive dieting without a return of chronic symptoms. I was also able to resolve Candida overgrowth and other inflammatory issues with my gut. If you look at the vagus’ nerve involvement in the digestive system, you can see how the brain can be a means of regulating this system better so that it is given the best chance to functions at its best. I want to go back to a word in this question, however, because there is a lot of power in that word. The word is “believe”. Our beliefs create affiliated neurochemistry in the body. So if we are doubtful about something, that’s creating chemicals inside of that is supporting or validating the doubt. If we choose to believe something differently, like stepping into a place of either neutrality where you let go of placing expectations for an outcome on something so that it can just be whatever it is, that can be supportive to the process. If you step into a place of hope or believing it will help, that might be the most supportive means of walking the path because doubt doesn’t have the power to cloud the way. You’re focused and intentional in your pursuit and offering the body supportive neurochemistry to help it have the best chance at happening. So my belief isn’t entirely important for your journey. I would encourage you to look in at what belief you are holding on to and if there is a shift that could take place that could be more supportive to the journey. That’s where looking at others stories can help inform and branch out from a perspective that might be stuck in a state in doubt or disbelief.
Did you experience post exertional malaise? What helped most to overcome?
I did. I had chronic fatigue syndrome as well as POTS. I physically felt like I had been running marathons or escaping from a tiger all day, but physically I had barely gotten out of bed. A combination of two things I think specifically helped this particular issue. I used the brain retraining program to bring more opportunities for restorative chemistry to help shift my body into rest and digest and out of a chronic state of figuratively running from a tiger. The second thing was incremental training. I started small and built up my endurance from there. One of the first training opportunities for me was challenging myself to sweep a room in the house. It became an almost meditative task where my brain was focused in on doing something, I was upright and moving around, and I got a sense of accomplishment/satisfaction from tidying a space. It built from there to be sweeping the house, to doing reorganization projects in the house and redecorating, to working out in the garden, to going to parks, to hiking trails. So one small step and sticking with it led to more opportunities opening up over time.
How do you address big things like perfectionism with brain retraining?
Anything perceived as big should be broken down into smaller things because I find it can already create a sense of overwhelm when you look at the big picture sometimes when it comes to creating change. So with perfectionism, starting with the awareness that a behavior is a pattern stemming from perfection is a start. So then when it comes up you can label it as such and with that knowledge, create more space to help shift it. Repatterning into a new behavior or thought takes time because the pathway to perfectionism likely has more traction because it’s a pathway that’s been taken more in other or similar situations. As you repeat the new behavior or thought, the old story will weaken and eventually phase out from non-use.
However, If perfectionism is something that comes up commonly for a variety of situations, it might be rooted to a deeper belief. For me personally, I had what is described as black and white thinking where I saw things as all or nothing. Usually if something wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t worth doing or attempting, so I would put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself just at the point of taking the first step toward something. Or another way this manifested was something had to be perfect because it would be a reflection of me or my own value or ability. What that comes down to is a shift in belief about where my worth is actually sourced from or defined by. Another shift would be to make peace with imperfection and spend time shifting the view that imperfection is “bad”. That goes back to the black or white thinking. It can be helpful to think of how imperfection can be good. Such as it invites more opportunity for creativity, so much in nature is imperfect but still with purpose or value or beauty. So having an awareness for what is perfectionism and shifting the associations with imperfection or recognizing the value that is still evident in not meeting standards of perfection can be helpful for creating more neuroplasticity around perfectionist habits.
Have you used brain rewiring to rewire feelings of shame/guilt?
For me personally, the biggest things that were rooted for me were fear, doubt, insecurity, anger. I had a lot of anger. I have experienced shame and guilt when it’s come to drawing boundaries in relationships, specifically in like codependent-narcissist dynamics. This was a deep rewiring journey, like sorting through a lifetime of programming and offering myself new paths to take. In the beginning, it’s so uncomfortable because of that newness. The brain wants to pull back to what is more comfortable because those are the pathways already established and in place. Growing new pathways can be an uncomfortable process because it’s new and different, but through repetition over time in being consistent with the new desired behavior or belief, it starts to repattern itself and become easier. It’s like climbing up a hill and then getting to the top where things get a lot easier after that point. If you can identify a limiting belief or beliefs that are part of the overall feeling of shame or guilt, rewiring that belief is another means of disempowering the guilt or shame.
What do you think about someone saying brain retraining doesn’t work?
I can’t speak for someone else’s experience but I can speak for myself and confirm that it worked for me. I can’t really judge someone else’s outcome because with brain retraining because there are a lot of factors to consider—such as, how did they implement the retraining program, how consistent were they in their practice, did they utilize supportive components such as coaching or group support— I know personally for my journey community and mentorship relationships were crucial for me reinforcing shifts out of established behaviors or conditions. I also know that the journey to recovery is not linear. Feelings can be all over the place where you’re not on this straight trajectory up. Life is more fluid and we can’t always predict the opportunities we face, but we have the opportunity to grow I think in anything that comes our way. And growth itself is an uncomfortable process, so it can be a false message or feeling as if we are getting worse when beneath the surface bigger changes may be unfolding. I know in my personal journey, I would have ebbs, I called them waves, and that’s when things would feel more turmolteous, but if I stayed steady on the course that was already laid out, through the framework of having a neural-retraining program as support or guidance, I’d reach a period where things would shift and I would glide, almost like surfing and finally catching the wave and using it as momentum to move forward.
There is this concept in behaviorial psychology. I’m not a psychologist but I actually learned about this through training my dog. She has some behavior that were I guess overally reactive to stimuli where we were working with a dog trainer to guide a shift in that behavior to something more supportive for all. It’s called an extinction burst. When a behavior or pathway is being eliminated because it is no longer being used by the brain, the limbic system may send a surge of energy into the pathway that superficially strengthens it because it’s about to be phased out from use. This could present as a physical issue worsening temporarily, or an impulse for an unwanted habit being stronger than what might normally be true. This is the extinction burst. It’s a form of resistance to change but it can be a good thing because the brain is changing. The important thing is not to stop there or take it as a sign of failure but to keep with it until change takes place. One thing to also be mindful of is that this should be a gradual and incremental process so that the discomfort is still somewhat comfortable. You’re just pushing past your edge slightly through the process, not overloading yourself in a polar opposite, but expanding and growing. It’s a bit like a dance where you may adjust and make adjustments that aren’t linear in nature but lead towards growth in a supportive way.
Rewiring negative imprinting from a person to move forward in relationship.
So if you have had a past experience with someone, and your limbic system is reminding you about it whenever that person comes up or makes contact, there are a couple of things that can be helpful to consider.
- Is determining if it’s supportive to have a boundary in place and sometimes it is. There isn’t a really clear black or white answer for when it’s helpful, but what I found to be beneficial was to put myself first in the situation and think about what would be best for me? Sometime avoidance was necessary to reground in myself and to disassociate from them temporarily. If a boundary isn’t being respected, that can be further indication that a boundary should be in place because some separation may be needed.
- If you determine that you would like to lift a boundary and invite more opportunity for change or a shift in association, one way to approach it prior to establishing any contact with the other person, is to mentally open the door. So what this looked like for me was to consciously round out my experience of this person so that the negativity bias of my brain wasn’t exclusively fixated on what I perceived as negative about them, and I would bring up additional experiences of them where I viewed them as more positive. This is not to discount or forget about the negative, but to create a fuller perspective of that person because with trauma, or activation of fight/flight/freeze/fawn, our brain is determined to step in and protect us but sometimes cognitive distortions can appear where a lot is weighted in the negative and it skews our full assessment of the person. So I replayed happier times or tried to bring up things I appreciated about the person or was grateful about. For relationships where that seemed impossible, I did something called a loving kindness meditation that was really beneficial for helping to create some shifts in my associations. I highly recommend loving kindness meditations if you want to cultivate more compassion for yourself or others.
- Basically to summarize, there are times where a boundary is suitable but if you want to move forward from a past experience, it can be helpful to grow neutral or positive associations with the person so more space opens up to step into the present. It can be a journey to get there depending on how many times the brain has replayed the past scenario but a good place to start is to repeat and ground in the alternative path.
How do I keep my spirits up when I’m grieving my illness and fearful that I might not recover?
There are several things to unpack in this question. This is a challenging journey and I understand that having a certain diagnosis can feel hopeless and bring waves of emotions. Those feelings are valid but they can also be part of the limbic loop that is helping to facilitate that cycle. It can be helpful to encourage shifts out of it to help grow new pathways out of that state.
One thing that might be helpful is to focus on who you are outside of that diagnosis. Symptoms and conditions may be part of our experience, but they don’t exclusively define us. We are so much more than any symptoms or diagnosis. I know I personally sort of lost myself in the midst of it all where my world became centered around the symptoms or conditions. Building an identity on an condition unintentionally strengthened to my brain that it was an important facet of my identity and threat of changing it created a sense of inner resistance, where doubt or fear would come up to help keep me in what was more predictable or certain. This is a false message from the limbic part of the brain because its perceiving a threat to that identity or change.
I had to consciously step into what I remembered of who I was before those conditions and ignite the person that I was underneath it all. So for me, this went back in the timeline for parts of myself that I remembered. Interests or hobbies that I had that sparked something in my previously, even if it wasn’t reflected in my present, just going back there and replaying or exploring helped to spark something again. I also started to think ahead, what would my life look like if not for these limitations? What are my dreams? What do I hope or yearn for? Thinking about those also helped to build new pathways out of the condition or symptoms because I thought of myself in terms of my joys and my dreams more than I thought about my limitations or fears. In my Grow your Future workshop I talk more about this process and I’m creating a group program for establishing actionable steps and habits that can support people in achieving those goals.