May 22, 2020
2 min read

Lead with Your Heart-Brain

Neurocardiology studies show we have a heart-brain (McCraty, 2015). Our heart-brain can communicate, grow new neurons, create neuronal pathways, secret neuro-hormones, and change throughout our lifetime (McCraty, 2015).

Fear is processed by the amygdala (an almond-shaped set of neurons) in the limbic system (primitive brain) for the purpose of protecting us from danger, most often this is subjective and not literal (LeDoux, 1996).

The limbic system is the greatest “storyteller”. It is formulating fear-based thoughts based on our subjective history and it is narrating exaggerated stories about ourselves and others (LeDoux, 1996). We respond to these stories (thoughts or stressors) by fighting, fleeing, or freezing (LeDoux, 1996).

The way out is with our heart. We often don’t think of our head as being scared, but it is. Our head commands the heart to close when fear is activated in our limbic system (amygdala) which is why we feel disconnected from ourselves, the person we love, and from life. When we are disconnected from our heart, life appears to work against us, our loved ones turn into enemies, and we don’t like ourselves. We feel lonely.

We need our heart’s help when we feel stuck. Our heart is present-based and can help bring our scared mind back home to the present; however, in order for this to happen an invitation is required by our heart. We can step back and become a curious observer listening to a conversation between our heart and our mind.

Your mind is scared even when you don’t feel scared. The storyteller masks your fear as anger, jealousy, shame, depression, frustration, powerlessness, grief, guilt, blame, etc. Don’t be fooled by the great storyteller. Your mind is scared.

When your mind is scared, your heart is closed; when your heart is closed, you are feeling disconnected; when you are feeling disconnected, you are bound to be in your head; when you are in your head, you are identifying with your storyteller; when you are identifying with your storyteller, your words and behaviors are being influenced by the storyteller. Thus, your reactions towards your external world will be to fight, flee, or freeze.

How do we break this cycle?

First, step back, pause, and breath:

  1. Place your attention on your heart.
  2. Take 3 to 5 deep soft belly breaths (diaphragm breathing).
  3. Identify your shade of fear in your body (what we define as negative emotions). This will help you ground yourself back into your body.

Next, invite your heart and listen to your heart speak to your mind.

This simple intention / invitation will give your heart-brain permission to lead your scared mind back to the present. Your job is to be a curious observer. Take notes. Your heart is asking your mind the following questions, listen:

  1. What are you afraid of / What are you avoiding or resisting? (heart is engaging the limbic brain)
  2. Who or what in your environment are you blaming, controlling, or seeking acceptance from to avoid the feeling that makes you uncomfortable? (heart is engaging the limbic brain)
  3. What are the facts of your present situation? (heart is engaging the prefrontal cortex, our higher evolved problem-solving logical brain)
  4. What is in your control? (heart is engaging both cortex and limbic)


Welcome back to the present!


Dr. Sahar Khoshakhlagh

References:

McCraty, R., Science of The Heart: Exploring the role of the heart in human performance. Volume 2, 2015

LeDoux, E., J., The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life 1996, New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks

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