State Management to cure frequent heartburn
By Jim Notto
But what about those days when I was already feeling stressed? Would I be doomed to avoid the foods I loved because of my emotions?
It was alarming to me at first to realize the pervasive effects negative emotional states and bodily tension had upon my experience of acid reflux. I quickly learned that the emotions of anger and worry were luxuries I could not afford. But what was I to do?
For the better part of my life I was taught that a person must feel what they feel; that emotions were natural and normal and if you didn’t allow yourself to feel them they would get “bottled up” inside you until they would manifest in some horrible way. I was given the impression that a person’s emotions were the most genuine part of themselves, the purest expression of who we were at any moment.
I have since discovered the truth of the matter is that we can control our emotional states as easily as we control our limbs. You wouldn’t see me suddenly and unconsciously walk out into traffic and latter claim that, “There was nothing I could do; my legs just moved that way and there was nothing I could do to change it”. Nobody would believe that story for a moment. I’d be admitted to the psychiatric ward in a heartbeat.
And yet it is fairly common to hear people say that they can’t help the way they feel. Once you know what emotions really are, and how they’re created, you’ll never again helplessly walk into heavy emotional traffic.
Years ago, as an infant, I learned to walk by modeling the larger people around me who were walking. I unconsciously did the same thing with emotions; I modeled those around me. Trouble is, like most of the people I have ever met, I have plenty of untamed examples to model when it comes to emotions, because most people let their emotional states run amok, largely unconscious to the fact that emotions are within their control. They believed the same thing I did: that emotions are what they are and we cannot control them.
The key for me was a complete reeducation about emotions. I learned that emotions are nothing more than mental thoughts combined with physical sensations or actions. Often the underlying thought is outside of our awareness. Even so, I discovered, the moment I become aware of a negative emotion I can short-circuit it. Emotions require mental and physical components in specific combinations. I learned that if I change just one side of the emotional equation I’d get a whole new result.
If I am feeling angry but am unaware of the specific thought that is involved, or unable to change the thought at the moment, I can simply change my physical body. I can relax my jaw and forehead, let my shoulders drop a little, open my eyes wider and begin breathing slowly and deeply. Then I can consciously focus on relaxing the rest of my muscles and smiling. If I then concentrate on making my eyes feel like they do when they “sparkle” (like when I’m thoroughly delighted) I have successfully short-circuited the state of anger.
The mind-body connection is a two-way communications channel. If I am feeling depressed I know I can straighten my spine, thrust my chest out, put my shoulders back, look up and smile and I am suddenly not feeling depressed any more.
I made a habit of practicing happy and relaxed states so that they would be familiar enough to me that I could create them whenever I needed. I would recall times I felt good and relive those experiences in my mind, making sure to put my whole body into the memory and noting how I created it. I can then create any of these states at will. I’m not perfect at doing this, but I’m good enough at it to know it can be done reliably any time I need to change my emotional state.
I also practice noticing all the different muscle tensions in my body, and relaxing them at will. With practice I have become quite skilled at this, and can go from being very tense to very relaxed in a matter of seconds. This is a skill anyone can learn with practice, and for me it was worth learning because now I can enjoy foods that used to give me acid reflux.
And isn’t that the point of all this? I set out to find a solution to GERD and the symptom of acid reflux. I don’t know if this is technically or medically a “cure” for GERD but I do know I can live my life without acid shooting into my throat, my mouth and my nasal passages. That sounds like “cured” to me.