RAPID Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback to REPAIR Trauma Response

In this post I’ll share with how to rapidly repair your trauma response in real-time using heart rate variability. Follow the steps till the end and you’ll find that the exercise works not only for trauma but is deeply beneficial for navigating every day threats such dealing with traffic, getting impatient when someone is running late or simply expanding your compassion for someone when they makes a mistake.

We can deny that we are surrounded by problems and pretend life is going on as normal – until trauma comes to the surface.

No one is immune to trauma, some of us are just better at hiding it than others.

Even if you have worked through your own trauma, someone you know hasn’t and sooner or later it ends up blowing up in your face. If you are looking for comfort information, you won’t find it here – what we will focus on is what gets you rapid results in realtime.

If you have been following the #buildyourbrain series so far, you’ll know that the brain uncouples itself from the here and now by feedforward processing to cope with the tension of not knowing what will happen next. These false expectations is the source of disappointment, unconscious bias and self-induced suffering. I’ve linked parts one and two of the #buildyourbrain series below, so be sure to check these out.

    ➡️   https://youtu.be/VcumYRaMBNA (Part 1)

    ➡️   https://youtu.be/hUxZR5prirc (Part 2)

To understand how to repair subconscious trauma, let’s us first take a moment to consider the remarkable ability of the brain to time travel.

In this moment, you can travel back in time to memories that you hold dear, or you can travel forward in time and imagine your dreams to life. Yet, this remarkable ability of the brain comes at a cost to the body. While the brain can time travel, the body is unable to do so and runs the risk of being out of sync with this moment.

Traumatic memories of the past, deceives the body to re-act as if the threat is real. This is how trauma is inherited by the body. You can observe trauma in action if you find yourself:

  1. Lying awake at night, going over and over again about something upsetting that happened during the day.
  2. Feel fidgety and unable to concentrate when you need to.
  3. Or simply when you are feeling uneasy talking about the past.

There are two main clinical approaches to trauma:

  1. Medication – which is commonly selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). When the FDA approved medication doesn’t work – we call the patients treatment resistant. Yet, consider for a moment, the brain has a 100 billion neurons and a hundred trillion synaptic connections in a constant state of flux. To think that we have control over this moment to moment neurochemical cascade is an exercise in futility with long-term side effects.
  2. Talk therapy – which may be supplemented by some form of hypnotic state for example, Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR), Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) or Somatic Experiencing (SE). These approaches are largely depended on the track record of the practitioner and if you find one that you gel with, they can be instrumental in planning for withdrawal when coming off medication.

If you are doing all the right things, yet struggling nonetheless, maybe it is time to consider a different approach.

When your nervous system is dysfunctional, it’s a key indicator that your brain and body is out of sync.

When time is playing tricks on our mind, the body experiences a mental anomaly due to no fault of our own.

You often hear practitioners and therapists say be in the present moment, here and now – why do they say this and what do they mean?

Trauma is simply the replication of past experiences that debilitate your ability to respond in the present.  

Fortunately, nature has designed a biological mechanism to negotiate this conflict with this moment. Our Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is single-handedly responsible for the moment to moment neurochemical changes that happen in our brain. It is no secret that changes in heart rate influence blood flow to the brain. This is what gives rise to the Blood Oxygen Level Dependent (BOLD) signal is generated in fMRI.  We now know that more than 85% of the information traveling in the vagus nerve is going up into the brain, but what is controlling this organ-generated information?  Put simply – when our heart rate changes, so to does the allocation of metabolic resources. For example, we loose our appetite when we are struck by heartbreak.  This is a legitimate threat, because love creates a sense of belonging and when this is suddenly lost – it is the primordial equivalent of being kicked out of a tribe or being rejected by your own family.

The rhythm of our heart determines whether we sink or swim. If someone is on SSRIs, neurochemically optimised for happiness – they may not experience the full depth of heartbreak and miss the opportunity to grieve. The process of grieving is an essential step in the recovery process and when skipped, results in the disorganised-unresolved attachment type found in relationships. You can learn more about attachment types in the video linked here. It’s not the heartbreak that instills trauma but our reluctance to feel deeply.

No one is immune to trauma, some of us are just better at hiding from it than others.

So how can we feel so deeply yet recover quickly?

There is a interoceptive network within the brain which includes the brainstem, insular, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and posterior parietal cortex (PPC) dedicated to monitoring your homeostatic balance. This communication between brain and body – between the central nervous system (CNS) and autonomic nervous system (ANS) can be measured using biofeedback devices and is known as vagal tone.

Instead of accumulating a lifetime of trauma and dealing with in front of a therapist – what if you could use this brain network to repair trauma as it happens?

You do this by using breath to decelerate the heart rate in realtime. As a general rule, breath in through the nose, expanding the diaphragm and out through the mouth, keeping the exhale at least twice as long as the inhale. In my online course I teach vagal breathing which is a proprietary technique that I developed from evidence-based neuroscience to trigger the nervous system to relax under threat. Click here if you want to enter my FREE HRV Masterclass and learn how clients are getting results from vagal breathing within a couple of weeks.

When you slow down heart rate  while under threat, you have all the time in the world to address the situation because in majority of the case, trauma is rarely personal. Someone else did not have access to the information that you are learning right now and has not yet learnt to manage their nervous system to respond to threat. By remaining in an internal homeostatic harmony, you are not replicating past experiences that debilitate your ability to respond in the present and this prevents the situation from getting any worse. It can take a long time to get through the darkness, but that doesn’t mean you have to keep re-traumatising yourself. This is what it means to be in the present, here and now.

When we are under threat, cortisol is produced by our adrenal glands and indicates that our nervous system has transitioned into the sympathetic fight or flight response. When we relax the nervous system under threat, something remarkable happens, oxytocin is produced alongside cortisol. Oxytocin is one of the most powerful naturally induced antidepressant. Oxytocin creates a sense of openness, trust and most importantly, compassion.

The saddest things is when two people come together with the best intention to make a relationship work, to feel safe and secure, trauma tends to invade the space and speaks louder than love. So much pain and suffering can be avoided if we did not replicate the past to keep a relationship stuck in a trauma bond.

The games the mind played was fun while it lasted, but truth has a habit of flowing out of our heart.

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