Mental Feedback Loops

So, what is the source of stress?  This is something I asked myself quite a bit.  The question is motivated by the fact that in my case it was sometimes dependent on an obvious situation, but other times it's not so obvious.  I think the same holds true in the case of depression, because in many of the people I have talked to, the source isn't obvious at all.

Someone brilliantly pointed out to me that stress, anxiety and depression are caused by focusing on things we can't control.  Sometimes this is very obvious. Sometimes however, this is buried in our subconscious and shapes the way we see things..which in turn affects actions.  This can also serve to perpetuate these feelings and make us feel that these feelings and emotions are beyond our control.  As an artist, I have been able to get to know people that are both poor and rich, and I have seen that this affects everyone.  Money isn't the solution.

So this brings me to the main idea.  Mental Feedback Loops.

What are Mental Feedback Loops?  They are just like audio feedback loops, but in the mind.  (This is my analogy, I hope you follow.)

Audio feedback loops in live music situations occur when a particular frequency resonates more in the spectrum than others.  For instance, when a particular tone enters the microphone and then comes through the speakers and then the mic picks it up again; then it loops...again...and again...and again... This resonation starts slowly and then feeds on itself and begins to amplify, and within a few seconds produces a loud shrieking tone that causes everybody to grab their ears in pain!!

I think in my case, and I am guessing others too, this also happens in our thoughts.  Sometimes I noticed I would fixate on a thought.  It could be about a relationship, maybe a financial problem..or anything really, but once it set's in the mind as "reality", it can often become a struggle to let go...and then the feedback occurs. When this happens, we experience stress.  Of course the stress isn't just in our minds.  It also manifests in our bodies in various forms. Obvious short term signs are things like raised heart beat, shorter faster breathing, sweaty palms etc...  The longer term signs are things like high blood pressure, acid reflux, headaches etc. etc. etc.. If you look up nearly any physical problem it probably lists stress as one of the causes and reducing stress as one of the solutions.  Well, no shit!

Our brains send these feedback signals to our nervous system which sends out signals and chemicals that kick off a variety of fight or flight responses.  This is where the feedback loop occurs!  Once we start to notice the physical sensations of stress, the mind says "what the hell is going on?"  ..and then creates more stress.  In acute situations this is a panic attack.

In less acute situations, I think a person can hold on to faulty thought patterns (sometimes for years) which causes long term stress on our bodies. I think this may partly be what happened to me.  The tricky part is, if these are in the subconscious mind (which colors the lens with which reality is perceived), it can be very hard to "undo" or "mute" this feedback, because you are probably completely unaware of it, because it seems like part of "you".  If this becomes part of the concept of "Self", it's necessary to let that part go.  This is not an easy process, but with the right support (spiritual/psychological/personal) I believe it can be done.

Many times to deal with this, we (sometimes unknowingly) self medicate:

Some use alcohol. Some use prescription drugs.  Some use illegal narcotics.  Some use food. Some become workaholics.  etc etc etc.. (please note: these are not judgements, they are just the wrong tool for the job!)

All of these also produce their own feedback loops.  So now in these cases the person has TWO feedback loops. One mental and one physical.  Ay yi yi!!!

For example, alcohol causes our bodies to produce the the stress hormone cortisol.  So if you overdo it, then day or so after drinking your physical body can actually be more stressed.  In some cases a person then feels they need to drink more to reduce the stress. This can happen for any of the above situations. It's a feedback loop, a cyclical pattern and the problem is harder to determine and solve.

Basically, our nervous systems are seeking equilibrium, but with the mental feedback loops and the physical feedback loops it becomes a back and forth cycle.

The source of the problem is still the same.  The mind...the soul.

The good news is any of us have the power to change this by re-patterning our minds.  How do we do this?

Short answer:  Learn to Meditate, (which helps teach us how to CHOOSE our thoughts).  Note: You are NOT your thoughts.  Many times these thoughts are just habitual patterns that need to be changed.

Long Answer:  Love yourself.  Forgive Yourself.  Honor Yourself.  Eat well.  Live in the moment and choose Joy.  Exercise.  Have Fun.  Rest.  Learn to say No.  Listen to music.  Be grateful.  Serve others.  Choose Love and Not fear. Throw an awesome party and invite me.

 ...and also take time to Meditate.

Why Meditate or try Meditative therapies?

To continue with the "feedback" analogy, I think meditation works a bit like the EQ at soundcheck.  At soundcheck before the show the levels and mix for each instrument is checked and equalized.  Anything with a live microphone is normally "rung out".  "Ringing out" means that the volume of the mic is slowly turned up until it starts to feedback. Once a tone starts to feedback the engineer finds the tone using a 31 band EQ and turns that frequency down.  By doing this, the volume of the microphone can stay at a louder volume without feeding back.  This also has the added bonus of adding clarity to the microphone and allows the natural tone of the mic to shine through.  The "ringing out" process normally takes into account several frequencies.  Once the first loop is adjusted, the mic volume will be boosted slightly and another tone will feedback.  Once that tone is fixed another will naturally start to feedback and so on.  It usually takes adjusting several feedback tones to achieve the clarity and volume, but once this is achieved everything sounds great!

If your not quite following, check out this short video...

I think meditation helps to "ring out" out mental processes a bit too.  By quieting the mind we can start at the base level.  The offending thought patterns or mental feedback loops are quieted.  With practice, this stillness becomes more of a "normal" state, whereas before the feedback loops and mental noise may have just come to feel "normal".  After meditating for while and then going back to daily activities, I started noticing negative reactions or behavior patterns more. This is kind of like the turning up of the volume.  In the short run this might even cause more anxiety or stress, but in a way this just highlights the offending thought pattern that needs to be adjusted...and, since you just read this, now your aware of it.  This is the same as with the audio feedback.  Incidentally, brainwaves are measured in Hertz too, just like sound waves.  With daily practice these thought patterns can be adjusted (just like at sound check) and new levels of clarity can be reached.  There is no finish line though, it's a continual process.

In my opinion, meditation gives us access into our subconscious and the opportunity to break these mental feedback loops.  In modern neuroscience this is known as the principle of neuroplasticity.  This may not happen instantaneously (but then again it may), but with regular practice I have noticed I am able to learn more and more about myself that was previously a mystery.  I feel it also offers us a deeper connection to ourselves and our spirituality, the beauty of our common humanity and a better view of reality that is unobstructed by the lens of our subconscious fears, anxieties, self-judgements, superstitions and more.  We don't need these feedback loops!!!  The bonus is that this leads our nervous system to a place of equilibrium and balance and can help us break the cycle.  (note: I think this is what Bono was looking for... and is the peace that passes all understanding...or Nirvana... or Enlightenment.)  This is more popularly known today as BLISS...wahhhhoooooo!!!!!  In fact our bodies have an entire system dedicated to this.  More on that later....

For sound downloads click here.Just a personal note: There is nothing new under the sun. I am just attempting to present this in a clear way based on my experience and in retrospect of this experience, trying to read as much as I could to come to a deeper and more grounded understanding of this seemingly mystical thing that happened to me (so that I could share it with you).  I'm not a doctor or a scientist.  Please know this is only my experience.  Yours will obviously be different, but since my experience was so similar to others I've talked to, I am hoping this may be helpful in some way.  That is my purpose here.

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