The Visceral Reaction

Stomach pumping is a simple exercise to remove the persisting effect of a visceral reaction - the release of adrenaline, which activates your fight, or flight response to danger.

Other than the fear of dismissal from work or of serious illness, life also delivers myriad minor irritations and subtle threats. Traffic snarls, rude colleagues and delayed trips happen often.

Every day, news stories of murder and mayhem make you aware of the fragility of your existence. These repeated visceral responses to stress are all subconscious cuts inflicted on your system.

Stomach pumping can supplement your learned ability to maintain a balanced life plan and to instantly relax your body. Together, these skills reduce your vulnerability to the daily stresses of life.

  • Each visceral reaction damages your system.
  • These reactions are triggered by emotions within milliseconds, ahead of your conscious awareness.
  • Laughter is known to release tensions, but does not come easily in a tense situation.
  • Cough CPR is a disputed method for dealing with heart attacks. But, it is similar to pumping your stomach.
  • Stomach pumping is a simple mechanical response, which stills a visceral reaction and can help you cope with minor irritations in life.
  • Stomach pumping also prevents you from sinking into depression.

Each Visceral Reaction Damages Your System
While the threats may be small, each visceral reaction harms your system. Adrenalin increases to prepare your body for a fight or flight response. Your heart beats increase to improve blood supply. Blood pressure rises and breathing changes. Acidity increases in the stomach. Your excretory system prepares to clear toxin. Your endocrine system produces the adrenal hormone cortisol.

Excess production of cortisol leads to blood pressure, diabetes and heart problems. Excess cortisol also causes damage to your immune system, arteries, and brain cells, and cause premature aging. Evidently, a simple exercise which can mitigate the impact of a visceral response can be immensely useful.

Damage In The Blink Of An Eye
A visceral reaction occurs quickly, before you become aware of it. Paul Ekman, the famous emotions scientist, reported "We become aware a quarter, or half second after the emotion begins. I do not choose to have an emotion, to become afraid, or to become angry. I am suddenly angry. I can usually figure out later what someone did that caused the emotion." The nervous system processes all the available information and drives you to anger, or despair, within just half a second. Each visceral response occurs before you know it. Nature also provided laughter to counter this response.

Laughter Releases Tension
Laughter is often triggered by a sudden release of tension. It works to subdue the visceral reaction. The door opens slowly in a dark room. As you wait with baited breath, a kitten walks in. You laugh. The system relaxes. During the middle ages, it was the court jester, who tried to lift the monarch out of an angry or melancholic mood. There is much recent evidence that laughter aids emotional well being and health. A belly laugh is said to result in muscle relaxation. The process is aerobic, providing a workout for the diaphragm, which reduces the effects of the visceral reaction.

But Laughter Does Not Come Easily
Unfortunately, a belly laugh is not the normal reaction to a stressful situation. Laughter is not easy, when a visceral reaction causes you to seethe in anger, or sweat in fear. But, if you practice self awareness, you can become aware that an emotion has taken over. This requires some practice. In Buddhist meditation, a person observes his/her thoughts. When you watch your thoughts, you will become familiar with your outbursts of anger, or moods of despair. Awareness is the first step to quell the effects of the visceral reaction.

The Doubtful Outcome Of “Cough CPR”
At a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology, Dr. Tadeusz Petelenz advocated a procedure to save the lives of people having a type of heart attack brought on by rapid and erratic heart beat. He suggested coughing vigorously until an ambulance arrived. The technique, called cough CPR, forced blood to the brain, while the heart was beginning to fail, keeping patients conscious long enough to call for help. Other experts said the concept was provocative, but unproven and doubted whether it had much practical value. Coughing, while having a heart attack, does sound risky. But, the muscle movements can be more gently replicated, without the strain of a vigorous cough, to quiet the effects of a visceral reaction.

An Exercise To Dissipate Adrenaline
The muscle movements involved in coughing also dissipates adrenaline. At the first sign of an uneasy emotion, you can pump your stomach. Stomach pumping requires a deep diaphragmatic breathing—with a long, slow exhale. Stomach pumping helps spread the adrenaline in the system and subdue that tension. It is a practice with endless benefits. When you pump your stomach, the muscles that do not participate in the process, relax. After you finish pumping, those muscles involved also begin to relax. So, the action takes place in two stages. Both beneficial.

Halts A Slide Into Depression
Stomach pumping activates your
vagus nerve, which plays a major role in your equanimity. It uses neurotransmitters like acetylcholine and GABA to lower heart rate and blood pressure. It manages the inner calm of the "rest and digest" parasympathetic nervous system. It exerts inhibitory strength over the "danger ahead - fight or flight" controls of the sympathetic system, while keeping you calm and energetic. The vagus nerve is deactivated by the lateral habenula LHb, a small nucleus in your brain, which responds to each minor setback in your life.

cience largely holds the LHb responsible for depression. It adjusts your goals by keeping track of your information-prediction and reward-prediction errors. If you did not expect that criticism from your boss, you made an information prediction error. If your boss did not congratulate you on your brilliant report, you made a reward prediction error. Since you failed to predict such mishaps, LHb assumes that you have false expectations from life. LHb weighs your setbacks (without measuring your blessings) to conclude that your activities will lead relentlessly into disaster. LHb discourages you.

he impulses from LHb
deactivate the vagus nerve and create a bias in your mind by triggering neuro transmitters, which subdue forebrain activity and cause a loss of energy in the system. Subdued forebrain activity escalates your vague fears into dismal emotions. You expect trouble. You feel scared even without a real threat. Your guilt emotion overcomes your common sense and punishes you with self criticism. Subdued forebrain activity blinds your view of your opportunities. Losses appear more probable. Unable to see the opportunities in your life, you are filled with gloom.

Stomach Pumping Works

Laughter is not easy. Stomach pumping requires a deep diaphragmatic breathing—with a long, slow exhale. With habit, such breathing can be a simple, built in response to the visceral reaction. It is aerobic, providing a workout for the diaphragm. The workout reduces the hormones associated with the stress response. The process stimulates the vagus nerve and has the same physical effect as laughter.

A higher vagal tone index is linked to physical and psychological well-being. Well conditioned athletes have higher vagal tone. Healthy cardiac function is directly linked to stimulating the vagus nerve. Deep diaphragmatic breathing—with a long, slow exhale—is the key to stimulating the vagus nerve and slowing heart rate and blood pressure. You can consciously tap the power of your vagus nerve simply by taking a few deep breaths with long exhales.
Use self awareness and such breathing to reduce the impact of the daily setbacks you face in life.

You Will Forget The Stressful Stimulus
Stomach pumping
is a practice with endless benefits. With habit, it can be a simple, built in response to minor stress. All that is needed is an awareness of minor turmoil, which can be followed by this simple mechanical response. With stomach pumping, tensions disappear moments after a visceral reaction. With subdued visceral responses, memories of the original stress stimulus disappear. A delayed flight fails to spoil the day. The story of the dismissal of a colleague, or of a traffic accident has less impact. Such habitual dissipation slowly erases the usual knee-jerk anxieties and their corrosive effects. Deeper stillness follows.

The only price demanded for such peace is an independent awareness of your barely perceptible anxieties. Do not allow those visceral reactions to color your viewpoints. Even if you may not laugh in the face of minor irritations, stomach pumping will make you more calm and ready to face them.

This page was last updated on 28-Dec-2015

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For my peace of mind, I earmarked 20 minutes for meditation on the terrace. With my eyes closed, I sense my hands on the chair and feel the numbness in my feet.

I feel my breath flowing through my nose, my throat, my chest and my stomach. I can hear the chirping of birds, the phut phut of auto rickshaws, the occasional roar of a truck and the insistent hooting of horns.

The wide sky and the treetops come to my attention, when I open my eyes, I see a pale moon over two hundred thousand miles away. I see the nuclear fires, blazing for millions of years in the pale globe of the setting sun. I see a single star millions of miles away in space.

I can see green shoots coming up on a tree, watch the dives and swoops of birds, the great circles of the hawks and flocks of birds flying home for the night.

Diffused light from the sun reflects off a parrot on the tree and enters my eye through a pinhole opening. I sense the bustling mood of the bird, even though it is smaller than a drop of water in my eyes.

All these things are seen and felt by me in a few brief minutes. In the distance, is the head of a man seeming to be no bigger than a pea. Yet, that head too sees and feels such things. Ten million people in this great city see and feel in ten million ways.

My mind wanders to a misty view of postwar London; an exciting glimpse of Disneyland. An awed view of Tiananmen Square. The looming Himalayan ranges. My mind takes me to distant galaxies.

It carries me into the heart of millions of invisible neurons, where electrical charges flash thousands of times a second powering my contemplation. I see the campaigns of Julius Caesar and Alexander. I feel the longings of Jehangir.

Already my mind has taken me to palaces, battlefields and even the stars. If I lost everything, but can just see and feel, in just a few brief minutes, my mind can travel the world, or imagine the cosmos.

While my thoughts wandered far and near, the thought "20 minutes is a long time" also kept floating in. And yet, life has already blessed me with over twenty million waking minutes! I have an infinity of time on my hands. Have I a right to expect more from life?

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