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Leap of Faith: DE-stressing a DIS-stressed brain

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

The brain in distress mode is not a pretty sight. Yet armed with some psychological and physiological principles we can de-stress it, putting us in a more purposeful and aspirational frame of mind. Using some scientifically endorsed techniques to balance nervous system reactivity, combined with adventure challenge, we can seek to transform our thinking and jump boldly into the unknown. The CognitvExplorer approach offers sessions which do just that. You just have to accept that being 30ft up on a wobbly pole is a thrilling part of the process.




(Photo credit: Phil Banfield Venturefield.com)



I champion an Adventure Neuropsychology approach to inspire and motivate others in the face of adversity and the challenges of life. This draws on escapades I have experienced as well as observing those who prevail in adventurous predicaments to provide insight into the mindset necessary to thrive under stress. As well as a basis in cutting-edge neuroscientific research into how the brain operates in extreme environments to optimise performance.

“A distressed brain is one that shuts down the higher functions in favour of instinctive action. Which is all well and good to escape from immediate danger, but not very useful when confronting day to day events that provoke this threat response yet require more measured level-headed consideration...Evolution brought us to our feet to stand erect and scan into the distance, to see possibilities in the future...Adventure activities give us the opportunity to voluntarily engage with stress-inducing predicaments and find it within ourselves to jump into the unknown.,,"

A shaky start


Imagine you are standing on a wobbly platform about the size of a dinner tray. This is on top of a wooden pole. The ground is a few stories below you. Do you see yourself as standing calmly erect, eyes scanning the panorama ahead, looking far out into the distance, and exciting opportunities there for the taking?


Or are you quaking in your shoes, bent double, fixated on the ground that is horrifyingly far below, cursing under your breath and struggling to stop your heart bursting from your chest?


How the hell did we get here?


Life presents challenge. But we can view it as a threat. Threat initiates the stress response. It reduces us to a quivering wreck. If we let it. Our attention narrows, our world shrinks. We just want to shrivel into a ball and hope it all goes away.


There is a fine line between embracing challenge and finding it within ourselves to confront the nervous symptoms that accompany stepping out of that comfort zone. Or, indeed, letting those nerves get the better of us.


I’ve witnessed folks lately doing the former, pushing aside their fears and stepping up to the plate. This was part of a series of workshops I was running at the #AdventureMind conference on a cold but crisp autumnal day in South Yorkshire. The sessions revolve around understanding more about the mechanisms in the brain that determine our response to stress-inducing situations.


Heights can strip away our confident façade and make some of us freeze in our tracks. Height stress is an excellent medium for testing resolve and looking to redress the balance. Using some psychological and physiological principles to take back control.

In modern life our attention is pulled all over the place. We rarely seem to stop and reflect, to let the inner voice settle and appreciate the moment. Sit down for a second and the phone comes out, hunched over, a recipe for hypertension.


In the workshop we focus on our breathing, based on scientific research that indicates slower, deeper exhalations can modulate the ‘fight or flight’ response. We talk about how to de-stress brains that otherwise are in ‘dis-stress’. A distressed brain is one that shuts down the higher functions in favour of instinctive action. Which is all well and good to escape from immediate danger, but not very useful when confronting day to day events that provoke this threat response yet require more measured level-headed consideration. The higher or ‘executive’ functions confer on us evolutionary advantage. Judgement, information processing, weighed up decision making, seeing patterns and opportunities, innovation. These functions allow us to modify our behaviour, and our environment in an adaptive way, in order to thrive in the face of stress rather than just react.


If we aspire to more, we need to shrug off this reactive demeanour and take bolder steps, placing ourselves at the edge of the unknown, and stepping off.


Standing on top of a wobbly pole might seem a bit extreme, but the vantage point up there is pretty cool. Eyes are elevated to the horizon and the panoramic view is absorbed. Evolution brought us to our feet to stand erect and scan into the distance, to see possibilities in the future. A stress response out of control lowers our vision to the floor and seduces us back down.


Yet once we learn to access a meditative calm state, and re-engage our field of vision with expansive surroundings, The Moment will arise where we are feeling ready to leap forth! You are likely now in a state of Excite and Delight!!


The CognitvExplorer approach marries together brain science with practical exercises to embody principles of stress management and attentional focus. In adventurous contexts. Adventure activities give us the opportunity to voluntarily engage with stress-inducing predicaments and find it within ourselves to jump into the unknown. I’m a passionate advocate of this, particularly with respect to helping folks who struggle with stress. And uniquely, by combining practical scenarios with cutting edge into the underlying brain science, the ambition is to contribute to the understanding of conditions including PTSD, depression and anxiety.


The process is part of a wider programme that takes people on a journey to get a handle on mind-body processes and progressively embrace challenge in exciting surroundings!

To find out more and collaborate, sponsor or take part, please get in touch.


Have faith.


Let’s leap together!


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