Signal management

The Vail Symposium series focuses on stress management

Bruce Cryer, co-founder of HeartMath, gave a series of workshops on managing stress and improving creativity on September 14-15 as part of the Vail Symposium.
Kimberly Nicoletti/Daily Special

When we’re stressed, even if it’s as minor as an email, it triggers a cascade of 1,400 biochemicals, like cortisol and adrenaline, designed to help us cope with a threat to life or of death. The problem is that most stressors aren’t life or death, but the chemicals they release can be; they contribute to all sorts of conditions, from heart disease, cancer and diabetes to obesity and Alzheimer’s disease. The half-life of many of these chemicals, like cortisol, is six to eight hours, which is quite significant.

“They age you and keep you up at night,” said Bruce Cryer, co-founder of HeartMath, a scientifically validated system of tools, techniques and behaviors to reduce stress, improve performance, increase creativity and improve well-being. be general.

Cryer presented a series of workshops September 14-15 as part of the Vail Symposium Consciousness Series. On September 14 at the Donovan Pavilion, he reviewed tools to help people develop adaptability, resilience and well-being in the face of persistent uncertainty, which translates into stress. On September 15, he taught a morning workshop on stress and coping techniques, then led an afternoon session on unleashing creativity at Eagle River Presbyterian Church.



He started the workshop on September 15 with a YouTube video titled “You See the World Through How You Feel,” which depicts cityscapes through the lens of stress followed by the same scenes as classical music, lends a calm atmosphere to the previously perceived madness. His argument: our experiences and perceptions affect how we feel.

Cryer defined stress as an “emotional disconnect between expectations and reality,” which becomes problematic when chronic, like the layers of stress we’ve collectively experienced over the past two years with the pandemic, inflation , climate change and conflict.



He reviewed studies dating back to World War II that showed how soldiers, when faced with challenges, achieve maximum effectiveness, but as the difficulty spreads over time, hyperreactions lead to emotional exhaustion, which ultimately results in a breakdown. He also reviewed Elizabeth Kübler Ross’ process of shock and recovery, which goes through emotions such as anger, fear and blame, moves to resistance and then worry, culminates in depression and to feelings of loss of control, and ultimately rises to exploration.

“You can get stuck in depression,” he said, “but if you’re willing to stay in life and move on, you go exploring.”

And he knows how to get through the difficulties. After about a dozen years as CEO of HeartMath, he had cancer, got divorced, lived through the death of a relative, and battled a staph infection after hip replacement surgery. He ended up quitting his job and focusing on his creativity, or whatever makes his heart sing.



“Whenever you do things that make your heart sing, it benefits your health and well-being,” he said during the afternoon session on creativity. “One of the fundamental things that needs to change is how we associate creativity with artistic expression. Creativity is not just artistic expression. A relationship can be artistic, work can be artistic, family can be artistic. being artistic. We are all made of creative energy. This energy within us can manifest in different ways.

But to be as creative as possible, it is important to manage stress. This is where heart meditation comes in.

During the morning session, Cryer encouraged participants to focus their attention around their heart, inhaling for 5 seconds and exhaling for 5 seconds while imagining the breath moving through the heart.

“It brings you into a more balanced state,” Cryer said, adding that it helps maintain a neutral stance in any situation. “For me, we’re in a time where people are at their worst – myself included, so cut yourself some slack and cut others some slack. It’s hard now. Stay neutral. You don’t know where people are from or what they’ve been through…we have no idea what’s going on in people’s lives.Then we judge them and then we pay the price (through emotions like anger, which releases stress chemicals),” he said.

After this simple exercise, he got people to focus on heart breathing again while thinking and feeling what they enjoy.

“Just start appreciating what’s around you and you restore your system,” he said. “Appreciation is the lever that keeps you from feeling small and stuck.”

He encouraged people to ask, while in the midst of a stressful situation, “what can I appreciate now?”

This simple gesture releases around 1,400 beneficial and wellness-enhancing biochemicals like DHEA, an anti-aging and vitality hormone, he said.

“It’s the ultimate stealth tool for leveraging your core awareness,” he said. “By practicing peace, compassion, and gratitude, you begin to build circuitry that helps you live on the side of vitality. … That’s why people say you look good after the holidays, because you produce more DHEA.

In the 90s, HeartMath measured the heart rate variability of hundreds of people, first asking them to think about something frustrating, then to think about appreciation for 3 minutes each. Frustration showed chaotic heart rhythms, while Appreciation showed “coherence,” or a smooth, flowing rhythm. Other studies have shown how heart rate affects the brain.

The effects of reflection on frustration (top) versus reflection on gratitude and appreciation (bottom graph).
Courtesy picture

“Chaotic patterns are not isolated from the heart; they are distributed to every cell in your body,” he said. “Inconsistency inhibits brain function.”

And, it turns out that the heart has about 60 times more amplitude than the electrical signal of the brain, and its magnetic dimension is more than 100 times stronger than the brain; Cryer said the electromagnetic energy of the heart extends several feet beyond the body. This is why you feel certain good or bad vibes from people.

“What we put out matters, whether it’s for our pets, our spouses or our plants,” he said. “You feel it in people. So ask yourself: how can I bring more joy and be more compassionate?

He brought that feeling of vital energy into the afternoon session, which was much more experiential; participants danced and wrote letters from different parts of themselves, including fear and pleasure.

He spoke of six catalysts for amplifying creative energy: mindfulness through heart awareness, movement and dance, nature, play, artistic expression and music.

“Game is the miracle drug for creativity,” he said. “And creativity is a natural high for our brain. Everything we love to do helps our brain make new connections.