Interview with Jay Fields: How to Use the Brain in Your Body to Overcome Anxiety and Building Confidence and Strength
Jay Fields is a somatic educator and therapeutic coach who teaches women how to regulate their nervous systems -- or "the brain the body" -- so they can manage anxiety and difficult emotions with empathy and connection.
In this impactful interview, Jay walks me through exactly what happens in our bodies, our brains, our nervous systems, and in our behavior when we encounter negative emotions like anxiety in the moment of a high-stakes conversation.
- How to deal with anxiety in the moment of negotiating without freezing, fleeing or fighting
- How to manage negative emotions so they don't sabotage your outcomes
- What it means to have your own back and the power it gives you to name the "elephant" in a negotiation
- How to get better at setting boundaries and saying no with confidence and strength
Learn more about Jay here: jay-fields.com
Full Episode Transcript
Hello! Welcome to Episode 31 of Born to Thrive with Jamie Lee. I’m your host and coach, Jamie Lee.
My mission is to help ambitious people like you become bolder, braver, and better paid. I believe that negotiation skills are leadership skills and that good negotiators lead the conversation and that good leaders negotiate.
And today I have a really powerful conversation that I’m really happy to share with you. It’s an interview I did with Jay Fields, and in this interview, we talked about The Big F.
We talked about the power of emotions. The impact emotions have on our bodies, our brains, on our nervous system and in our reactions or in our behaviors. I think it’s so important to acknowledge, to accept, and to manage emotions in order to become a better negotiator and in order to become a better leader.
And so, I hope you find this conversation useful and you use the tools that Jay shares with us, because I certainly have, and I have used them to do better in my public speaking, I’ve used them to improve my coaching, I’ve used these tools to improve my negotiation, and I’ve used these tools even at home to deal with conversations, sticky situations in my interpersonal relationships.
To learn more about me and my services, please visit jamieleecoach.com and I hope you enjoy this interview.
Jay Fields is a somatic educator, therapeutic coach, and author of the book Teaching People, Not Poses. Jay is unique in that she teaches women how to regulate their nervous systems and have empathy for themselves so that they can manage anxiety and difficult emotions and stay connected, engaged with the people and projects they work with.
So, without further ado, here’s the interview with Jay Fields.
Jamie: Hi, Jay!
Jay: Hey, Jamie.
Jamie: Thanks, again. I want to say. This is our second time trying this recording. Thanks for making the time.
Jay: Of course!
Jamie: And I’m really excited to talk to you about how to deal with the anxiety that arises in the moment of negotiation. Because I think that’s the really tough part. Preparing, coming up with a script, it’s not so hard, but actually dealing with that negative emotion in the face of pushback or the first sign of pushback.
And so, I want to ask you, what do you have in terms of strategies that you can advise our listeners, how to communicate with clarity and conviction that makes it easy for people to connect with the other side?
Jay: Right, yeah. I hear you. Even if you have the script it doesn’t necessarily make it easy. So, before I answer that question, let me put what I’m going to say into some context. So, anxiety and emotions, other emotions, are felt sensations that we have in our body that then our brain in our skull interprets, okay? And so, that means, for example, you get a tightness in your chest and you interpret that as I’m scared.
And what happens then is that, if you’re unaccustomed to being in tune with your body, and/or you’re not willing to have an emotion in the time that it’s coming up, such as in a negotiation, it will affect the nervous system. So, your nervous system is the brain in your body, right? And what usually happens is either there’s the fight/flight response that revs up the nervous system and you get that amped feeling in your body or there’s the freeze, or sometimes called collapse response, where your body just kind of flatlines, your energy flatlines, you numb out. And either way, it feels hard to gather your thoughts, it’s hard to say a sentence clearly, to make sense.
And so I bring that up because when we talking about managing anxiety or managing emotions, especially in the workplace, I think it’s really, really important to understand that on the first, primary level, it really is about managing sensation in the body. And that, I think, people can go oh, okay, maybe I could do that.
And so, the way to do that is...I mean, there’s multiple ways to do it. One of the ways that I feel is really great to do that is through practicing what’s called a felt resource, and a felt resource is something that is inside your body that you can go to to bring yourself back to your best self. And there’s three. One is grounding, one is centering, and one is orienting.
And I’ll unpack them a little bit, and as I do, I’m going to encourage you and your listeners to just get a sense, to go through it with me and see what happens.
Jamie: So, should I try it now? As you talk me through it?
Jay: Yeah! Because the felt resource, what I think is so great about them is, it isn’t something that you necessarily need to sit down, eyes closed, back straight, fifteen minutes, practice this. These are the sort of things that they’re best used in the moment and come back and come back and even if it’s three or four seconds, just see what happens, okay?
So, the first one is grounding, and that’s literally just putting your feet on the floor or imagining that you can feel the connection to the earth. You feel the 6,000 miles of earth underneath you, or if you’re sitting in a chair, you feel your butt in the chair, you feel your weight supported. And so, just notice, as you do that, as you feel your weight in your chair, or you feel a more intentional connection to the ground if something happens to your energy level or to your breath.
Jamie: Yeah, I feel like I kind of slowed down my breathing a little bit.
Jay: [Breathes out] Yeah, so there’s kind of like a [exhales].
Jamie: Yeah, like I’ve calmed down a bit.
Jay: Yeah, so that’s one. Another felt resource would be to center. And by centering, what I mean is to imagine you could gather all of your strength or all of your power into the center of you, wherever it is you experience that. So it might be your belly, it might be your heart, and this is one of the things that, when we have the fight/flight response, often what happens is it feels like our energy dissipates. It just kind of goes bleh in every direction.
So, I’d like you to see what it feels like to imagine that you could kind of pull yourself back to your center. Bring all your focus there and just see if that makes sense in the way of, does something happen on a sensational level in your body that lets you know it’s working?
Jamie: Yeah, well, I just notice I took some sugar and caffeine to power through the day and so I’m feeling the blood pumping through my veins right now.
Jamie: And I have a question for you. So, what happens if you’re doing the centering exercise and you don’t like it? You don’t like what comes up.
Jay: Yeah. Exactly. Okay. So, let me come back to that and tell you the third felt resource before I forget, because I probably will, and then I’ll come back to that question, okay?
So, the third felt resource - there’s grounding, there’s centering - the third one is orienting. That one is looking around the space that you’re in and taking in the familiar objects, the colors, the textures. It’s kind of like the YOU ARE HERE sticker at a trailhead, you know? Where you’re just kind of looking around and reminding yourself, okay this is what’s happening, you’re expanding your awareness. Because the other thing that’s happening when your nervous system goes into fight or flight is we get tunnel vision. We get beady eyes, right? And all of a sudden all you can focus on is the thing that’s freaking you out. So, to just look around the room, and you don’t have to do it in a big way that makes you look like you’re crazy, but just to kind of take in okay, there’s the couch, there’s the desk, this is happening, I’m here.
So, back to your question. It’s a really, really great question. What happens if you check in with one of these felt resources, it brings you back into your body and what’s happening and you don’t like it?
Jay: First off, you’re a human being. That’s what happens for most of us, which is part of why this is hard for people, is, for the most part, our internal experience, for many of us, isn’t comfortable. It isn’t welcoming. It can even be painful or full of anxiety and so part of what the felt resource is for is not just to bring you back, but to then also be a container for what’s happening, meaning you will experience discomfort, or you might experience discomfort, and if you do, it will not kill you. And, here’s the thing, because the nervous system responds to discomfort as a threat, it feels like it will kill you.
Jay: It feels awful. Nobody likes it. And it won’t [kill you]. And so, what if you don’t like the experience? Well, one, acknowledging this is the experience I’m having, I don’t like it, and it won’t kill me.
Jamie: You know, can I add to that?
Jamie: Yeah, I love that it’s not gonna kill you, but it feels like it might. I think about my early career experiences and I’d think, “Oh, I can speak up and mention this,” or “I can speak up and ask for this,” and then immediately my mind goes to oh, but then they’ll think I’m blah blah blah, or they’ll push back and it’ll be so embarrassing and that future projection of how things might go wrong for me was so frightening!
Jay: Right, and you spin out, and I think what you just said is super important, Jamie, the future projection. Because that’s the thing about the felt resources, is they bring you into the present moment. And in the present moment you might be having a sensation that is uncomfortable, however, you are not in danger. In a physical sense, you’re not in danger.
But the other piece that’s really important, so you’ve got the felt resources, and then you have the other piece that I call having your own back. So, in order to have your own back, first is you need to be able to feel what’s happening in your body.
Jay: Literally! Like what’s happening? Do I have a heaviness in my stomach? Do I have a tightness in my chest? Are my hands sweaty? You know, do I feel like I’m just dissipating energetically and I’ve got no skin left anymore? Am I disappearing? You need to be able to feel those things first, but the second piece, and this is the most important piece, especially when it’s something you don’t like feeling, is meeting yourself with your presence.
So, that’s what the grounding, centering, orienting helps you to do. So, meeting yourself with your presence and then adding empathy and kindness. Meaning, the easiest way that I’ve found to do this, because this is really, really, really hard for most people, because most of us are used to meeting a sensation that’s uncomfortable with well, you shouldn’t feel that way! or buck up! or get your shit together! We kind of try to snap ourselves out of it.
Jamie: Yeah, you might go to your center and start thinking, oh, I need to some more ab exercises, which is a thought I did have.
Jay: Yeah, totally! That happens too, like oh, what’s happening here, right? So the adding empathy piece, so there’s the use the felt resource, get present with what’s happening in my body and then there’s the second piece of use that presence to essentially say to yourself, of course you feel that way.
So, you’re in the negotiation. You’re already anxious because you’re asking for something that’s a really big ask for you. The person that you’re speaking with goes, “Oh, really? Because I don’t think we can do that.” And they push back and all of a sudden the anxiety increases, the rev in your body increases, and if there is a part of you that can go, oh, this is happening, I don’t like that it’s happening, and of course it’s happening. Right? You affirm the thing that’s happening, and if we scan back out, this is what all good relationships are built upon, right, is empathy and understanding. Being able to say, “Oh, Jamie, as your friend, of course you feel that way, you know, I understand that.” If you came to me and said, “I’m super anxious right now,” I wouldn’t say, “Well, figure it out because this is high stakes, come on!”
Jamie: “Buck up!”
Jay: Exactly! I’d say, “Of course you feel that way, this is a big deal.”
Jamie: Yeah, or “I’ve never done it before.” or “You haven’t had so many opportunities to negotiate on behalf of yourself. You were always expected to negotiate on behalf of other people, so it feels foreign.” Yeah, and I love that you’re, I guess you’re talking about compassion for yourself, ultimately, yeah? Because it’s like having empathy for yourself as if you’re your own friend.
Jay: Yeah. Kindness! Like this novel idea that you could offer kindness to yourself.
Jamie: Yeah, I think it’s so powerful to be kind to yourself in a negotiation.
Jamie: It probably is the last thing people think of. Oh, I need to have the right words and the power and the leverage, but yeah, what about kindness to yourself?
Jay: Yeah, and I want to acknowledge for a lot of us it’s really, really hard. It’s not how we were wired, especially in a high stakes situation, we were, a lot of us taught that the harder you are on yourself, the better you will be.
Jamie: Right, and there is the gendered stereotype that women are emotional, therefore they are not rational decision-makers, therefore they’re not good negotiators. And so, what you’re saying, sort of just subverts all of that. What you’re saying is acknowledging your emotions, allowing for emotions to come up and be present is actually a power, not a deficit.
So, I want to ask you a follow-up question about that, because I think a lot of us, even some of my clients tell me this, they think, oh, I just need to buck up! I just need to put emotion out of this and just power through! So they want to pretend that they don’t experience the anxiety, the fear, and the doubt. So, what’s the problem with that?
Jay: Okay, yeah, so you can do that. The problem is it disconnects you from yourself. There’s a way that you can’t be present to yourself, with what’s happening, and deny what’s happening. And when you do that, it means that you also can’t be present to the other person.
Jay: And it means that you can’t be present to your inner resources, like all the amazing stuff that you have on your resume that got you to this point where you’re negotiating for a higher salary. You don’t actually have access to those things if you are trying to deny your own experience in the moment. Does that make sense?
Jamie: Yeah, so when you deny yourself and you deny your own experience in the moment, you’re not present to yourself and therefore you’re also not present to the other side.
Jay: Exactly, and so it’s not about like, you have to tell the person I’m freaking out right now. Nor is that if you’re scared you need to curl up in a ball and manage that that way. It really does work to simply feel the feeling. Like, the sensation is I’m tight all over. I interpret that as I’m scared. And then just naming it and then on some level, even if it’s just like a hand on your heart or a hand on your leg, of course you feel that way and I’m here. Right? Being able to say to yourself, “And I’m here.”
Jamie: I’d love to add to that. I think it’s so powerful what you’re suggesting because our mutual friend and my mentor, Lisa Gates, she always talks about the power of naming the elephant in the room.
Jamie: And sometimes the elephant, you know, it’s not visible, it’s not something that we can perceive with our eyes, but it’s something we feel with our intuition. And so, being able to name that feeling, let’s say you’re negotiating with a bully and they’re implying some very nasty things but not making it explicit, right? So there’s an elephant in the room. You feel the feeling of having been, I guess, put down, right? And being able to tap into that feeling and naming that. Saying, “Hey, you know, I’m surprised you would say something like that and not realize that would really hurt my feelings.”
Jamie: That’s a kind of naming the elephant.
Jay: That’s so great. Naming the elephant, when it comes to it being your own experience is a way of really standing for yourself. Having your back.
Jay: And that’s what the negotiation process is in the first place, right? This is just the second layer to that.
Jamie: Right, yeah. And it just deepens it and makes you more present. The more present you are, the better questions you can ask, the more information you can gather, and that way you gain more leverage.
Jay: Yeah, and the less your nervous system is hijacking your brain, the more you can have access to all your best qualities.
Jamie: Yeah, beautiful. It’s so true. So that you’re fully present. Yeah, so another follow-up question is, for a lot of my clients and this audience, we tend to defer to other people’s comfort for happiness. I am a recovering, extreme people pleaser.
Jay: Me too!
Jamie: Yeah, and we do this by overdoing, not setting boundaries, not asking for what you’re worth, not saying no when you don’t want to, saying yes instead of no. So, it seems that becoming more aware of your feelings would just make you vulnerable and disempowered and I think that’s a misconception, so I’d love to hear from you, why is that not true?
Jay: Yeah, it is a widely held misconception because we just don’t know a better way and so this has kind of been spread as this is true. So, to answer that, I’m going to also step back again and put it in context. So, every human being has three needs. They need to feel like they’re safe, they need to feel like they belong, and they need to feel like they matter. So safety, belonging and mattering. All of us need these. And we get these needs met, or don’t, through relationship with others. And how we got them met or didn’t, growing up greatly influences how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about the fact that we have feelings.
So, we’re relational beings, right? So, we get safety, belonging, mattering from other people, and that’s great, but it’s also really important to be able to give it to yourself. To be able to feel that you can offer yourself safety, belonging and mattering. Because, to the extent that you can’t offer that to yourself, that’s when, like you said, you try to either please others or control them, because that’s the opposite. You either please or control others. You don’t have any boundaries or you have too many and you keep people at bay. Or this is where addictive behaviors come in or where just self-criticism and self-hatred come in. So, why am I saying all of this in relation to your question? That is because when you acknowledge how you feel, when you can say the sensation is this, the emotion is this, of course I feel that way, that is a way of offering yourself a felt sense of I am safe, I belong and I matter.
Jay: Does that make sense? Literally, in your body, if you were to say to yourself, “Of course you’re scared, Jamie.” There’s a way that you’re there with yourself so you feel safe. You’re acknowledging and affirming how you feel, so you feel like you matter. And putting that together there’s this sense of I’m okay, I belong. Regardless of whether this bully or this not-bully who’s pushing back is giving me what I want in terms of feeling safe, belonging or mattering, I can do it for myself. And what happens is, when you get that for yourself, you don’t do all the weird, strategic behaviors that we do to try to get them from someone.
Jamie: Right. I just really love how profound and simple that was.
Jamie: Simply acknowledging yourself and that is the secret. Simply acknowledge how you feel in that moment and I guess what you’re saying is allow yourself to feel all the feels. Right?
Jay: Yeah, well, and in the moment, this is what makes, part of what makes this challenging. If you’re in the moment, you’re in the office with your boss and you’re negotiating, you can’t actually drop in and feel the feels entirely. But you can affirm them. You can affirm that they’re there and they’re real. And then it’s gonna still be in your system, right? And you walk out of the room and maybe you go into the bathroom and you get into a stall and you just kind of shake a little bit. Or you have a cry. Or you punch at the air. Whatever you need to do to start running the emotions through your body as opposed to just acknowledging that they’re there.
Jamie: I see. So, there is a process. It’s not just like, in the moment, split-second, saying oh, I feel these things. There you go, I’m done! You allow yourself to have the full process of the experience of the body sensations.
Jay: Yeah, and the thing is is it might be done in the moment, right? But if it’s an intense sensation, if it’s an intense experience, it’s gonna still be there when you leave the room. That’s why you leave the room and then you go back to your desk and you feel all jacked up and you can’t quite concentrate and you’re a little fidgety, right, is because all that energy, all that anxiety is still in your body. So, that’s an opportunity, maybe now that you’re not in the heat of the moment with someone there with you, you just, again, ground or center or one of them will work for you. For most people, one of them is easier than the others. So, pick the one that helps you to go, “I’m here in my body,” maybe a hand on your chest and just go, “I am anxious and of course I feel that way.” And just kind of let yourself feel it as a feeling, as emotion.
Jay: But it all comes back to a relationship with yourself, really. That empathic and warm and kind and it isn’t, it’s something that’s felt, not cerebral.
Jamie: Got it. It’s literally a sensation in your body.
Jay: Yeah. It’s like, what if your best friend came and sat down next to you and put her hand on your leg and said, “Of course you feel that way.” You feel it. That’s what we’re trying to offer ourselves.
Jamie: Is there a way for people to cope with that resistance? We’ve been trained from such a young age to repress certain emotions, right? I’m Asian, so in the Asian culture there’s a lot of that emotion suppression, right? And also, we’re conditioned to say certain things in certain situations. All different ways of sort of pushing down your emotions and so, do you have a suggestion for people who are so accustomed to pushing down anger?
Jay: Yeah, oh my gosh, this is one of my favorite questions, I’m so happy you asked this! Because most of us in some form of resistance most of the time. Most of us have been conditioned culturally and in our family to believe that emotions are just not the greatest things ever and we should probably not have them.
So most of us are in resistance, and what I’ve found, the best way to work with that is first, acknowledge you’re there. So, typically, most of us at this point in our life know what we do to try and avoid feeling, right? We work long hours or we watch long hours of Netflix or we eat chocolate or we go grab a drink, or we do drugs. Most of us know what our thing is that we do to try and manage. And so, if you can catch yourself if one of those behaviors or you can catch yourself in that feeling of, “I feel nothing,” right? Where you go to look in your body and you go to see what you feel and you feel nothing. Or all you feel is just pure tightness everywhere. The way to work with that is to say to yourself, “I don’t want to feel this.” And what that does is it brings you back to being aligned with what’s true in your body’s experience, which is, in your body, you are currently in resistance. You are in fight, flight or shut-down. And if you can name, “No. NO. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to go there, I don’t want to feel this.” You don’t even have to know what it is that you don’t want to feel. All you need to know is that your nervous system right now is telling you “No! I don’t want this.”
Jamie: So, acknowledge the resistance.
Jay: Acknowledge it! And what happens is one of two things: either you all of a sudden become aware of the thing you didn’t want to feel and you’re there with yourself feeling it, because it kind of sneaks up on you, right? Or you’re there feeling the no. But either way, you haven’t abandoned yourself, you haven’t left your resources. You can be angry and present. The same way that you can be resistant and present. And we’re just used to resistance looking like I’m not gonna be present.
Jamie: What might that look like? You’re angry and you’re present to it.
Jay: Good question. So, anger, typically in our bodies feels like heat. It feels like energy coursing through us. It feels like tightness, and so to be present to that is to acknowledge, I’m hot, my hands are gripping and I’ve got a lot of energy in me and I’m angry. And to allow that sensation to happen in your body. And you’re present with it.
So, I often talk with my clients about this in terms of, especially when it comes to anger, I talk about it in terms of wattage. If you think of yourself as a light bulb who’s typically a 60-watt light bulb and then somebody pokes the bear, and you get angry, and then all of a sudden, the sensations in your body feel like they’re 120 watts. And what we want to do is get out of there. That’s the nervous system response: fight, flight, freeze, this is too much wattage, I can’t handle this.
But you can actually, through using the felt resources and learning to be present with yourself, learn that wattage is just wattage. The same way that discomfort is just discomfort. It will not blow your circuitry. You can stand heat. You can stand tension. And then the interpretation of that is anger, and yes, you might have to acknowledge and feel the anger when you’re outside of this and outside of the situation, but in the situation, if you’re with a boss and they’ve said something that puts you down and you get fired up right away, you can be with the sensation of I’m fired up and not have it come out your mouth as something you wish you wouldn’t say.
Jamie: Yeah. That reminds me of something you said earlier about how we’re containers of emotion, so it’s kind of like taking yourself from inside that boiling pot into realizing, no, I’m the pot that holds this boiling water.
Jay: Right. And the big thing is is that none of this is about making the emotion go away, and I think so much of the new age or holistic kind of approaches to things is like you shouldn’t feel emotion or there’s negative emotions. And I don’t like to think of emotions as negative or positive, I like to think of them as uncomfortable or pleasant, right?
And you don’t have to get rid of the ones that are uncomfortable. You just use your presence, that felt sense of yourself, to help you regulate how much of that is in your awareness, versus how much of I’m grounded, I’m centered, I’m here in this space, I have resources, I belong here, I matter, I’m safe, right? The emotion doesn’t go away, but the other things, you just turn the volume up on them.
Jamie: Mmm, well this is really tremendous. I think this is very important because I do causal coaching and I help people deal with their mindsets and improve upon them and when you work with what’s in your mind, that always generates emotion and some of them are very uncomfortable, like doubt, anxiety fear. So, I think the felt resources that you shared with us and reminding ourselves that we are safe, that we do belong to ourselves and that we matter to ourselves, it’s so powerful. I think it changes everything.
Jay: It really, really does. I say that all the time.
Jamie: Yeah, thank you. So, where can our audience learn more about what you do and your services?
Jay: I have a website, and it is jay-fields.com and on there you can learn about the individual coaching I do and the trainings that I do at organizations and there’s a recorded guided meditation for the felt resources if you want to go back through them and there’s a bunch of writing and articles about different aspects of having your own back.
Jamie: Awesome, and Jay, I am a huge fan of your writing. I love the book Teaching People, Not Poses. I found it very relevant for me even though I don’t teach yoga, I teach negotiation. Being yourself is a great lesson to be reminded of. So, thank you so much for your time again and I will talk with you soon!
Jay: Great, thank you so much. I’m so grateful for this. Have a great day!
Jamie: Alright, you too.