Monthly Archives: March 2015

Blog #25: Flipping the coin, how to get out of threat physiology!

To pick up where we left off in the last blog, I suggested we figure out,  ‘what must I do to get out of threat/stress physiology?’ Here are some tools that tune our bodies back into the other side of the “coin,” out of threat physiology, back to calm sense of safety. I will share four tools today. Just for fun and for ease of memorizing, they will all begin with an S.

1.SLOW DOWN: When you find yourself walking too fast, talking too fast, eating too fast, etc., stop for a minute and then begin again slowly. Let your life’s pace be a saunter not a sprint. It makes a big difference in your physiology and to your tensed and braced muscles.

2. SILENCE: If you find yourself talking a blue streak to mask or release your anxiety, stop talking and practice silence. Females tend to try to use a flow of words to reduce anxiety a bit more often than males, but whichever sex you are, if you catch yourself talking non-stop, ask yourself W. A. I. T.? That stands for ‘Why Am I Talking? One of my friends calls this “fire-hosing”, a great description. Silence is calming for most people and allows our nervous systems to settle back down. Extraverts will have a harder time with this tool than Introverts.

3. SHIFT FOCUS: What we focus upon determines how we feel. If you don’t believe me, think back to the last time you worried and remember how bad your body felt. In almost every situation there is some positive element. But because our brains are biased to the negative, we get stuck in the negative and fearful aspects of a situation. When you are stuck in threat mode, deliberately look for the positive aspects of the situation. If that fails, focus on the positive aspects of your life. For example, the ability most of us have to walk, talk, take hot showers, and eat 3 meals per day. There are a myriad of wonderful factors in our everyday lives if we will but look for them, and then allow ourselves to feel gratitude for them. People who have a consistent practice of gratitude are happier and healthier than the general population for this very reason.

4. SELF-AWARENESS (especially of your body’s sensations): This is a simple but effective tool that can help keep your body out of stress physiology, or shift it to safety more quickly. Clients who are able to stay present to their lives and become aware of their body’s sensations as soon as the sensations arise, spend much less time in stress physiology. As I have mentioned in prior blogs, the body speaks in sensations, not words. So when you become aware of that heavy feeling of dread in your belly, or the tightness in your chest, as soon as it occurs, you have a much better chance of quickly shifting those sensations. If you don’t notice them until the sensations of fear and anxiety have been roaming your body for minutes or hours, and have hunkered down inside like soldiers in a foxhole, you can be stuck in them for a long time. The longer a sensation stays in your body underneath your awareness, the stronger it gets. So if you are able to focus on the positive aspects of the situation, or focus on positive hopes for future outcome, you will have more peace within your body.

Using these and many other tools, millions of people have learned how to move from threat physiology back into a sense of grounded safety, our Autonomic Nervous System at rest. Rest and Digest is actually the term used of this state, to denote that the major systems of our body are at rest and we are able to digest our food, liquids and solids. This of course is the opposite of the Fight or Flight system, another term for stress physiology, which stops digestion and puts stress on most of the major systems of the body and impacts, metabolism, respiration, blood flow, heart rate variability, stress hormones, and our muscle/skeletal system as we brace and tense our muscles in preparation for danger.

This week, I encourage you to pick one or two of the tools and try them consistently when you begin to feel stressed. Notice what happens and pay attention to the ones that work best for you. Please let me know how it works out.

Seeing a Lioness without the safety of the jeep, that would put me in threat physiology for a good reason!
Seeing a Lioness without the safety of the jeep, that would put me in threat physiology for a good reason!

GOING DEEPER:

  1. Do you ever practice gratitude? Why or Why not? If you do not, is there anything blocking you from trying this wonderful practice that has so many health benefits?
  2. Which of the tools sound hard or impossible to you and why do you think this is the case? For many people self-awareness can be a challenge. If it is for you, what might you do that could help make this a bit easier for you?

I am still providing 3 week anxiety reduction workshops here in San Diego. If you are interested in 90 minutes of training, 3 weeks in a row. Let me know. I will provide a 10% discount to anyone mentioning this blog! Life is too short to be afraid!

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Love & Anxiety #24: Stress Physiology: The other side of the coin.

You know how sometimes life can feel too heavy, like there is just too much going on? Have you been there, recently?  I have lived there the past month. There has been a lot going on recently, including a very ill family member who happens to live 3000 miles away. Distance blocks certain things, but seems to amplify others. Such as the heavy, dense sensation of dread in my chest and belly, as I am made so aware of my own helplessness and inability to make things better, or to protect loved ones from pain.

And, like you I am sure, when my body is in this state of overwhelm, when the heavy dread feels all-consuming, like a dense fog taking over a previously sunny day, I am unable to experience all the good that is still in my life, such as friends, love, health, work, clean water, safety, etc. I want to feel the good, I try to, but in my body it “feels” like this heavy feeling is winning. That it will be my reality forever! There is a physiological reason for this phenomena, the temporary inability to perceive good when we feel threatened or in danger and it comes from the nature of our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).

The metaphor of a coin helps explain this phenomena of our ANS. Like a coin, our physiology has two sides or modes and they are mutually exclusive of each other. In other words, you cannot be in both modes at once. Just like a coin, when you flip it repeatedly you will only get Heads or Tails, not Heads & Tails. In this Universe, with that type of matter, you can only have one or the other.

I am over simplifying a bit, but this is how our ANS works. In the moment, you can either experience heads or tails. You can be feeling safe, calm, and grounded, or be feeling stressed, anxious, and keyed up, i.e., feeling overwhelmed by your life. When the later is occurring, your body and ANS are in threat physiology. In this moment you are preparing to survive the danger you know is coming, or the danger you are looking out for, by worrying and over analyzing. If you care to notice anything besides your frantic, racing mind, most of your body systems are involved in this process. Your heart rate has changed, as well as your respiration and your digestion, to name a few. The body takes survival very seriously and this is why that dread-filled, heavy feeling can seem like a huge monster, (think 1970s movies of Godzilla flattening Japan) threatening your wellbeing. As if it is so powerful, it is impossible to shift it. But it is not impossible, just difficult.

It is important to remember that this feeling is part of being human, so as not to get too freaked out by it, or believe your future will be all pain and fear. Sometimes life is too much, things are too heavy and we feel alone, undone, and pounded down to our knees. When that occurs, it is also important to remember that you will NOT be feeling this way forever, it is a transitory feeling (though for some of us it may seem like a long transit), and there are ways to move out of it. What we need to recall in these moments is that just like that coin has two sides, our physiology does too. We have NOT lost the mode of safety and calm grounding, we are just not currently experiencing it. It is still available to us and we can get back to it. It helps to have that as our intention when we are caught in stress physiology. And, to ask ourselves, ‘what must I do to get back to the other mode of safety?’

It does help to add to our intention to change modes, tools that tune our bodies back into the other side of the “coin,” out of threat physiology, back to calm sense of safety. I will write about some of these in the next blog, so stay tuned. For those who don’t want to wait, if you re-read my past 10 blogs, in each one of them I include one or more research-based, helpful tools.

Up the crick, at least there is a paddle
Up the crick, at least there is a paddle

Going Deeper:

1.) Can you relate to this blog? Do you have times or seasons in your life that feel intolerable, or like they will never end and that you are doomed to feel this miserable forever? If so, can you look back and see you have moved through it? If so, what lessons have you learned from these times?

2.) What situations are most “heavy” for you, or cause you to experience threat or stress physiology? When you are in that place of stress and fear, are you able to recall your other mode of being? If so, what helps you get back to it?