Tag Archives: anxiety response

Blog 26- Part 2: Nike, the serenity prayer, and stress physiology!

Part 2 – The Serenity Prayer

Part 1 of this blog addressed Nike’s slogan, “Just Do It” (JDI), and how it beneficially impacts our physiology. Today’s blog will make more sense if you read part 1.

Now that we know the power of JDI, let’s talk about the Serenity Prayer. I will include the short version of this prayer below, just in case you have been living under a large rock for the past 30 years and have not heard it!

“God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference”.

The concepts contained in this prayer are perfect partners with JDI energy to help shift our Nervous Systems out of threat physiology. Knowing when and where to apply our efforts and energy, and where not to, is critical information when it comes to a threat or a perceived danger to our body. Because sometimes there is nothing we can do about certain aspects of a problematic situation. So even if your switch is ON, if it’s an impossible situation to change, you could just get frustrated. Trying to change something over and over without success, makes us feel helpless and impotent.

Knowing what can be changed in a dangerous or stressful situation, is almost as important as having your switch ON. With this knowledge, you will be able to target your JDI correctly and not waste energy or stress on things that are not changeable, such as other people’s choices, your body’s limits, or natural laws, etc. As I said in a previous blog, “sometimes it is less traumatizing to surrender to a situation than to fight it”. So knowing when to let go and when to do something, will determine how successfully you act in a difficult situation. Knowing where to direct your ON energy and JDI, are keys to thriving in life rather than simply surviving it.

Let’s use an example that all Californians can relate to. We have a drastic water shortage here in our lovely state. If each one of us tries to solve the situation all by ourselves, or spends inordinate amounts of time brooding on the problem, we will be stuck in stress physiology for sure. This could also flip our switch to OFF because we feel helpless. However, combining our JDI with the Serenity prayer might look like taking shorter showers, only washing full loads of clothes, watering our golf courses and lawns less often, talking to our friends and neighbors and encouraging them to join us in our efforts, etc. If every Californian made these changes, over time, it would make a big difference, in the problem and inside our bodies.

This week notice how the Serenity prayer beautifully compliments your JDI energy and try applying both concepts to any stressful situations that occur. In what instances does surrender ever feel like serenity to you? Perhaps refusing to get in the same old fight with a spouse or a child, or letting someone cut you off in traffic without losing your mind in rage, etc. Please feel free to share your successes (and attempts) in the comments section.

Fiona connecting with her inner tiger, serenely waiting for the next moment to happen!
Fiona connecting with her inner tiger, serenely waiting for the next moment to happen!

Going Deeper:

1.) Which of the 3 tenets of the Serenity Prayer do you find the most challenging? Do you notice any internal resistances when you read it aloud? Just be with those somatic imprints of resistance this week and see what comes from this practice.

2.) What situations do you find easiest to use your JDI energy, and which situation are easier to surrender to? How does letting go feel to your body and mind? Many of us find that the body handles surrender much differently than the mind does. What is your experience?

3.) Think about the past few weeks. Have you experienced stressful situations? If so, have you been able to JDI? What needs doing depends on the situation, but doing something is much better than collapsing in helplessness, do you agree?

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Love & Anxiety-Blog 26: Nike, the Serenity Prayer, and Stress Physiology!

Part 1 – Nike

The focus of the past few blogs was on how to flip our bodies out of threat physiology back into an embodied sense of safety and joy. One of the benefits my clients receive after engaging in somatic therapy is the experience of returning to feeling fully Alive in body and soul; rather than just existing, feeling persistent anxiety and worry.

Today’s blog focuses on another way to shift out of stress or threat physiology, but it’s more of a way of living than a tool. So, what does Nike and the Serenity Prayer have to do with stress physiology? Quite a bit it turns out. Today let’s start with Nike, more specifically, their famous marketing slogan — “JUST DO IT,” (JDI moving forward). What a great concept! We admire and respect athletes. Those who get up off the couch and just run that race, or just swim that heat, etc. It is not a coincidence, people who exercise strenuously on a regular basis are healthier and have better mood stability, than those who do not. There are many reasons for this including, improved heart-rate variability, rushing endorphins, and limbic system resonance, just to name a few.

But today’s blog is about the main reason why JDI matters in relation to our physiology. When it comes to attempting to recover from a trauma(s), stressful situations, or persistent daily anxiety, most of us don’t JDI. In threat and overwhelm mode, we are usually doing nothing about the issues that scare us, or even life in general. Some of us may worry, but that does not help! From an Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) perspective, just doing something can mean the difference between life or death, safety or danger. If a tiger is chasing you, JDI means, run like hell to save yourself because if you don’t JDI, you will be food for the tiger. While we don’t have literal tigers chasing us in North America, we fear plenty of “paper” tigers such as; illness, job loss, financial woes, divorce, relational betrayals, struggling children, etc.

JDI positively and directly impacts the ANS. Imagine with me a large invisible light switch planted right in the middle of your body. It is either ON or OFF, there is no other setting. This switch is a metaphor for action and self-efficacy. When it comes to stress, or life and death situations, in order to survive and thrive, we need that switch to stay in the ON position. ON in the ANS represents I CAN! I can run, I can fight, I can get away, I can JDI, in order to begin to resolve this situation.

Of course then, the OFF position epitomizes I CAN’T! I am helpless in the face of this situation and I don’t know what to do. People who live with their switch mostly in the OFF position tend to freeze and numb out when it comes to stress and problems, they are not living JDI. People who live mostly in ON position still experience anxiety, as well as stress and danger. However, they have an embodied knowledge of self empowerment, so they know that they will do what it takes to get back to safety. Therefore, they experience less trauma and anxiety. They know they can do whatever is needed to survive.

The good news is that JDI physiology, keeps that switch in the ON position. Doing something, rather than collapsing in fear and worry, allows your body to move toward the experience of empowerment and a sense of safety. This could include going for a walk, making that difficult phone call, asking for support, confronting someone, etc. If your switch is mostly OFF, start doing something, anything, on a regular basis and see how differently you feel. Self-efficacy has been shown in studies to be one the best antidotes to recovery from trauma, illness, anxiety, and consistent stressors. Self-efficacy is defined as the ability to effect whatever is your desired outcome. Another dictionary defined self-efficacy as potency and power! Other words for JDI!

In a few days, I will post part two, but meanwhile this week, check in with your body when in situations that are uncomfortable to you. Try to notice the position of your metaphorical switch. If it is OFF, practice trying self-efficacy instead of helpless, angry worry. I  will leave you with a statement I came up with years ago while doing my own somatic healing work for my body. “You are only helpless until you realize that you are NOT!”

JDI - African Style
JDI – African Style

Going Deeper:

1.) What is your reaction to this blog? Does it resonate or is there inner resistance? What is your reaction to JDI? Sometimes it is easier to stay in a stance of helplessness and blaming others for our misery. But what happens when you focus upon trying to find even the smallest step you could take moving forward?

2.) What is your internal response to my final statement! It sounds simple but it is a profound truth. I encourage you to meditate on this phrase this week and see what comes up for you, mentally and somatically.

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, I am starting another round at the end of April. Life is too short to be afraid!

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!

Love & Anxiety #23: The Felt Sense & Anxiety

Today I am introducing the concept of the felt sense and how it relates to our body anxiety, using a “prayer” written by a doctor of Chinese medicine. I can not give credit to him because it was written anonymously. The next blog will flesh out this concept in a more linear fashion, but I think this is a great introduction!

Felt Sense Prayer    

I am the pain in your head, the knot in your stomach, the unspoken grief in your smile.

I am your high blood sugar, your elevated blood pressure, your fear of challenge, your lack of trust.

I am your hot flashes, your cold hands and feet, your agitation and your fatigue.

I am your shortness of breath, your fragile low back, the cramp in your neck, the despair in your sigh.

I am the pressure on your heart, the pain down your arm, your bloated abdomen, your constant hunger.

I am where you hurt, the fear that persists, your sadness of dreams unfulfilled.

I am your symptoms, the causes of your concern, the signs of imbalance, your condition of dis-ease.

 

You tend to disown me, suppress me, ignore me, inflate me, coddle me, condemn me.

I am not coming forth for myself as I am not separate from all that is you.

I come to garner your attention, to enjoin your embrace so I can reveal my secrets.

I have only your best interests at heart as I seek health and wholeness by simply announcing myself.

 

You usually want me to go away immediately, to disappear, to slink back into obscurity.

You mostly are irritated or frightened and many times shocked by my arrival.

From this stance you medicate in order to eradicate me.

Ignoring me, not exploring me, is your preferred response.

More times than not I am only the most recent notes of a long symphony, the most evident branches of roots that have been challenged for seasons.

 

So I implore you, I am a messenger with good news, as disturbing as I can be at times.

I am wanting to guide you back to those tender places in yourself,

the place where you can hold yourself with compassion and honesty.

If you look beyond my appearance you may find that I am a voice from your soul.

Calling to you from places deep within that seek your conscious alignment.

 

I may ask you to alter your diet, get more sleep, exercise regularly, breathe more consciously.

I might encourage you to see a vaster reality and worry less about the day to day fluctuations of life.

I may ask you to explore the bonds and the wounds of your relationships.

I may remind you to be more generous and expansive or to attend to protecting your heart from insult.

I might have you laugh more, spend more time in nature, eat when you are hungry and less  when pained or bored, spend time every day, if only for  a few minutes, being still.

 

Wherever I lead you, my hope is that you will realize that success will not be measured by my eradication, but by the shift in the internal landscape from which I emerge.

 I am your friend, not your enemy.  I have no desire to bring pain and suffering into your life.

I am simply tugging at your sleeve, too long immune to gentle nudges.

I desire for you to allow me to speak to you in a way that enlivens your higher instincts for self care.

My charge is to energize you to listen to me with the sensitive ear and heart

of a mother attending to her precious baby.

You are a being so vast, so complex, with amazing capacities for self-regulation and healing.

Let me be one of the harbingers that lead you to the mysterious core of your being

where insight and wisdom are naturally available when called upon with a sincere heart.  

Lucky from Uganda

Going Deeper:

  1. Can you relate to this prayer, does it resonate with your own body’s messages? If so, what changes might you make to better care for the amazing being that is your body?
  2. What messages does your body send you on a regular basis? Are they pleasant messages, ones of peace, relaxation and joy? Or, are they more often messages about exhaustion, pain, or anxiety? 

Love & Anxiety #5: Trusting vs. Tightening

Last week we spoke about worrying and how that brings up anxiety. Today I will talk about how when we enter a new situation, a new relationship, or experience a loss, a trauma, accident, or unpleasant situation; experiencing some anxiety is a normal response. Anxiety is physiologically hard-wired into our nervous systems. When we feel unsafe, it can flood our body like water from a burst dam. Deciding to trust that we will be safe and things will work out, in a new or scary situation is one means of calming down the anxiety response. This decision is part mental, but a big part of the decision is made in our physical body, in our muscle-skeletal system.

When we experience anxiety, all our muscles are tense and braced in anticipation of a threat or danger. This is a natural response and helpful, if there is something we need to fight, or flee from to get to safety. After we attain safety, our muscles should return to a loose, relaxed state. Sometimes this doesn’t happen. Some of us have lived for years with braced muscles, myself included. This causes physical problems, health issues, and lots of pain. Additionally, braced and tight muscles unfortunately keep sending the signal to the primitive brain (avoid mode) that we are still in danger. This vicious cycle, physiological anxiety, causes our minds to race to find the new trouble.

When we perform any of the tools mentioned in the previous blog, mindfulness, guided imagery, meditation, yoga, prayer, relaxation, breathing exercises, etc., we relax our muscles into a posture of safety and trust. We trust that all things will work out, or we will have enough strength to move forward. Relaxing our muscles shuts off the danger signal their tension had been sending to the brain. A tight muscle-skeletal system is not the only source of this signal, but it is one of the significant ones. Tightening against our lives and the events we experience, only increases our anxiety and stress levels. Resting into our lives and trusting in goodness, allows our body to re-ground. We go back down into our trunk & roots, (see previous blog) and the relaxation response reasserts itself. We rest in the goodness of the present moment where we are safe, and lack nothing. We can trust in God, our own body, the goodness of life, the love of our friends. There are many things in which we can trust. Your muscles at least will thank you, and so will your long-term health.

Going deeper:

1. What is your response to this blog? Is trusting an easy task for you, or do you live in tension and anxiety much of the time?

2. What do you currently trust in?

3. If you live in tension, which of the following tools would you be willing to begin to consistently utilize to bring relaxation to your body? I.e. Yoga, massage, acupuncture, stretching, relaxation exercises, breath work, etc.

To learn how to evict the anxiety in your life, join one of my 3-wk anxiety reduction workshops. Go to http://www.sdtraumatherapy.com for more information. Mention this blog when you sign up and receive a 10% discount! Happy Loving.