Tag Archives: anxiety

BLOG 51- Love & Anxiety: Tips for tough situations!

Angry woman

Do you ever experience situations cropping up that you just don’t want to deal with? Situations that feel overwhelming and too much to handle? I would guess everyone knows what I mean because periodically having to deal with difficult situations is a part of being human. But that doesn’t mean we enjoy the process. Is there a better way of getting through these difficult situations? A way that feels positive, empowering, and life-giving, instead of impossible, awful and soul sucking? Yes there is, and it is possible to thrive in difficult situations, not just survive them.

The first step to thriving in challenging circumstances is to listen to the messages your body is telling you about this issue, to ask internally what your body expects, or fears, will occur. As stated in earlier blogs, human bodies use the language of sensations and emotions to communicate to the mind/brain, what is being experienced. So bring to mind that phone call, meeting, or that upcoming confrontation, and see what your body “says” about it. Ask the question about what your body fears with true, open curiosity. In response, you may (hear) feel sensations of heaviness and dread, or a shaky, quivery anxiety, or some confusion and collapse.

After asking your body what it expects, if the sensations are those of fear and dread, try identifying the location in your body where those sensations are the strongest. Discover the fear “zip code” if you will. Ask that place what it is specifically afraid will happen, or how you could be harmed? Sometimes you will hear a realistic fear, such as, “she will be mad at me”, or, “I will have to find another place to live”. But often, in current situations, our deep sensations of dread and fear are connected to earlier ages and experiences, times when we had less power and less ability to stand up for ourselves or to clearly state our needs. So if your body answers with a fear that sounds irrational, then you may be dealing with an earlier time and body state. In that case bringing in some form of support would be advised and helpful. Often we didn’t get enough support early in our lives, and adding it now makes a difference.

Sometimes, simply saying the irrational fear aloud helps us calm down because we can perceive that what we fear most likely will not occur. But if saying it aloud does not dispel the fear, try talking back to the fear gently and compassionately. Tell the fear what positive things you will do to make the situation better. Let your body know what it can realistically expect and how you will move forward even in the challenge. This may sound odd, but the body is a sentient being that does not feel or understand the same things that the mind does.

Just paying attention to the sensations that feel negative (they are not negative) allows most people to move through the feelings and to calm down. Paying attention with compassion will cause them to dissipate. When our Autonomic Nervous System ANS Video is in high Sympathetic charge mode, our bodies are full of fearful sensations and soaked in stress hormones. At that point our Neo-cortex can go off-line and we are left swimming in a sea of survival soup and have little rational ability left. Once the sensations related to fear, confusion, and disempowerment dissipate or are reduced and the Sympathetic charge lessens, your rational mind, the Neo-cortex, will come back on-line and help you to figure out the wisest course of action to take in this difficult circumstance.

Another aspect that makes a big difference in how we navigate challenging situations is our attitude toward the difficult circumstance. When we are full of fearful sensations and our ANS is full of Sympathetic arousal, our attitude is usually a negative one. We think things like, ‘its not fair, why is this happening to me, or everything is against me, I can’t catch a break’, etc.  But when we calm our body down and connect body, heart, and mind in unity to deal with the problem, we are able to perceive a more realistic  and more positive view of the situation. With a positive attitude we can think things like, ‘this will help me grow stronger, it can help me be more forgiving’, etc. We have known for years that hardship has great potential to help a person grow in maturity and wisdom. Although, It can also make people bitter. It depends on that person’s focus.

So the next time you face a difficult circumstance, try these tips. See how integrating your body, mind and heart makes for greater empowerment and a more resilient you in the midst of a difficult challenge.

Going Deeper:

1.) What is your Achilles heel? Are there certain situations that are just really hard for you to handle? What kind of support do you have, or bring in when things feel Sucky?

2.) Do you know your own body’s messages? Do you know what happens inside you when things feel safe? What sensations does your body produce when life gets challenging? If you usually only listen to your mind, trying adding hearing the body message, the more info you have the better you can navigate challenges.

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BLOG 50- What a 13th century poet knew about Love & Anxiety.

 

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Africa Volunteer team

Today I would like to share a poem  written by Rumi  a 13th century Sufi mystic in love with God and life. Let these words wash your soul and heart and notice your bodily response.

Reckless love is not afraid to explode

while reason seeks profit.

as love suffers,

she remains steadfast, solid & strong

Risking everything

She lies beyond self-interest seeking nothing

Betting on every glorious gift life brings

Without reason life give life

-without reason, give it back!

Wow, what a life we would lead if we lived even half as full of love as these words. If we feared neither loss or suffering, anxiety would be a cloud in our rear-view mirrors, rarely to be experienced again. If we trusted in the goodness of life and all the good we experience on a daily basis, we could risk expanding and pouring out our love and energy into life and other people, without counting the cost or worrying if “we are getting ours”.

What if we changed a fear-based mindset and thought differently? What if the person who keeps on loving even if they have been harmed, is the stronger person? What if loving more does not make victims but victors. What if the winners are those who loved the most? Some names immediately come to my mind, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Jesus, Buddha, Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, Mother Teresa, to name a few, people who seem to embody the poetic words of Rumi. As you can see from these names. loving others does not mean we don’t stand up against injustice or wrong doing, but we do it in a firm and respectful manner, not stooping to the fear-based tactics of scorn, disgust and hatred.

I know it seem impossible in our world today, to live without fear and chronically worrying about our own profit. I know I often don’t live these words, but I would like to. The Happiness research studies repeatedly demonstrate that the people who have concern for others, a willingness to give, and a sense of how all humans are connected, score the highest the happiness inventories. So there is a power in love to bring us what we desire that selfishness might not, happiness.

So think about how 2017 could be a year where we risk expanding more, exploding with love & joy, willing to give of ourselves to those around us. Maybe we can’t live without fear or self-interest but we could work on lessening both.

Going Deeper:

1.) How does love and self-interest interact in your life? Do you find there is enough energy to care for self & others?

2.) What brings fear and anxiety into your life? Does scarcity mentality dominate your life? Do you believe there is enough, or that resources are limited? How does fear subside, is it something you do to vanquish it, or is it when the outside circumstances change?

Love & Anxiety # 47: Lost in a Strange Land!

fullsizerenderHello Friends. I have desired to blog the past 2 months but life keeps reminding me that I only have time and space for a FEW priorities. Luckily, since I love to travel, October’s priority was traveling overseas to present some educational workshops, one which was in Italy!

In a previous blog I shared that traveling is great for our bodies, and for opening us up to expansion and newness, as well as to other viewpoints.  But today I want to talk about a travel experience we all love, getting lost in a strange place! I am being facetious!  There are a few hardy people who are so confident, and have such great nervous system regulation, that they actually enjoy getting lost, but most of the rest of us hate the experience. Being lost in a strange landscape exposes our vulnerability, our fears, and our “alienness” or lack of belonging to that place. The street signs are in a strange tongue, the sights are totally unfamiliar, and the locals are all busily buzzing on their own trajectories and often appear indifferent at first glance.
But today I will share the good news about being lost in a strange place!  How navigating this experience benefits our body and Autonomic Nervous system, and how asking for help from strangers can improve our confidence, decrease anxiety, and even provide some Attachment healing/ feelings of nurture.

I write from my recent personal experience in Italy. After presenting the workshop in Naples, I ended up traveling alone for 5 days in Southern Italy. Prior to this experience I had never ventured south of Rome, and now I was headed south of Naples. I was excited to see some new territory and experience a slightly different culture. However, my Italian language proficiency is limited to a few important phrases such as “where is the bathroom, how much does this cost, where is the Hotel _____?”  So I was also a little anxious about the whole experience.

I determined on day 1 to know where I was going and to have an organized plan. The unknown feels unsettling, and most often produces anxiety in a human being. Our brains prefer knowing what to expect at any given moment. So, the idea I had a plan, mentally helped with the anxiety of the unknown—but the plan fell apart, as plans tend to do when exposed to actual life! Getting on my first train, all I knew was the name of my stop, Piazza Cavour, so I thought I was set. However, it turns out, the train’s screen malfunctioned and after 10 minutes it reported each new station stop was Piazza Amador. My belly began to tense. I knew this couldn’t be good for my plan. After the 3rd ‘P. Amador stop’ my fight or flight energy kicked in and I started trying to get off the train and find help. (I own a car in San Diego, so I am never on a train or subway system, it is an unfamiliar situation no matter what country I am in.)

Surprisingly, help came from unexpected quarters. A sweet 3-foot tall Italian grandma saw me looking stressed, and frankly a bit panicked. Though she spoke not a word of English, she pointed at me, at the screen, and said Piazza Cavour,  and then pointed the opposite way the train was traveling. I gathered from her excellent charade skills that I had missed my stop, one of the P. Amador’s was actually P.Cavour. Then, an urbane and well-dressed older gentleman who spoke a tiny bit of English, told me to follow him. I was at the point of “any port in a storm”, so I followed him off the train. He walked me to a platform about 5 minutes away and told me to get on this train and go 2 stops. Then he smiled and walked away.
After that experience my anxiety about traveling alone in Italy dropped away. If without asking for help I got the support I needed, maybe I could just ask for help at any point on my journey? So, when I got lost in Sorrento, I asked for help. When I couldn’t find the train station, I stopped a stranger and asked him. When the SITA bus to Positano dropped me off at the top of the town and I had no idea where my hotel was, I asked another stranger.  A few people could not help me or didn’t know the answer to my questions, but they all tried to help. Southern Italians are amazing, warm, kind and friendly. I was blown away by all the support and kindness I received. Even on the Circumvisiana train (where travel guide books provide dire warning about pickpockets abounding, paste your valuables to your body, etc.), Italians made conversation with me and I met many wonderful people. By my second ride I was not treating my wallet like it was one of my kidneys. My fears dissipated and I really enjoyed this “dangerous” train experience.

By the end of my trip, looking back, I could not believe I had any anxiety about traveling alone. Though this was my first time doing so overseas, my confidence in navigating around a foreign country had skyrocketed. Thanks to Steve Jobs and my iphone, I had no trouble finding transportation (no uber in South Italy), booking hotels on the fly, and deciding where I wanted to go next. I had wonderful dinner conversations at every restaurant. People talk to you when you travel alone in Italy. I made friends with Colombians, Australians, Britons, Spaniards, and even some wonderful strangers from Ohio! I felt so much safer in my body and in my own experience. This always happens when you face a fear or something that brings you anxiety. Triumphing over the fear brings out sensations of our natural empowerment and increases our sense of safety. It is impossible for your anxiety to keep telling you that you cannot do something that you are actually doing! It kicks the fear right in the ass.

In closing, the best news is that asking for help from strangers brings more love/care in your life. If you don’t believe me, believe Barbara Fredrickson  and the research that she includes in her wonderful book, “LOVE 2.0.” A simple encounter with a stranger when you are present and connecting, synchs up both of your brains, begins a flow of oxytocin (the love/bonding hormone, not to be confused with oxycontin the drug), increases your vagal tone, which promotes heart and overall physical health, and calms and soothes your Autonomic Nervous system! All that in just a brief encounter. Oxytocin is the hormone that counteracts the stress hormones that many of us have coursing through our bodies on a regular basis. So my mini encounters also helped me physically and emotionally.

My experience was that when strangers treat you as if you really matter and provide the help that you need, it increases your own sense of value, as well as deepens your awareness of how we are all connected as a human race. I felt more self-love during and after the trip just from the experience of so much help and care coming from so many strangers. I have wonderful friends and feel very loved on a regular basis, but there was something new and powerful that emerged as I repeatedly experienced being cared for by strangers.

So, my encouragement to you is to ask for help more often. Ask strangers for restaurant suggestions, directions, etc., when you travel. Whether you are going to Nebraska, Saskatoon, or Taiwan, let people help you when you need it. See what you notice in your body, mind and heart. Please let me know how it goes.

Going deeper:

1.) Have you ever traveled alone in a strange country? If so, what was your experience like? What sources of support did you use to find your way around? Did you ask any strangers for help? How did that experience work?

2.) Do you have a sense of your own confidence and competence in navigating the unknown? If so, what is your source of support or comfort? If you do not, can you imagine stretching yourself and trying something new, unknown or a little scary, but asking for support in the process?

Blog 43: Love & Anxiety, why Pleasure and Enjoyment matter!

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Adventure – healthy Pleasure

I thought we would take a break from harder topics today and think about something we love, Pleasure and Enjoyment! These these 2 concepts, while related topics, they are not the same thing. Though many of us assume that Pleasure absolutely leads to Enjoyment, this is not always true. Today, we will talk about the difference between Pleasure and Enjoyment and what this difference means to our bodies and Nervous systems, and how this difference deeply impacts our ability to either rest in love, or to flail in the chaotic sea of anxiety.

Let’s start with Pleasure! As I have recounted in prior blogs, healthy Pleasure is the best antidote to chronic stress and high anxiety. I wish more of us lived and experienced healthy Pleasure on a regular basis, if we did, this country would be a very different place. However, my experience as a human/therapist is that most of us do not experience healthy pleasure on a regular basis. America is a country that craves Pleasure, our advertisements are full of promised Pleasures, but we seem to have a difficult relationship between our desire for pleasure and our experiencing of Pleasure. Most people I know are craving Pleasure but enjoying very little of it.
TV Advertising extolls the joys of being rich, driving great cars, eating tasty (often junk) food, drinking beer and other alcohol, and having tons of sex with hot men/women, etc. While these options may seem pleasurable, why do they often bring so little Pleasure? Why do so many people get addicted to alcohol, food, more money, and sex, just to name a few of our advertised Pleasures?  My hypothesis to these questions does not come from a place of judging Pleasure or thinking it is bad and dangerous. My Mennonite heritage used to cause me to fear Pleasure. But those days are over, I have not been a Mennonite for a very long time, and I have learned how critical it is that I have plenty of healthy Pleasure in my life. My hypothesis comes from living, experimenting, and my observations of humanity.

We experience so little Pleasure because many of the things advertised to bring us Pleasure are either not healthy in certain situations/amounts, or are not actually pleasure, but a gateway to addiction. We all know that alcoholism often begins with social drinking or partying in high school/ college. It seems fun and a harmless pastime, a Pleasure even. But anyone who has lived with a human struggling with the weight of alcoholism can tell you there is NO pleasure in any drink they take. An alcoholic now drinks because they have to and because they cannot quit. What began as a Pleasure has become their Master.

Pornography is another example. AAMFT’s website states that 12 million people struggle with sexual addiction, which usually includes the use of pornography and a majority are now addicted to the use of it. (If you think you are not addicted to it, try to stop viewing it for good and you will know the truth.) It is known that pornography has caused many problems in relationships and that it causes people to become sexually attracted too an unreal human body (airbrushed men and women). Pornography is an example of how a healthy Pleasure, sexuality and the beauty of a human body, can become tainted and unhealthy because it has become an addiction. Addictions are often healthy Pleasures miss used, or run amok. Humans can become addicted to booze, drugs, food, work, sex, exercise, etc. So my hypothesis is that healthy Pleasure is often different from TV advertised Pleasures, and a healthy Pleasure is usually not something we are addicted to.

I make this connections because a healthy Pleasure is something we are able to ENJOY! Craving Pleasure is very different from Enjoying Pleasure. Many humans are not even enjoying the Pleasure they do have, but they are craving more Pleasure, so they run from experience to experience, from sexual partner to sexual partner, from new car to another new car, from one type of pornography to another. Desperately craving Pleasure but finding little enjoyment therein.

I repeat, Pleasure is a wonderful gift, we need Pleasure as humans to balance out all the stress and work we experience in life and relationships. Since American’s over-work compared to many other developed countries, it is no wonder we are a Nation that struggles with many addictions. But the Pleasures we need are healthy Pleasures and those we can Enjoy!  Many of us are adding healthy pleasures to our lives but not enjoying them either. Pleasure and enjoyment are not the same thing!

I have learned this truism over the years. I have had lots of healthy (and some unhealthy) Pleasure in my life but I have spent years not enjoying much of it. This happened because I was not living in my body, or living in the present moment, actually experiencing that Pleasure.  Instead, I was living in my head and in my thoughts. I was adding to my to-do list, or planning for the future, or regretting the past, etc., instead of actually feeling the Pleasure I was experiencing in that moment. If you are not in the present moment and living in your body (aware of your body sensations) you will not experience much Pleasure. This is not a hypothesis but a fact borne out by the last 10 years of research and study of the human body.

In closing I have found that most people agree walking on a beach, vacations, a loving relationship, warm baths, being in nature, eating a lovely meal with friends, sharing a great bottle of wine, a good workout or adventure, sports, art, creating, writing, etc., are all healthy Pleasures.  I will not try to suggest I know what your healthy Pleasures are, but I would suggest you find out and make yourself a list.  If you are currently not allowing yourself to experience your Pleasures ask why not. People who have enough play, rest and healthy Pleasure tend to experience less stress, less struggle with addiction, and more enjoyment in life. And, finally, when indulging in your Pleasure try your best to ENJOY it. After all this is why we really crave Pleasure, we want to enjoy our lives!

To learn more about pleasure and health, click this link.  Steps to perfect health, practice pleasure.

Going deeper:

1: What were your formative messages around Pleasure in general? Was healthy Pleasure modeled for you by your parents/caregivers.

2: Do you Enjoy your Pleasure? Can you resonate with the concept of having Pleasure but not Enjoying it? What attitudes or actions can you take to slow down and become aware of your life and your body so that you can actually experience your Pleasures on a regular basis?

 

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Blog 42: Anger & Anxiety # 3-Healthy Anger finally!

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Fight or flight- African Style

Today is the final blog about Anger & Anxiety, at least for now. One final way Anger and Anxiety are linked is that the strong fear of someone being Angry with us, scares the pee out of many of us humans. Unfortunately Anger can be, and often is, used unhealthily to control and manipulate others due to how uncomfortable most humans feel when someone is angry with them. Fear of loved one’s Anger causes great anxiety and often a loss of our sense of self. This is evidenced by how many people placate their angry family member(s), rather than firmly standing their ground and asking for what they really want. Some of my clients are living with an often explosive and angry family member. These clients live in chronic anxiety anticipating the upcoming explosion. The fact that anger’s eruption is somewhat unpredictable just makes the anxiety worse. Many humans would rather temporarily placate, and let go of what we desire, to avoid experiencing the blast of rage that may occur if we stand up for those desires.

I have lived with the fear of Anger a good portion of my life. In the past I lived with an angry family member (who was terribly treated and had a good reason for the anger, but not much control over it.) I have also feared friends and coworkers being angry with me. AND, what has caused even greater problems, I have feared and been blind to my own Anger. It has taken lots of work, with wise and professional support, for me to make peace with Anger and to stop fearing it. I have had to accept my own Anger, and the fact that at times, I can be an angry person. (Which wreaks havoc with my own image of my goodness). Breaking up with the need to be terminally nice, was a related issue, but one I will save for different blog. However, the journey has been well worth the struggle and living on the side of healthy Anger and the acceptance of this strong emotion has brought me great joy and much healthier relationships.

What I have found is that living in fear, and especially, ignorance of our own Anger is a harmful place to be. Unresolved and unaddressed anger leaks out and causes great harm and often, we can get caught in ruts of bitterness and resentment. Both of which cause irreparable harm to our bodies and relationships. I recently have been re-reading old journals and I came across a passage I wrote a while ago when I was really wrestling with my own unhealthy expressions of Anger. Though it is old material, I will include a small portion as it will illustrate my point about the need for healthy Anger better than just giving factual content.

Journal Entry: “Wow, what a journey this has been. Please continue to let the words and concepts of honesty and healing settle deeply into my soul, transcending and traversing any areas of blockage, confusion, or stuck buried resentment or bitterness. I want none of these now, they are not helpful to me, nor are they worthy of me.  For resentment and bitterness are at the core postures of helplessness and victimhood. They are knee-jerk responses that can come after experiencing being harmed, hurt or betrayed, but when I am not willing to deal with or confront the damaging influence. So the energy of angry pain, instead of being worked out through appropriate conflict coming from confrontation and the energetic attempts to make events feel fair and right to both of our body’s and beings, leaks out into stagnant pools of resentment and bitterness. This stuck energy swirls round and round but goes nowhere. These emotions are often a trap of self-pity, and fear of the energetic needs of real human relationships, which are messy & beautiful, harmonious & fractured, joyful & sad. There are seasons in every deep relationships. But resentment and bitterness keep the relationships stuck in dank cold water. The usual  warmth of connection, companionship & sexuality significantly decreased or absent all together.”  END OF ENTRY

Why talk about Anger anyway? Anger is a universal human emotion that often gets a bad rap, mostly because when humans are angry it is very hard to rationally make choices that improve the situation that is causing Anger in the first place. When we are very angry, our net-cortex is mostly off-line. Many times Angry energy causes people to act badly and use Anger for power and control, dominance, etc. No one likes to be scared so we give angry people a wide berth. But Anger is an important aspect of our humanity and an emotion we really need to pay attention to and learn how to properly express if we want to live a healthy and happy existence.

Anger is a good and important emotion. Humans need to be able to experience and express Anger in order to lead healthy lives. Anger is that strong message from our bodies that we feel threatened, that we have been, or are about to be, harmed or hurt. A healthy relationship to our own Anger allows us to perceive the “threat” early on. That allows the anger “energy” to help us say “NO”, or to set a boundary, or worst case, fight back to protect our lives. Allowing yourself to connect to your Anger in a potentially dangerous situation can save your life.

This actually happened to a friend of mine. In her early 20’s she was in a dangerous area late at night and 2 men tried to kidnap her. The driver stayed in the car while the other man tried to drag her into the back seat. Her Anger became her best ally. She felt a surge of adrenaline and rage, and she fought back with such powerful angry energy that she beat her assailant up and yanked out hunks of his hair. The other man drove off in terror, he was so frightened by her rage. (Imagine of the Amazon warrior woman archetype here.) So her ability to access her Anger was her best friend that night.

So in closing, don’t be afraid of your own Anger. It is an important emotion and one that allows us to be fully human. Even the Bible (written over  2000 years ago) has a saying, “Be angry but do not sin.” Practice allowing healthy Anger expression when needed vs. letting it leak out in other ways. Or keeping it inside and poisoning our own bodies.  As always, I am eager to here how it goes. Please write and share about your own journey with Anger!

Going Deeper

1.) Can you describe a time when you felt and expressed your own anger in a healthy and appropriate manner? How did it go? Who are the people who are more open to allowing your healthy expression of any emotion? If you have no one who can do this or very few, adding some new emotionally healthy friendships may be a great idea.

2.) How is your boundary system? In your daily life, how does anger and boundaries interact, if they do at all? Are you able to say NO, and hold your position even if the other person gets angry with you?

BLOG 41: Anger & Anxiety:Part two- Poems about rage.

Let’s take a break today from all the Left brain activity consisting of helpful facts and materials about Anger and Anxiety. Let us slip over to our Right brains and connect to the subject in the intuitive, feeling, and creative realm.

I find writing poetry a wonderful outlet for creativity (by that way, expressing our creative energies decreases sensations of anxiety), as well as for off-loading excess emotional energy and anxious activation caused by big feeling states.

This first poem was written years ago as I finally became aware of the old Anger still living in my cells and belly, that had been lurking mostly under my conscious awareness. (I bet the people closest to me were aware of it but I was mostly clueless.) So, when the Anger got so big I could no longer smother and ignore it, I became aware of it but had no idea how to express or get rid of it. I felt terrified and constipated by this stuck angry place inside of my body. So I wrote this poem entitled, “Lucky Bastards”.

Lucky Bastards

Rage is cadged, locked tight

in the castle of my heart

the key lost, some years ago

by my careless hands,

more concerned with building

a stage, on which to play a life,

unable to retain, what’s actual, real.

 

Preferring to paint pretty pictures

others praise, to the middle tint

of authentic life, clouded by gray days

and bouts of rage, marring the pretense

of perfection and poise.

 

Princesses can sulk and pout

but rage is beneath them.

It’s the province of paupers and Princes.

I watch as they rant and rage,

perched decorously on my perfect stage

thinking, “those lucky bastards.”

The second poem was also written a long time ago. My early work as a new therapist trying to support abused clients, was one of the catalysts that brought the beginnings of awareness to my own anger. This Anger, left over, from my own early years of being mistreated; at home at times, school bullying, abusive Spiritual leadership, and maltreatment from tyrannical nasty bosses. Not only did I feel my body’s truth, somehow I was still pissed about it all. Now I was also becoming more aware of new Anger arising. Infuriated by hearing the horror stories coming out in my counseling sessions with teenage clients. Many, of whom, were being mistreated and/or not protected by their parents. This poem arose from my body, almost like vomit from the belly. A visceral response to the counseling work with these young women.

“Helpless Rage for a drowning client”

My rage is hidden, shy, sly.

It rises and I turn to look

and it’s already gone

like the view in the rear view mirror.

 

The parents are killing her, I say.

But the Bureaucratic bunglers don’t stop them

everyone looks the other way

and she is drowning in front of my eyes.

I give her a breath of clean air

here and there, but stand aside,

as she thrashes, like a good citizen,

while they murder her by inches,

and hack her soul to bits.

 

I want to stab them, slash them

into ribbons, and feed her their flesh

but it will do no good

nothing does. So I take up

again, my useless vigil

and give her another breath.

By Wanda Brothers

As you could probably tell from the poems, at that point in my life I had not learned yet to healthily experience and express my Anger. These skills did, and are continuing to, come, but it took professional support and years of work.

We will talk more about Anger and Anxiety in the next blog in this series, focusing on a few of the problematic outcomes from refusing to accept, acknowledge and deal with old or current hurt and pain. These outcomes, Anger’s cousins, are called Bitterness and Resentment and they not only make us, and our loved ones, miserable but they cause tremendous anxiety. And finally, we will focus on healthy Anger.

Please send comments that let the rest of us know about your own struggles with Anger and learning how to deal with it in a healthy manner. We can always learn from each other in every aspect of life. It’s one of the things that makes life worth living.

IMG_0531 In a great mother and daughter bond, anger is still allowed.

Going Deeper:

1.)  What is your visceral/body response to either or both of the poems? Now, what are your emotional and mental responses?  Can you relate to the struggle of buried anger?

2.) How do you deal with old hurts and wounds? Most buried Angry/Rage comes from being harmed or betrayed by our loved ones or other humans. Are you able to confront and move on or do you carry old somatic sensations of Anger and pain inside?

Blog 40: Anger & Anxiety- Part 1

In today’s blog we will discuss Anger and Anxiety. Anger is an important emotion experienced by humans of every world culture. However, this strong feeling/emotion is often a tricky feeling to experience and to navigate healthily. We have all seen Anger expressed in unhealthy ways (just watch most action adventure movies) and for this reason Anger has often gotten a bad rap.

We will address healthy Anger in the next blog, but today we will explore how Anger and Anxiety are connected. While it may seem they are opposite emotions — Anger is often experienced as an emotion expanding our energy into the world, and Anxiety as an emotion that contracts us away from the world—they are often linked. So, what is the relationship between Anger and Anxiety?

First off, both Anger and Anxiety are sensations/emotions many of us experience as extremely uncomfortable, and the expression of both emotions are fairly hard to disguise.  Many people experience and express consistent Anxiety as chronic irritation, and may not even understand they are anxious. If you would measure their physiology, (levels of stress hormones and the amount of activation in the Autonomic Nervous Systems—ANS) you find their ANS is agitated and dis-regulated, hence the chronic irritation. If you are feeling happy, content, and life is going well, there is little need to be irritable, is there?

Frankly, Anger is scary for most of us, it is a big, and very powerful sensation and experiencing it can feel like it could swallow us whole. It can be extra difficult for women who are often socialized from babyhood that nice girls don’t get angry. We have often heard angry women being described as that “B” word that has kept many females stuck in the prison of nice. (Yes, I mean Bitch!)  Over the years many a woman has been stopped from angrily voicing her true thoughts and feelings, fearing that label. (Though it seems the new generation of young women are less bothered by it than my generation.) However, voicing our thoughts and feelings is critically important for our emotional and physiological health, as well as for changing things that need to be changed. As the bumper sticker so aptly states, “Well behaved women seldom make history.” I would argue that holds true for men as well. It is often the humans who have behaved against culture norms that have changed our world for the better.

Men often struggle with the emotion of Anger as well. However, often the male struggle is with controlling the expression of Anger, not so much not allowing themselves to feel it. Again, socialization plays a big role in our childhood, as well as our adult, behavior. Generally if you go watch young children at recess, the girls are often giggling and playing together, and the boys are fighting with sticks, or whatever vaguely weapon-shaped objects they can find. It’s our gender differences showing up in our play. Our brain wiring, hormonal systems and socialization are vastly different from that of the opposite sex. If we can understand that and work with those differences instead of stigmatizing each other, the world would be a kinder place.

So many human beings become automatically Anxious when we experience the emotion of Anger, whether it’s our own Anger or the Anger of someone else directed at us. Anger is not often handled well in workplaces, families, etc. Sometimes people get stuck in Anger and are not be able to discharge it healthily, or may not want to let it go. Anger can be a secondary emotion, coming up repeatedly after we have been hurt by another person. Sometimes after being emotionally wounded, it is easier (and often more pleasant) to feel Anger rather than the underlying hurt or sadness, or the helplessness to do anything about the pain of betrayal. Feeling Anger is correlated emotionally with the threat of harm, being stuck in Anger often keeps our bodies stuck in threat physiology, which causes physiological anxiety just by its very nature.

We will explore more about Anger and Anxiety and talk about healthy Anger in part 2 of this blog.  In closing, I encourage my readers to be curious about your own relationship to Anger. How does Anger impact your life, your health, and your relationships? I would love to hear any thoughts people are willing to share.

Angry woman
Frustrated and angry-A big emotion

Going Deeper

1.) What do you think or feel when you read about Anger? Do you have a healthy relationship to your own Anger? What about to your loved one’s Anger? Do you express anger directly, or do you let it leak out in other ways that are less frightening but still cause great damage? (I.e. the silent treatment, passive aggressive behaviors, etc.)

2.) How does your body respond to Anger in general? How does it react to other’s Anger? Do you retract, or do you desire to fight back and defend yourself?

Blog 38: Love & Anxiety-Inner Restlessness

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Do you ever have one of THOSE days? You know, the ones where you feel antsy and so restless? You feel like you are missing out on some goodness, like you should be somewhere else but you don’t know where. You just feel off and full of angst. I had one of those days this past month. I have noticed, these kind of days are more likely to follow a season of big events or experiences, such as after a successful Attachment training weekend, or an important presentation. Right after I have felt “up” and excited about life and my place in it, if a restless day is going to roll in like a storm front, it tends to follow on the backside of the wake caused by  big “high” feeling. And, just like the wake from a big speedboat, those days tend to throw me off balance.

This sensation of restlessness I am convinced is a part of being human, especially now, in our way too stimulating, technologically advanced culture. For me, the restlessness manifests as a gripping tension in my belly and that unsettled feeling that keeps me from resting and settling, even if I sit and try to meditate. The “message” this sensation gives my body is that I am running out of time and that life is passing me by, that others are experiencing the good I am missing. Getting on FaceBook does not help. Since people post experiences of joy and triumph and not losses or failures, it can seem that everyone else is having the time of their lives. Can anyone else relate to this restlessness?

I will out myself and share an example of how restless sensations can distort beauty and reality. I was cycling alone up the bike path on the Strand a few weeks ago. I had been feeling restless all morning but during the ride I settled and became more awake and aware. I began to really be present to the experience. Suddenly, I had such a strong sense that we are all connected, humans, nature, even the caterpillars crawling across the path I was carefully avoiding to so as not to run over them. The sensation was so sweet. I decided to stop, look at the bay, and be open to anymore insights or epiphanies. Less then two minutes later, another cyclist, stopped at the same place and came up behind me and began to engage me in conversation. Instead of connecting, my old nemesis, restlessness, kicked in and I lost presence. I quickly felt antsy and frustrated that this person was “ruining” my experience of sitting with the Oneness and the sense of Divinity in that wonderful sensation I had just lost. I felt like the interruption “cost” me the good of this experience. I know, it’s very funny if you pay attention to life’s invitations, but I was not!  I was paying attention to the restlessness and the sense that I was losing this great experience. I know, crazy town! Here I was presented with an opportunity to deepen the sense of oneness with an actual person, but I totally missed it because I was in my own little world in my head letting the restlessness dictate how I thought things should go. (In case you were wondering, it took about 10 minutes for me to wake back up and notice my ridiculousness.)

This experience highlights one reason I try to not live in the restlessness for a minute longer after I become aware of it. The “inner voice” of the restlessness is so narrowing and self-focused. It tells me I am missing out and that if things would just go differently I would feel better. This will cause me to miss the gift or joy available right in the present moment. Luckily, I have lived long enough to have lots of practice catching the sensation and I know that sometimes you just have to ride out uncomfortable feelings and false beliefs. Sometimes, you have to hold onto your true knowing and just sit until they pass, which they do. This can be especially difficult because restlessness almost always brings along its Significant Other, a big dose of Anxiety!

One of my “cures” for the restlessness is to drop into silence and Being. To slow everything down internally and ask myself some questions. “What is really going on? Is there really any tangible thing I am lacking in this moment”? Usually the answer is no. I realize that silence may be easier for us Introverts. Extraverts can find silence frightening or annoying. So if you are more extraverted maybe your silence is a concentrated short time where you focus on connecting with your own being and the goodness therein. The gift of riding out the restlessness by sitting until it leaves, is a deepening sense of peace and calmness.

Another “antidote” for restlessness is love & connection with my beloved friends. Those wonderful beings who see me clearly and adore me anyway! Thank you to all of you, you know who you are. When the restless sensation hits your body, you could use it as an impetus to reach out and connect personally with someone you love and that loves you. In-person, or at least voice-to-voice, is more physiologically helpful than an email or text. Although any kind of connection is helpful to our body and nervous systems. The process of reaching out and experiencing the synchrony between you and your beloved, opens the door internally for positivity resonance to permeate and “wash” out the unpleasantness of the restless, anxious sensations. Barbara Fredrickson in her stunning book, “Love 2.0” speaks of Love and its “positivity resonance” and how it improves our mood, outlook, physical health and our ANS/physiology.  She speaks of Love as not just what you experience with lovers, friends, and family members, but also as little tiny moments of connection and mirror neuron resonance that can occur all day long. We are not “screwed” in the love lottery if we live alone and have no family living nearby. According to her research, you can experience all the physiologically and health benefits of love all day long in your short encounters with other kind and helpful humans. This can include a stranger on the street, an uber driver, your local barista, etc. I encourage you to check out her book, it’s a revelation and based upon research and neuroscience.

So, please reply and let me know that I am not the only one who experiences restlessness. Please let me know how yours manifests and what you do about it. Have a great week.

GOING DEEPER:

1.) How many of you laughed at my ridiculousness on the bike path? But do you ever have the experience of totally missing what is in the moment in front of you? How do you come back from numbness or lack of presence, or living in dialogue with the to-do-list in you head?

2.) Do you ever experience these restless sensations? If so, how do they manifest in your body? What are the messages they whisper to your mind? How do you ride them out, or what tools do you use that help you recover your equilibrium?

Love & Anxiety #35: In Praise of Stillness!

Hello everyone, I have been traveling and helping with Somatic trainings for the past few weeks and have not had any time to sit down and put my thoughts to “paper”. But I am back home now and excited to post this  blog. The theme of the last blog was about the need to balance the body states of Stillness and Movement, and the impact each one has on our well-being and anxiety levels. Today we are going to focus solely on the benefits of Stillness. For quite a few reasons, most people find Stillness more challenging to practice than Movement. Except perhaps for those people who love to meditate, or inveterate couch potatoes, and sometimes, people who smoke tons of weed.

Our popular culture praises movement, especially forward movement. You receive lots of kudos, not to mention MONEY, for accomplishing, achieving, being all that you can be, etc.  And, there is nothing wrong with those things. The problems tend to come when we get way out of balance, which at least a few of us are. Movement also feels better to many people. Exercise has been credited to be the absolute best deterrent to aging, and the best support for our emotional well-being. When we are moving, we also send somatic messages of self-efficacy and agency to our reptilian brain via the limbic system. Movement usually feels good.

Stillness on the other hand often speedily brings about an internal sense of discomfort, restlessness, extreme anxiety, or even shame. When we are externally Still, that is usually when our “Stuff” boils up, and in consequence, when we become most aware of it. I don’t think I need to take too much time to define “Stuff” since I am writing to fellow humans. We all have it, our wounds, our stucknesses (is that a word), our extreme emotional states, our fears. For many of us, when we begin a practice of becoming externally Still, our internal world compensates by going bat crap crazy. Years ago when I first began to practice Stillness, it felt like the emotional equivalent of a sewer pipe bursting. It was so messy inside of my body and mind.

This is one reason why a New Year’s resolution to begin to meditate, or to pray more often, usually drops off by January 15th. Sitting Still with our “Stuff” can be really frightening. A while ago Carl Jung wrote quite a bit about “Stuff”. He called it the Shadow self and proposed there are many “gifts” available when we connect with our own Shadow, the disowned and wounded parts of our beings. But most of us hate the wrapping paper on those “gifts” and stow them in a dark closet unopened. As an unfortunate consequence, much of our conscious behavior is often influenced by stress/fear and feelings of which we are not fully aware. Some of the new Neuroscience research suggests at least 80% of our relations with other people are driven by our sub-cortical brain regions. Way before fMRI technology came along, Sigmund Freud, one of Jung’s near contemporaries, intuited this and stated: “That which we repress, we express.”

Slowing down is often a beginning step to the practice of becoming Still. When we slow down and learn how to periodically become externally Still, this is one means for embracing our “Stuff” so it loses its power to direct our behavior outside of our conscious awareness. This is a great growth practice but is usually quite painful so it is easy to avoid doing. A metaphor I use with clients to describe this struggle is, “Water-skilling across the surface of life”. When we move quickly and get a lot done, we do not need to feel those subterranean rumblings that come up from our hearts and bellies in times of stress or pain.

The good news is that at some point, after learning to embrace our “Stuff” while being externally Still, we begin to experience one of the greatest gifts of this process, internal Stillness! Where we can just sit and be, and let thoughts come and go across the sky of our minds like so many fluffy clouds, and feel the peace in our bodies and the goodness of being alive. Or even get to the point where there are no thoughts, just a deep peaceful calm and a quiet joy! This my friends, I propose must feel better than any drug, and is our birthright as a human being living on the earth. Many people who are trapped in the terrible cycle of addiction are just trying to get to this state of quiet peacefulness. For that matter, its a state everyone longs to experience.

When we are able to achieve external and internal Stillness, some of the additional benefits include; the ability to feel the goodness of our lives more deeply, expanded creativity, and a greater ability to be Self-aware and to listen to our bodies. But perhaps the greatest gift is the ability to be present to each moment without judgment or fear!

To close, as a final plug for how great periodic Stillness is, here are a few of the activities Stillness offers that frenetic movement does not: Sleep, hugging, cuddling, nursing a baby, staring into a lover’s eyes, meditating/praying, having a deep and meaningful conversation at the dinner table long after the food is consumed, just to name a few.

So go forth this week and if you usually don’t “do” Stillness, maybe just give it a try for 10 minutes and see what happens. If something you don’t love comes up inside you, remember Jung, and try to see it as a gift from inside of you. If you are already good at being Still, keep it up. The world needs more of you to balance out all the humans racing frenetically about. As always, I would love to hear how it goes.

even butterflies practice stillness at times
even butterflies practice stillness at times

Going Deeper:

1.) What are your instinctive responses to this blog? Is there some resonance in your mind/body, or resistance? If so, what is the root of the resistance?  What did you learn about Stillness in your first family? When you are Still, are you aware of your “Stuff”? If so, are you able to embrace it as an important part of being you?

2.) If you are a meditator or enjoy a form of periodic Stillness, what gifts do you receive from those practices? How did you come to learn how to be Still? Who in your life might you encourage to learn how to be Still that could use the benefit, and the rest?

Love & Anxiety: M & M’s for Reducing Anxiety

One month I was in Maui meditating on a mound of sand- can’t resist that awesome alliteration. When my mind refused to empty, I began thinking about BEING and overall health and what brings those about for me, and my fellow human beings. Giving up on the meditation, I instead concluded that for health and well being, a balanced body, and reduced anxiety, I needed a steady diet of M & M’s! Yes, you heard me correctly. But before you run out to Costco to buy a huge bag of the chocolate candy coated sugar bombs, that is not the right type of M&M’s. I am talking about Movements and Meditations (Any form of relaxed Stillness), those M and M’s. (My fellow sugar lovers are bumming right now).

In order to live in a body with a regulated and healthy Autonomic Nervous System, and to experience health and well being, the human body needs a combination of Stillness, and Kinetic expulsion of energy, better known as movement.  As always, balance occurs by experiencing  the combination of opposites. Stillness and movement are polar opposites. Let’s begin by talking about movement.

Experts have been insisting for years, consistent exercise is the best predictor of long term health. And not just physical, but physiological and emotional health as well. Exercise/movement even slows down age-related cognitive decline. People who exercise regularly are happier and healthier across the board. Now I know you have heard this many times before but I am going to add an additional motivator that may help you begin a regular habit of movement if you don’t already have one. For that we will talk about our lovely Limbic system.

The Limbic system sits on top of our primitive brain stem and regulates many functions. One of them is movement! When you think Limbic system think of your limbs, arms and legs. Those parts of our bodies so integral for self-protective actions. If you trip, hopefully your arms fly out to catch yourself, if you are attacked -and you do not freeze in terror- your arms fly out automatically to punch or push away, and your feet and legs team up to kick or run away. For our early hunter-gatherer ancestors , the ability to move, and often quite quickly, was the difference between living and extinction. As Perry and Szalavitz state in their wonderful book, “Born for love: why empathy is essential and endangered”, “…even in adults, threat or distress shifts control from the rational abstract thinking areas {sic neo-cortex} to the ‘more decisive, rapidly acting central lower regions’ {sic limbic and brain stem}. Under perceived threat we get dumber but faster, which can help us survive running from a bad guy…” These authors help us understand due to the way our body and brains are wired, the ability to move easily is an instinctive precursor to feeling safe in our bodies. This is especially true at a sub-cortical level.

In my experience, as a human and a therapist, because this connection is subcortical and not found in our conscious understanding, we are often unaware of this deep limbic benefit! This is one reason why some of us can keep ignoring the suggestion to exercise. When we understand all the benefits of movement and its ability to bring on a somatic sensation of safety, perhaps we can find some motivation to begin a new habit of consistent movement.

In our current culture the message that movement is needed for health will probably be more easily accepted than my second suggestion. That stillness, and quite a bit of it, is needed for health as well. This may be a harder sell. There is little praise given out for sitting still, unless you are a Buddhist and/or someone who values meditation. (This can include prayer, breath work, or any form of silent stillness.) Most of us are frantically racing about toward the next “thing”, our next task. The idea to sit still and do NOTHING but BE and let ourselves surrender to the moment and to our essential being, this is not a message you hear on TV or at the movies.  However, in order to settle down after all our running around accomplishing things, our bodies need stillness. We need to stop and let our muscles relax and our nerves to stop sending jumpy messages to our brain. We need our digestion to begin again and for our body to go into rejuvenation mode. The Parasympathetic Nervous System is called the “Rest and Digest” system just for that reason. When we come down out of the Sympathetic Charge (movement and action) it is because the Parasympathetic system has kicked in. This is the time that our bodies go into recovery mode. Most anxious people have stomach problems and digestion issues because they are rarely still, they are rarely in the Parasympathetic branch of the Autonomic Nervous system.
Now, to be accurate, you do not need to be fully still to be in Rest & Digest mode, but stillness and meditation have been linked to relaxation and decreased anxiety for years now. One reason for this is that the inside of our body follows the messages sent by the outside of our body. The bracing or relaxing of our muscle/skeletal system (MSS) tell our bellies and brains whether it is safe to relax and calm down. Or, our MSS can tell our insides to be really scared and that maybe we should run like hell. If you have trouble believing this try the following experiment. Sit slumped over, like you are a rag doll. After 20 seconds check in with your internal body and your energy levels and sense of readiness for action.  Now, sit up straight and tall, or better yet, stand up in parade rest like a soldier, chest out head up, with your arms and legs spread out. Now check internally and see what has changed. Notice how this simple posture change, immediately impacts the sensations in your body and how you feel in the world. In my work as a therapist, I can usually tell how my clients are feeling inside merely by observing how they walk in and how they sit in my office. I can tell how tight and braced or loose and relaxed they are by their body movements and how they sit overall.
In meditation/stillness a deep relaxation is possible because your MSS is not sending messages of tension or action to your brain and belly. Try sitting on the edge of your chair in a tense, braced position while attempting to relax. You most likely cannot do it. The outside of your body needs to be in the right posture/to send internal messages that it is safe to relax.

While I could keep going, I will just add one more benefit to adding more stillness into your life. Often people who make a living by being creative (writers/painters/musicians) have shared how being still for a time can really jump start their creativity. When the mind is not leaping from idea to idea and task to task, perhaps there is more opportunity for it to allow the juicy goodness like music, art and books to come up out of our subconscious minds and our souls.

I encourage you this week to pick the M that you have the most difficult time doing and deliberately add more of it into your life. Let me know how it goes.

Eli, meditating in the sand!
Eli, meditating in the sand!

Going Deeper:

1.) Are you a person who really loves action and movement or someone who values quiet, solitude and stillness?  Does the thought of adding lots of the one that is harder for you bring anxiety or excitement? What messages did you get in your Family of Origin (FOO) about movement? How about stillness/meditation?

2.) For those of you who may struggle with movement, do you know what blocks you from consistent movement/exercise? Try being more active for a few weeks and see how that changes how you feel in your daily life.  This can be as simple as adding in a nice easy walk 3-5 times per week, or putting on 3-5 of your favorite songs in a row and dancing in your living room. The Limbic system does not demand intense exercise, just lots of easy moving.